Strengthening Disability Advocacy Conference 2016
Putting rights centre stage

Friday 2 September @ NAB, The Hall, 700 Bourke Street, Docklands

Rights Retrospective

This special multi-media event marks the 30th anniversary of funded disability advocacy in Victoria. To celebrate, we showcase the achievements of disability advocacy over
three decades, highlighting milestones and mapping the political landscape. We will be reminded of the campaigns and personalities that were integral to creating change and to building a strong foundation for a future where rights are respected for all.

The event featured guest appearances from advocates who have been on the front line for many years and are still passionate about fighting for equality for people with disability in all areas of life – housing, transport, education, employment and more.

The presentation was interspersed with live music performed by our very own in-house band,  The Rights Tough.


Thursday 1st September, 2016: 3:30am - 5:30am


The Hall


Facilitated by:

Sarah Barton, Film Producer

Sarah Barton has worked mainly as a documentary writer and director since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts School of Film and Television in 1992. She is probably best known for her work with No Limits, an award winning community television series (2003),which looks at living life to the fullest with a disability. Sarah was the founding series producer of this long running series which still screens on community television stations across Australia. Photo of Sarah Barton, Film Producer

Panelists include:

The Rights Tough, Live band

The Rights Tough come highly credentialed with two band members having an acquired permanent disability and three members having over 20 years experience each working in the disability sector. All five members are locally accomplished musicians playing in groups or as solo artists in a variety of styles including punk pop, rock, jazz, folk and reggae.

Photo of The Rights Tough, Live band

Pauline Williams, Executive Officer, AMIDA

Apart from paulines roll as an individual advocate, her systemic advocacy has achieve such goals as the closure of institutions and community supported accommodation for all. Another goal has been the inclusion in law of residential rights for people with a disability living in shared supported accommodation and the separation of support services from housing provision. This will finally become national policy under the NDIS.

Photo of Pauline Williams, Executive Officer, AMIDA

Colin Hiscoe, Reinforce

Colin is passionate about improving the lives of people living in Community Residential Units (CRU) and has committed his life to fighting for the rights of people with a disability.

Photo of Colin Hiscoe, Reinforce

Sue Smith, Coordinator, SARU

Sue works at SARU and enjoys sharing advice and ideas gained from her thirty years’ experience in self advocacy and community development. She is currently the chairperson of start Community Art and has helped manage community arts projects in partnership with community organisations including Compassionate Friends, Self Help Addiction Resource Centre, Warrior Women and Reinforce. … Continued

Photo of Sue Smith, Coordinator, SARU

Jeanette Lee, Customer Rights & Empowerment Practitioner, Yooralla

In her current role at Yooralla, Jeanette focuses on the rights & empowerment, participation and personal development of people with disabilities.

Jeanette was the Co-founder and Chairperson of DARE (Disability Action Rights & Equality), Co-founder & Coordinator of the Parents with a Disability Community Network and has developed several of Yooralla’s Peer Support and Self-Advocacy Programs.

Photo of Jeanette Lee, Customer Rights & Empowerment Practitioner, Yooralla

David Brant, VCOSS Board Member

David Brant has been a person with disability since 2000 when he lost most of his sight. Since then David has worked as an advocate for systemic disability issues – playing a lead role in the successful campaign to have the Victorian Government reinstate the M40 taxi card. He continues to campaign on disability public … Continued

Photo of David Brant, VCOSS Board Member

Esther Harris, Executive Officer, STAR Victoria

Esther Harris has been a disability advocate for more than 20 years, beginning with her work with the State School Parent Organisation, now known as Parents Victoria. It was from there that her passionate interest and commitment to the rights of all children in education grew.

Photo of Esther Harris, Executive Officer, STAR Victoria

Steve Hurd, Councillor for the ward of Glenferrie, Boroondarra City Council

Steve went to a mainstream kinder and loved it, then he went to the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind and lived there from age 4 and one half. He learned what institutionalisation was.

Although some teachers wanted him to leave school at 15, saying a sheltered workshop would be “your contribution to the community”, he went on to get the highest humanities hsc score ever achieved by a vision impaired person.

In 1985 with 3 others he formed the group PENI people for equality not institutionalization to make good on his earlier promice to rise up. PENI did many protests against disability institutions.

