Strengthening Disability Advocacy conference 2012
Disability advocacy and the legal system: You be the judge!

Monday 26 & Tuesday 27 March 2012 @ Melbourne Park Function Centre

Welcome and Opening Address


Sunday 25th March, 2012: 11:00pm - 11:30pm


Blue Room


Andrea Coote, Parliamentary Secretary for Family and Community Services

Andrea Coote was elected to Parliament in September 1999 and has proved herself to be a pivotal part of the Victorian Parliamentary Liberal Party. She is currently Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Community Services. Andrea’s primary responsibility in this role is with the Disability Sector.

Photo of Andrea Coote, Parliamentary Secretary for Family and Community Services

Session Summary

The welcome address at the Strengthening Disability Advocacy Conference: Champions of Change was presented by Andrea Coote, Parliamentary Secretary, Family and Community Services in Victoria.


Audio Podcast



It is now our welcoming address. As i said earlier Andrea was not available to deliver our welcoming address earlier in the day so we’ll have the welcome now. We will have the great pleasure of hearing from Andrea in a moment. Before i do that i would like to make some introductory remarks about Andrea.

Andrea is the parliamentary secretary for families and community services here in victoria. She was elected to parliament in September 1999 and earlier this year she announced that she wouldn’t be re-standing for election this year. Andrea’s primary responsibility in her role as parliamentary secretary is with the disability sector. Andrea works with peak organisations, individuals and their families to ensure there is a person centred approach to disability here in victoria. Andrea works closely with stakeholders to develop the 2013 – 2016 Victorian State Disability Plan. I’ve come to know andrea quite well in the last couple of years because as a member of the victorian disability advisory council Andrea attends those meetings regularly and i’ve found her to be very proactive and very engaged parliamentary secretary. It’s my great pleasure to introduce Andrea so that she can give the welcoming address.

(My Way music playing in the background)

Dear me, that together with the photograph, which I’m sure they’ve touched up is a really nice way to start. Thank you so much indeed, thank you Robyn for your lovely introduction it’s so nice to be here. I was chatting to George, we were having a bit of a catch up. It’s so good to see so many friends in this room and to see how well the conference is going. Robyn you and your team need to be congratulated I think you’ve done a fantastic job.


I would like to acknowledge some of the people here. I know Graeme Innes has to leave to catch a plane back to Sydney. It was so good to see him and the panel you had here were so high profile. It seems a very strange thing to be giving the welcoming address when you’re well and truly welcomed but I will give my apologies and explain what I was doing in a moment.

I would also like to acknowledge my friend Laurie Harkin the Disability Services Commissioner, Bernie Geary whose gone to Shepparton he has had to race up the highway. Doctor Grant Davies who I think I saw before. Kate Jenkins, Maryanne Diamond, Colleen Pearce and Liz Kelly.

I saw the panel who were here before and heard the lively conversation and certainly some of the questions you had. I would like to explain where I have been because first of all Mary wasn’t able to be here because she was at Cabinet and that’s every Monday. I was actually deliberating on the report that many of you in this room have been involved with which was The Social Inclusion Report for the Family and Community Development Committee.

I look around this room and many of you came to report to our committee and the comments that you gave were absolutely first rate and we’re using many of those. When a Parliamentary Committee deliberates on something we go through chapter by chapter to see how it will work in the final report.

That’s what we we doing today, all the members of the committee need to be there so we can get the report right. We’ve asked for an extension because we got so many submissions both written and also from people who came to present to us. We asked for an extension from Parliament and it’s going to be tabled on the 17th September. That is my real reason for not being here with you this morning. I would’ve liked to say Welcome when you all arrived. If you forgive me a very belated Welcome to everyone.

Being on the Family and Community Development Committee and looking into social inclusion is a very tangible way of looking at advocacy. We saw people coming from themselves to give personal advocacy, we saw people coming with others to give their information. It really was what is the heart of what we are dealing with here at this conference.

