The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

11 December 2009

NO.034

Making Every Australian Count

Launch of Endeavour Foundation Endowment Challenge Fund

Brisbane

11 December 2009

Introduction

Thanks David [Barbagallo].

It's my pleasure to be here today and to lend my support to the terrific work of Endeavour Foundation.

It's an even greater pleasure because it gives me the chance to catch up with my old friend David Barbagallo.

It was a long time ago we worked together, helping Wayne Goss during his time as Premier, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was head of the Party. David was the head of the Premier's office. And a bloke called Kevin was the head of the public service.

David's one of those fantastic people you meet every now and then – an innovator and leader who uses his skills for the benefit of the community.

We all know that people with disabilities and mental illnesses and their carers are among the toughest, proudest and hardest working Australians you will ever meet. They can usually stand up for themselves, but sometimes like everyone else they need champions, and it's nice to know that one of the many champions they can count on at Endeavour Foundation is a person of David's rare talents and experience.

Few things could be of greater benefit to our society than what we're doing here today – launching Endeavour's Endowment Challenge Fund so Endeavour can extend its great work giving Aussies with a disability the support they need to make a real go of life.

The issue of disabilities has been in the news a lot in recent weeks – for some good reasons, which I'll come to in a moment, but also for some not-so-good reasons.

I'm sure many of you will have seen the controversy surrounding the treatment of Paralympian Kurt Fearnley who was forced to check in his own wheelchair prior to boarding a flight.

That kind of experience is all too common for people with disabilities. But thanks to Kurt and others like him, who take a stand, airlines and other institutions are being challenged and are acknowledging they have to do better.

His stand was a wake-up call to our whole society. Whether we manage a shop or an office or a factory or a school, we all have a duty to do better for the disabled among us.

Supporting Endeavour Foundation Endowment Challenge Fund

But for every person like Kurt strong enough to make such a powerful case, there are many others who don't get listened to.

They need our support. That's why Endeavour Foundation is so important.

It has certainly come a long way from the tiny parents' organisation that met on a veranda in Coorparoo over half a century ago. It now contributes more than $300 million per annum to the disability services effort, helping 3,400 people and their families at over 220 locations, making it the largest non-government organisation of its type in Australia.

This is a huge commitment already. And I'm glad to say the Foundation plans on doing a lot more – which is why today I'm so proud to help launch Endeavour Foundation Endowment Challenge Fund.

The Endowment Challenge Fund will be challenging people and businesses to dig deep and invest to assist even more people with a disability. The sector cries out for innovation of this type.

The Fund is going to support a Chair and scholarships to improve research into disabilities in Australia. It's going to fund special projects for people with disabilities, giving them the chance to travel overseas, give musical or artistic performances or just have a great holiday - the sorts of things the rest of us can sometimes take for granted. And it's going to fund other not-for-profit organisations to improve their assistance to people with disabilities.

These are great ideas and I want to encourage everyone here to consider them when you're making your next philanthropic donation.

And to make that easier, it's my great pleasure to be able to announce that the Commissioner for Taxation has given final approval to the Fund for Deductible Gift Recipient status, which will enable them to collect tax deductible donations.

Prosperity for a Better Society

When you get down to basics, the work of organisations like Endeavour Foundation is about a simple concept: a fairer society.

Let's face it, we can't claim to have a fair and just society if hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are made to feel like second-class citizens; or if they don't have the opportunity to get a good education and a job and be independent; or if their carers are forced to endure unnecessary hardship to look after children, brothers, sisters, friends or parents.

As Treasurer I'm conscious that creating a more just society involves money – and sometimes a lot of it. But I think we can sometimes afford to get away from the idea that economics is only about costs.

To me economics is about a lot more. It's about what we value.

My goal as Treasurer is of course to create economic growth. It's the first and over-riding duty of all Treasurers. But when you're pursuing growth it's important above all else to understand what growth is for.