Photo of Steve Hurd, Councillor for the ward of Glenferrie, Boroondarra City Council

Kairsty Wilson, Human Rights lawyer and disability advocate, AED Legal Centre

The greatest endeavour and achievement during Kairsty’s leadership at AED has been her advocacy to improve the wages and working conditions for people with disability working in business services (now known as Australian Disability Enterprises). The rulings by the Federal and High Court in favour of two employees with an intellectual disability supported by Kairsty represent an historic victory likely to have far-reaching implications for the 20,000 employees with disability working in Australian Disability Enterprises across Australia.

Photo of Kairsty Wilson, Human Rights lawyer and disability advocate, AED Legal Centre

Session Summary

The Rights Retrospective set the stage for this year’s Strengthening Disability Advocacy Conference by paying homage to those advocates and campaigns who have fought over three decades to put human rights centre stage in Victoria. And it all came with a brilliant soundtrack from The Rights Tough, the ‘in-house’ conference band who opened the show with ‘walk A Mile In My Shoes’.



Welcome presented by Natasha Brake from DARU.



The RightsRetrospective  launched a beautiful new video where people with disability express their rights under the UN Convention.



We also had a sneak preview of Defiant Lies, the long-awaited documentary from filmmaker Sarah Barton, who was MC on the day. Unfortunately, we can’t show you the snippet from Defiant Lives, due to copyright, however Sarah shared her production journey with us.



The story board

Powerful stories were shared of how change was won and laid bare the challenges still to come.



SARU Coordinator Sue Smith told the retrospective  that when she talks to the broader community about the conditions experienced by people with disability in many of Victoria’s institutions, like the infamous Sunbury Asylum, many think she’s got to be exaggerating.

She found a typed report in the Victorian Government archives from Labor Senators who visited Sunbury in 1969.

“What they saw, they said, was beyond belief. They went to the M8 locked unit, saw people herded naked, in the cold, down to the showers. In some, there would be groups of men, with one (toilet) pot in the middle of the floor’. This isn’t exaggerated, this isn’t something we’ve made bigger over the years, here it is, from 1969, which is relatively recent.”

Sue pointed to some photos in the self advocacy exhibition at the back of the room that talked to the bravery of Sunbury ‘patients/inmates’, who would go out and publicly protest for deinstitutionalisation, risking often being hauled back there by police. Sue talked about Terry who had been held in the notorious locked unit at Sunbury but got out one day by grabbing the key and locking a staff member in. He found the key again recently.

Pauline Williams, Program Manager, AMIDA talked about the constant setbacks in the campaign for deinstitutionalisation, including the election of the Liberal Government in Victoria in the 1990s. “They didn’t think about the human right of everyone to be able to live in the community and have inclusion,” she said.

Instead, they saw the campaign as an issue about conditions, so announced they were building a new modern institution, which remains in operation today. Advocates eventually won the argument in the courts using anti-discrimination laws, but people with disability still lost out because they couldn’t get on public housing lists while they were still regarded as having somewhere to live – the institutions.

Reinforce self advocate Colin Hiscoe urged people in the room to keep up the campaign until all remaining institutions are closed. He said: “Let’s all try to band together and get the rest of them closed.” And he said there are many other fronts where we need to keep fighting: “the right to get married, the right to have a family, the right to live with whoever you want to live with…..that’s still not there.”

Quote from Pauline on the recent announcement that  the NDIS will withdraw funding for them over the coming five years.




Activists have chained themselves to trams, blockaded Ministers’ offices and stripped naked to campaign for accessible transport in Victoria, often inspired by campaigns run by the environmental, gay, civil and other rights movements. The Rights Tough gave us an overview with their version of Ozzy Osbourne’s, Crazy Train.



Jeanette Lee, from Yooralla, remembered setting up the DARE (Disability Action Rights and Equality) coalition to work together on access issues and trigger implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act “We got united, really worked on things.”

More recently, and more quietly, she was involved in a critical campaign on the myki public transport card through the Public Transport Access Committee. “They were trying to get us to rubber-stamp myki and say it was accessible.”

Independent disability advocate David Brant starred in a campaign to protest the Bracks Labor Government withdrawing the M40 taxi cards. It was, he said, a long and complex campaign, and it started to get a bit stale towards the end of the year. Acknowledging that “you can’t chain yourself to a taxi card’, they made thousands of postcards of him dressed in a Santa suit, declaring ‘Bracksy, give us back our taxis’. “The campaign worked. There were some other elements to it, but I was told privately that every third desk in the Premier’s Department had a copy of the card on it. That year he sent me a Christmas card!”