I think it is very pleasing to see firsthand social inclusion working. I have to commend Melba here and the two girls over there. Melba came with a whole team into the Family and Community Development Committee and everyone had their say. It was terrific for the Committee to actually hear from some of the members of the Melba clan who came to give their firsthand experience of what social inclusion meant to them.

I know from the Committees point of view, from all of those other Parliamentarians that are on the Committee it was a very powerful thing. It really was social inclusion at it’s very best but they did need very good advocates to get them there. So Melba are to be congratulated as well.

But I would like to acknowledge all of you because the commitment that all of you show to the disability sector and the advocates and the self-advocates amongst you, you are what makes this work. You have been really powerful in what you have done and I think in this time of change that we’re all in it’s so pleasing to see that we are all starting to have a voice, a very loud voice. It’s beginning to be heard which I think is terrific. It is because of your hard work and advocacy over many years for the most marginalised members of the community that has given a voice and their rights have been protected.

I think as we go into this new NDIS world that is just such an important framework to be building upon. Victoria has a thriving disability advocacy sector. There are twenty-four organisations who are funded $2.5 million a year by the Victorian Government to provide disability advocacy support with and for people with a disability, their families and carers. These include the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit and the Self-advocacy Resource Unit who along with Disability Advocacy Victoria and a range of really impressive speakers have made this conference a possibility.

I love the theme. The theme of this conference Champions of Change is just terrific. It’s powerful, it’s dynamic and I think that shows very clearly where all of us are at the moment. I do want to speak about the NDIS and it is an opportunity to reflect upon some of the things that have happened.

I’ve just come back from being around the country and looking at the other sites for the NDIS launch in Tasmania, S.A. and NSW. Everyone is looking at this whole process slightly differently. But I was really proud of Victoria, I was really proud of the fact we do advocacy so well, that we do the safeguard so well and we have done individual support packages better than some of the other states.

What hit home to me most of all is that we are all part of a National program. This isn’t just about Victoria, it’s about all of us and about our whole nation going further forward. I think that’s the responsibility we all have but I have to say as I said I feel very proud of Victoria and we’re going to keep the edge over everybody. It’s up to conferences like this to come out with positive information so we can stay ahead of those States.

I have also had a great opportunity to go out with James O’Brien from the NDS across the State and speak with probably a thousand people from the service provider sector and talking about the readiness for NDIS. It was a great opportunity. We heard many things that were good, many things of concern and many things that people were finding very challenging. It was very important to listen to all of that.

That’s why it’s important for you as advocates. We need to rely upon you to tell us how this is going. We need you to be out there advocating either for other individuals or for yourselves to tell us what we should be thinking about, what we should be doing.

One of the things that we did do in the Barwon Region was to put $400,000 down to establish the leading educating and advocating for disability or the Lead Barwon Group. This has been such a success that I acknowledge here, I have seen Tina today but not Jane or Thomas Banks and I know tomorrow they’re giving a key note address. I’m sure you will find that extremely interesting. Watching it from the side as I have I had to say it’s not only been so good for the people coming into the system to hear of true advocates who have been through the process and sharing their story but it’s also been really good for the advocates as well. I think you’re in for a real treat tomorrow when you go to that workshop when you go to hear Jane, Tina and Thomas.

It’s also important and we’ve recognised this that parents and carers need to understand what this new process is and how to get the best outcomes. It’s for that reason that we provided $200,000 to the Association for Children with Disability and Liz McGarry is here and Carers Victoria to deliver the Confident Carers Initiative to support parents and their children on their journey through the NDIS.

I would like to also acknowledge the work of the Office of the Public Advocate because we are funding them to do some really important work with supporting the people living in Caloundra and other shared supported accommodation as all of these groups move towards an NDIS.

But we do as I said all have to work together. I think the excitement, the euphoria I think that we all felt back in July last year is still with us but it’s tempered. It’s tempered by the hard work and the challenges we all have ahead of us. It is exciting. How often do you get an opportunity to be at the very first run of something that’s going to have such an impact forever, I think that’s where we all are. For decades into the future, it is very exciting.

