We ARE the lifters …

AGM Pic Craigvoting

Speech at the Annual General Meeting of People With Disability Australia 13 November 2014, Mercure Hotel Sydney

I want to start off this year by talking about our governance work.

While you might see the work we do in the media or online all of that is really dependent on having a strong organisation with a watchful Board.

In some ways PWD is still feeling the effects of the defunding of the hotline 3 years ago. Unfunded and underfunded work continues to be a strain on the organisation. And we can see that in the audit report.

Thankfully we end the calendar year in a much better position than the financial year due to additional projects but the Board is very focussed on managing our unfunded liabilities. We have a plan in place – parts of that plan have already started.

There are many changes to funding happening at both NSW and at the Commonwealth level.

The long term future of advocacy funding as we have known it is unclear.

What is true is that PWDA continues to be highly competitive for project work & this year we commenced projects to support the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse and Neglect and we have just announced a project to develop a scorecared for the NDIS.

We also formed the National Cross Disability Alliance which we hope will be highly competitive in the national peaks tender.

And we need a strong peak now more than ever.

It’s been a momentous year for disability again on the national stage – the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme; renewed proposals to change Disability Support Pension eligibility; the axing of a dedicated Disability Discrimination Commissioner; and the ABC’s decision to cease the ABC Ramp Up website.

This has been a mixed year, but we have succeeded in protecting funding for the NDIS within a hard Federal Budget that had the most severe cuts to many social programs since the 1970’s.

On the 1st July of this year, all Australians began contributing to the NDIS through the Medicare Levy – the Levy that we called for last year.

Once again we did intense media in the lead up to this years Budget.

The scheme was reviewed again and again and it started to seem like they were testing the waters to scale it back, cut it back or knock it out.

They tested the waters and PWDA and its members came out strong. You came out strong. Our Board came out strong. Our staff came out strong. Parents and carers who may not agree with us on everything – you came out strong too. To his credit – the Minister responsible – Senator Fifield also came out strong.

And to those who might be watching now in government or the Bureaucracy – and they do – I say to you that the NDIS is off limits, now and forever.

We know we will need to fight this from Budget to Budget and we are prepared for that.

We are also prepared to help to shape the scheme.

The NDIS has been reviewed by everyone else and its time we had our say. If this is a trial its time we had a jury. It’s time we had witnesses. It’s time we were heard.

PWD is launching a Citizens Jury to provide the Australian community with the first user-led national NDIS score card.

It will be delivered by Australians who have helped fund this scheme and those who have direct experience as participants within the seven trial sites.

The first part of that feedback is a social media forum which is being held in the lead up to Saturday 29 November. The Board invites all of our members to have your say. The hashtag is #ndisjury and the event is on our page now.

We also need to have a say about jobs and welfare.

This year we’ve seen welfare reform bombshells time and again – on Sunday’s, Christmas Day and at Easter and every time we made the point that we are not rorters and we are not bludgers.

We have been working and campaigning our whole lives.

We are the lifters and we work hard. That is what our members do. That is what YOU do.

You should see how hard Sam Connor works. That day when Facebook went down? I think Sam overloaded it.

You should have seen Mark Tonga out in Macquarie St fighting for taxi subsidies.

You should see Therese speaking out against violence.

You should see Matt and our team of advocates.

Those advocates now assist one person with disability every hour, every day, of the entire year. Last week we heard the results of our quality audit which said that our advocates treat people with professionalism, compassion and respect.

All of us in this room and watching online work hard recruiting other members.

Our online engagement strategy means we now have a reach of over 17,000 people around Australia.

Our membership is ten times what it was since we adopted free online membership in 2012.

No one works as hard as people in Australian Disability Enterprises. When we campaign about ADE’s we are not saying that they are sheltered workshops where people aren’t doing “proper work”.

We are saying that the people in them deserve to be paid for the work they do.

If we are to judge workers productivity then lets apply this to everyone. Let’s apply it to bureaucrats who decided to fund businesses to pay low wages so that those people could stay on the disability pension which the govt says it wants to reduce.

Let’s apply wage assessments to politicians who have failed on disability and jobs including in the public service.

Instead of focussing on welfare we need a real safety net and real jobs.

It is time to say plainly that that not everyone can work in our current jobs market.

For some people the barriers are so deep that we need decent income support and alternatives to full time work.

We will always need a safety net and that is not a life of poverty on Newstart.

But that safety net should not become a trap. It should not be a place where we dump people. Where we ignore people. Where we reinsitutionalised people.

This year the Government appointed a freedom commissioner. Now people may have scoffed but too many of us don’t have economic freedom.

You can do a lot with money: sustain social networks, acquire assets, go on holidays like everyone else and save for retirement. That’s the freedom that we need.

I’d like to thank you again for your trust and for asking me to be President for a second time.

I want to acknowledge the Executive – Fiona Given, Faye Druett and Kristy Trajcevki. Fiona and Kristy are taking a break from the Board. Kristy is going to be continuing to work with us on a project for a while and after that I hope we can co-opt her back onto the Board.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.

Craig Wallace

Craig Wallace is a marketing manager and project coordinator with Nican a national community organisation and has been a community leader with various organisations for more than a decade. He is the President of People with Disability Australia, a leading cross disability rights organisation in Australia and is a member of the ACT BLITS business group.