“The Disability Discrimination Act might be the foundation of all these things, but it’s the action that gets things up. It’s getting to speak to Ministers, causing a stir, so that people do something. It’s the threat of the DDA by people with powerful voices” said David Brant.






Esther Harris, Executive Officer, STAR Victoria and Diane McCarthy, Manager Support, Association for Children with a Disability, talked about the ongoing battle to win the right for children with disability to receive a mainstream education.

Esther told us how groups like STAR emerged in the 1970s, at a time when children with disability weren’t offered any education in institutions or their homes: “it was determined they were unable to be educated and, if they were, what would they do (with it)”. Powerful change came with a review commissioned in 1984 by the Cain Labor Government, Integration In Victorian Education- Report of the Ministerial Review of  Education Services for students with  disabilities, which identified five guiding principles which she said are still not adopted in Victoria but should underpin everything that we do. These are:

  1. Every child has a right to be educated in a regular school.
  2. Non categorisation – service delivery should be organised conceptually and administratively   and should be determined by  the individual’s educational needs , rather than being categorised as a person with a specific qualifying disability
  3. Resources and services should be to the greatest extent possible be school based
  4. Collaborative decision  making processes – equal participation of all those  concerned  in decisions with a child’s educational progress-
  5. All children can learn  and be taught.

Esther said change has been won in mainstream schools but not for everyone – while there was acceptance now of the need to build ramps and provide visual aids and other supports, there is “still a long way to go for kids with intellectual disability”. Inclusive education, she said, is about will, skill and capacity and often comes down to the leadership of an individual principal. “You can have the skill and you can have all the resourcing, but if you don’t have the will, nothing happens.”

Diane McCarthy thanked past activists who brought positive change, “My son has a wheelchair and scooter pass to go on the tram. I take that for granted. I want to thank everybody who was chaining themselves to a train or tram, to be out there for children like mine. I think that’s the nature of the rights movement and that there should be stronger numbers behind those protests in the future if they happen”, she said.

The rights Tough covered Billy Bragg’s ‘To Have And To Have NOt’ which was a seamless transition from education to employment.






Kairsty Wilson, Legal Manager, AED Legal Centre, talked about the battle to improve wages and working conditions for people with disability working in what are now known as disability enterprises. When the case was first launched, some workers were being paid 5 cents a day. Related cases have run on since, including a complex campaign for 10,000 people with disability to receive backpay for wages lost in the past and challenges to wages based not just on productivity but ‘competency’.

Kairsty says she gets a lot of hate mail, but she believes strongly that ‘every single person in Australia, with a disability or not, is entitled to an education and employment.”

Steve Hurd, Boroondarra City Council, wants to challenge the long-held mentality that a disability charity organisation must, by its very nature, be good, and that the people who work there are also good. “It’s an error of logic,” he said. “A lot of people who work in the disability sector are the biggest scum you’ll ever meet!” Many disability charity managers were, he said, threatened by people with disability who could do their job, and there was a failure in many organisations to provide mentoring and career pathways for people with disability.

Steve remembers hearing Columnist Terry McCrann ask, “Why do taxpayers have to fund this ‘huge free lunch’ that is the NDIS?” Steve’s response:

“Mate, yuu can have my free lunch if you’ll have my disability. If we can improve the employment of people with disability by 10 per cent, we would save the economy $43billion a year. We’d pay for the NDIS if they just did what the bloody hell we ask them to.”


Thank You

It’s great to have the opportunity to acknowledge people here despite the forgotten thank you on the day.

Thanks to VCOSS and Disability Advocacy Victoria who auspice DARU and are very supportive of this event generally but have been particularly encouraging with the unique Rights retrospective presentation.

A huge thanks to Sarah for doing an amazing job as MC to get in depth informative interviews with such tight time limits and also for her wonderful production of the new “Rights under the UN Convention” that premiered at this conference.

Thanks also to the other movie makers who were involved with putting together the music video clips.  Sophie Siegl was responsible for the “Crazy Train” footage and Jason Stacy, the Rights Tough drummer did the others. Jason’s gentle persistence and enthusiasm for the project kept things ticking along and it was a pleasure working with him on this.

Thanks to the planning committee who didn’t stymie any ideas and particularly the SARU team who handed themselves over as slaves, working away in the background.  Great expo too!

NAB, we couldn’t have done it without you.  The facilities team couldn’t do enough for us and NAB Alliance Catering were a delight to work with.