I’m really pleased to see that there is going to be a workshop this afternoon on the Victoria State Disability Plan 2013/2016. I can’t stay because we have a Parliamentary sitting. It’s so frustrating I would love to be here but can’t split myself into several ways. I know Michael Cromie will do a fantastic job and he has promised to tell me every single word that’s reported.

I know it seems like a long time ago that we started to develop this plan and we spoke to over five hundred people and organisations across the State and heard what they wanted from a State Disability Plan. So much has changed, mainly the NDIS and as many of you in this room helped us to craft that report and the plan and we were doing it with blinkers on because we weren’t terribly certain what an NDIS was going to look like. Luckily for us it’s working in parallel and the very essence of what the Disability Plan is is also shadowed in the NDIS. I think that we were on the mark, we were listening and I think the contribution that everyone made, made that Disability Plan something we can all feel very proud of.

One of the things that I think was important was to highlight about the Government areas all working together. For the first time all parts of the Government are working together to reduce barriers in areas that people with disability have told us mattered the most such as employment, transport and education. And it is very clear that advocates play an important role to support people with disabilities, their families and carers to access the community and in doing so help this plan into action.

Now we are talking to people with disabilities on a continuous basis to see if the plan is actually making a difference and to get their ideas about what needs to change. That’s why the importance of the workshop this afternoon. I really encourage you to put Michael under the pump and to tell him and the committee and those of the workshops exactly what are the good aspects and bad aspects. Michael forgive me I am saying it very publically.

Self-advocacy is very important to give people with a disability a voice as we develop these policies like the plan. I was particularly pleased to hear that SARU ran a forum in April to tell people about the plan and provide people with the tools they needed and make change happen in their communities. I understand it was Colin Hisko with Susan Arthur, Andrew Morris, Heather Huthgard, Michael Andrews and Luke Nelson helped with putting this together and I think it was a great success, I think that’s very important for us to know.

We value as a Government advocacy, which is why I’m so pleased we announced in November and once again I know many of you were there, we gave an additional $43,000 in funding to SARU to continue what we see is very important work. We want you to keep telling us about this plan, if the plan is going to work it’s a working document. That’s one of the things we listened to very carefully over the first plan that was implemented. People wanted to say how is it relevant. That is up to you, give us the feedback warts and all because if we’re going to make this work it’s very important we understand all that.

To demonstrate the achievements of the State plan we’ve produced
some small videos on the experiences of people with a disability. I think there’s four of these all-together and I encourage you to have a look on them on the Department of Human Services website. We will look at one of them now.

This one is a video on direct employment. A situation where people with a disability are in control of their individual funding and where that person determines what kind of support they receive and when they receive it. Direct employment is a deliverable of the State plan. It’s going to be up on the screen and if we watch this for a moment I think it gives you a very good indication of some of the things we’ve been doing.

watch video

Well as I said that’s something we all want to see achieved and look at the smiles, the words, the independence, just the normal day to day things that are now a reality and a possibility. I do as I say recommend you look at the other short snippets on the website and you can see what we have been doing.

That’s as much of a welcome I’ve got but I really do hope that you have a fantastic conference from here on. Looking at the program I think you’re in for some very interesting topics and I’m certain some lively discussions. I look forward to reading the transcripts and I think Graeme Innes said it’s on podcasts so  I will be able to watch the bits I won’t be able to see.

We have a Parliamentary sitting week as I said to you before so this will be lovely to be able to watch what’s happening here. As Robyn said before I’m not contesting the next election in November this year. I have been in Parliament for 15 years and loved every bit of it.

I look in this room and the very first conference I did was this one. So to begin my Parliamentary career and end my Parliamentary Secretary position couldn’t have been better. I just want to say thank you to all of you who have been such great supporters and friends, and have given me so much advice. I want to thank each and every one of you for being such good friends. Thank you very much indeed.