Why Tony Clark Should Replace Stephen Conroy
20 September 2016 at 10:10 am
It’s clear that we need someone in Canberra who understands the issues that affect all Australians, including Australians with disabilities, writes systemic advocate for inclusive practices Tricia Malowney.
The Parliament of Australia should reflect the diversity of the Australian people. I have often felt that there is something missing in Canberra. And that something is people with disabilities.
Women make up 51 per cent of the population so I have supported the increase in the number of women in politics, and I have supported and applauded the election of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who make up around 3 per cent of the population. But around 20 per cent of the population have some form of disability, where is our representation?
As a proud Australian with a disability, I have long been an activist for the rights of people with disabilities who do not have a voice. Occasionally along the way, I meet other people with disabilities who demonstrate that Australians with disabilities are competent and able, and who are using their skills to enhance the rights of others while at the same time going about their business.
Tony Clark, who has no sight, but great vision, is one of those people.
Clark and I first met when I co-chaired the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Disability Reference Group, alongside Helen Szoke. I recognised that he shared my understanding of the issues which confront people with disabilities on a daily basis, and that he was able to understand complex issues and, more importantly, come up with practical and realistic solutions.
Clark and I have both always been quite able and have managed to push our way through the artificial barriers of assumptions and prejudice to have successful careers. However, we both recognised that other Australians with disabilities had not had the same opportunities.
We recognised in each other a fellow traveller, a person who was able to understand the complexities of society, including the disability sector, and who was willing to challenge the mainstream understanding of social exclusion.
We often met on the train, where as a person with a disability I would have to travel in the first carriage to be loaded with my wheelchair. Clark got into that carriage, because it was closest to the gate, not because of his disability.
I noticed that Clark has a great capacity to engage with other travellers, and we would often have heady discussions on the current state of affairs, from politics, to barriers to social inclusion, to how to change societal attitudes, to the closure of sheltered workshops to the excitement and anticipation of the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the possibilities that it could bring.
Clark also understands the broader issues affecting society, and our discussions were not exclusive to disability issues. Clark knows the economic realities that each of us face and is particularly determined to have an education system which meets the needs of the Australian population. He understands that education is the foundation block on which everything depends. We need a good education so that people have the life skills they need to get a job, raise a family and have a successful life, even if that life is an ordinary life.
Clark understands the reality of people who have a mortgage, who raise a family and who contribute to their community as a volunteer, whether that be at the school, or in the scouting movement. Clark has a supportive wife and two great children who are also participating as well as supporting Clark in his bid to ensure that his abilities are recognised.
Clark understands that as Australians, we are all different, that we have different capacities and different abilities. Clark understands that Australians with disabilities are no different.
Australia has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring the rights of Australians with disabilities through the bipartisan support for the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Strategy.
The stories in the Shut Out report give a clear indication of why we need change in Australia.
We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and yet all too often people with disabilities struggle to access the very necessities of life – somewhere to live, somewhere to work. All too often they are unable to access education, healthcare, recreation and sport – the very things most people in the community take for granted. They are denied access to kindergartens, schools, shopping centres and participation in community groups. They are often isolated and alone.
Reading that statement makes it clear that we need someone in Canberra who understands the issues that affect Australians, including Australians with disabilities. Appointing Clark to the Senate to replace Stephen Conroy will be an indication to all Australians that we are mature enough to understand that Australians with disabilities need to have representation.
Tony Clark is the clear choice to replace Stephen Conroy, not because he has no sight, that would be paternalistic and patronising.
Tony Clark is the clear choice to replace Stephen Conroy in the Senate because he has great vision.
Come on Australia, I want to be represented too. Sign the petition to nominate Tony Clark here.
About the author: Tricia Malowney is a systemic advocate for inclusive practices and regular contributor to Pro Bono Australia News. She is a former president of the Victorian Disability Services Board. In November 2013, Malowney was awarded the inaugural Brenda Gabe Leadership Award for her outstanding contribution to women with disabilities in Victoria. She was the inaugural Chair of the Royal Women’s Hospital Disability Reference Group and was able to influence policy and planning on key issues including the Family Violence Protection Act 2006. She has successfully lobbied for women with disabilities to be included in the United Nations Population Health Research.