It's not just about putting more money in people's pockets – although that too is an important goal, especially for the poorest Australians. It's about being able to do what's right.

At the moment we're in the middle of a debate about how we can use economics to save the very planet itself from climate catastrophe.

Raising the spectre of higher taxes as our opponents are doing is one thing – but explaining how they intend to get the nations of the world acting together to prevent more droughts and bushfires and cyclones is another. If they can't do the latter, they're going to fail the moral test.

Our other big moral test is how we create a fairer society that gives everyone the chance to succeed and find fulfilment.

This is a question I've been pondering my whole political life, which is why I devoted a large part of 2005 to writing about it in my book Postcode: the splintering of a nation.

It's an issue Australia is actually quite good at addressing when we set our minds to it. For all the disadvantage we have in Australia, we don't have the absolute extremes of wealth and poverty that you find elsewhere.

I think this is ultimately because of something in our character – a fundamental sense of fairness and toughness.

It's something I've seen on display in the tough times of the global economic recession.

In the face of the sharpest synchronised contraction across the global economy since the Great Depression, Australians didn't panic. We didn't suddenly stop spending, or sack employees, or demand cuts to government spending. We showed unprecedented levels of unity and cooperation and resilience.

As a Government, we did what we could to cushion the impact of the downturn by supporting families and businesses through our timely delivery of stimulus and investment in critical nation building infrastructure.

This was not a decision we took lightly. But it is one that we can all be proud of because it involved working together.

Businesses, families, communities, workplaces all did what they could to support jobs and to support each other in tough times.

Unfortunately the Opposition could not bring itself to be part of this national effort to support jobs and families. You may recall that the Opposition refused bipartisan support for our stimulus policies – for a week, Australia's response to the global recession was held hostage to the Opposition.

Had we not secured the votes of two Independents, the package would not have passed and Australia would now be in recession.

Our economy would have contracted by 1.3 per cent in the year to June without stimulus. But with stimulus we have out-performed other major advanced economies.

Australia is the only advanced economy to have grown over the year to June. Unemployment, which was forecast at Budget to peak at 8½ per cent, is now expected to peak at 6¾ per cent in the middle of 2010.

We don't get too carried away by month to month numbers, but that 5.7 per cent unemployment number we saw yesterday was very encouraging.

And sustaining favourable jobs outcomes like that relies very heavily on that pipeline of activity and certainty provided by the infrastructure projects that lie at the very core of our stimulus.

That pipeline of construction activity is absolutely critical to filling the hole in business investment caused by the global recession, and keeping people in work until the private sector recovers.

And filling that hole with important public infrastructure projects – limiting damage to our skills and capital base – means that we are far better placed than comparable countries to take advantage of the recovery.

Our performance in the face of an historic global recession is something we can all be proud of – because it's something that we've done together.

Our challenge today is to build on this unity and convert our success into something enduring.

That means not wasting the talents of a single Australian. Every Australian has a role to play in our recovery and our future prosperity. People with disabilities and mental illness have to be a big part of that.

Boosting Participation

Providing justice for people with disabilities is not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, because their welfare affects each and every one of us.

It's a sign of failure by all authorities over generations that today someone with a disability is less than two-thirds as likely to have a job as other Australians. And that means they're far more likely to be living in poverty.

As a society, we have to do something about this – because the numbers of people with a disability or mental illness is increasing fast. Our latest estimate is that by 2030 the number of people with a severe or profound disability is predicted to rise to 2.3 million. Growth in demand for disability services is estimated to increase by 7.5 per cent per year.

Figures like that make disability a huge social policy issue, with huge implications for local, state and federal budgets. In fact, it's one of the biggest social policy issues we face.

It also makes it a huge economic issue.

With our ageing population we can't afford to have up to 10 per cent of our working-age population unable to contribute to the nation's prosperity because they don't have the support they need.

To me as Treasurer, it's simple commonsense – and simple mathematics. Direct Commonwealth payments to people with disabilities and mental illnesses and their carers currently cost more than $11.5 billion per year.

The actual cost to the nation, including service provision and revenue foregone, will be a lot higher.

It's an issue I'm determined that all levels of government in Australia must address.

It's not going to be easy. No problem this big ever is. But the Government is now taking important steps to get a long-term solution in place.

Next year we will be releasing a new social inclusion strategy that will have a strong emphasis on disability. It will cover the whole range of issues from employment, to housing, to transport, to the adequacy of pensions and carers' payments.

But its major emphasis will be on empowering people to take part in the mainstream economic life of the nation – something crucial to attaining equality and higher living standards over someone's entire lifetime.

In a couple of weeks I will receive the report of the Henry Review of Australia's tax and transfer system. I expect to release the report early in 2010. One of its objectives is reducing the disincentives that prevent people with disabilities and mental illnesses and their carers from re-entering the workforce.

Just because it is harder for some people to participate in the workforce doesn't mean they should have to give up on those opportunities.

We've already set the ball rolling, with a new National Disability Agreement providing $5.3 billion in funding over five years to the States and Territories for specialist disability services. That money will not only provide extra services, it will enable reforms to make the system much stronger – with more early intervention and a better trained workforce.

Another crucial advance has been the National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy. It invests $1.2 billion to create new employment services for people with disabilities. For the first time, people with disabilities and mental health issues will be able to access skills training and job services on an on-demand basis, like every other unemployed Australian. This is another huge advance.

Just last week we launched the Full Report of the Government's Disability Investment Group. I want to congratulate my colleagues Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Community Services, and Bill Shorten, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Services, for this terrific initiative to enlist prominent businesspeople to come up with new ideas to improve disability policy.

The Report contains proposals for boosting private investment in disability housing, better employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and improvements to research. Its biggest recommendation is of course for a feasibility study into a national disability insurance scheme for Australia.

As Bill has said, it's as big as the original idea for Medibank. Instead of funding services, it would offer guaranteed individualised lifetime care and support for each person from the point of diagnosis.

That proposal is an important one – and one that I want to see fully investigated. That's why the Government announced that the Productivity Commission will undertake a feasibility study into long-term care and support for people with disability in Australia, including investigating the feasibility for a no-fault social insurance scheme to cover people's disability and mental service needs.

The Productivity Commission's work will determine if such a scheme would be appropriate, practical, economically responsible and if it would fit with Australia's health, aged care, income support and injury insurance systems. The study will be supported by an independent panel of prominent experts and will report by July 2011.

If it proves feasible, it will be one of the most important social policy reforms in Australia in many years.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, in a society as wealthy as ours, having a disability, or caring for someone who has, should be less of a struggle. And getting the right services shouldn't be such a hit or miss affair. Yet, after a decade or more of neglect, I know for so many Australians that's what it still is.

If we want to remain true to the values our nation stands for – the idea that everyone deserves a fair go – we have to do better.

Every single one of us has a role to play.

As the Treasurer, and as someone who in opposition called for a fairer deal for all disadvantaged Australians, I accept the challenge.

And I think that over the next few years, as our economy recovers, and cooperation between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories delivers better services, we are going to see big improvements in the help we give to people with disabilities and mental illnesses.

And if bodies like the Productivity Commission recommend more major reform, and the economy gives us the means to afford them, we will consider the options closely.

But governments alone cannot address all the difficult social issues confronting our society. There is a role for everybody to extend a hand to assist those in need of a bit of extra help.

Organisations like Endeavour Foundation are giving people the opportunity to get involved and help out. Whether you're a donor or a parent or a carer, I think everyone at Endeavour can feel justifiably proud of supporting such a fantastic organisation.

The new Endeavour Foundation Endowment Challenge Fund will provide new avenues for people to get behind Aussies who need our help, and I wish it every success.

I think we're on the verge of some really important improvements to the way Australia supports people with disabilities and mental illnesses. You're such a big part of that, so thanks again for having me here today.