Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 3390 ..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
Without doubt, the needs of the disabled of this community are an absolute priority for this Government. Of course, the needs of students with disabilities are being addressed very seriously. The Government, as Mr Moore has indicated, would like to do more. We are looking at ways in which we can but, again, I get back to the Auditor-General's report. Mr Moore is quite right in raising those points.
We do have a significant operating loss. The report indicates that, whilst our services and infrastructure are very good and better than those of the States and Territories, they come at a price. We are constantly continuing to spend more than we earn, and that is a very real problem. I would say to members that there are some very real benefits which I think people can see from this window of opportunity in relation to ACTEW. It is important to get the ideological blinkers off because it will at least give us some potential, perhaps, to be able to spend more money in crucial areas such as this. Otherwise it is going to be very, very hard.
That having been said, I think it is quite clear both from what Mr Moore has said and from what I have said that this Government has a very clear commitment to people with disabilities, regardless of how old they are, and that is shown by the extensive range of programs that we have throughout our community.
MS TUCKER (4.42): I realise that other members want to speak to this matter of public importance and, as we are going to run out of time, I will try to keep to the point. In the last Assembly, as members are well aware, the Social Policy Committee inquired into the Commonwealth-State Disability Agreement. During that inquiry we were contacted by many people in the community who were very concerned about services for people with a disability and also more general issues related to discrimination and how we, as a society, integrate people with a disability.
The current Education Committee also intends to hold an inquiry into this matter. We want to look at how people with a disability are able to access educational opportunities, because it is quite clear that this is an area that is still of major concern, despite what Mr Stefaniak just said. While we now have Federal, Territory and State legislation in place whose objectives are to eliminate discrimination and to promote recognition and acceptance within the community of the principle that persons with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as the rest of the community, the reality does not meet that goal.
I am still meeting with people who feel unsupported and even violated by the systems which are meant to support them. I still meet people who are desperate to get support. The common complaint from carers, for example, is this: "I have put in endless hours to care for this person. I have given up other life opportunities. I find it hard to make ends meet financially because I have chosen to care for this loved one. I have saved the Government many thousands of dollars and, when I ask for support from government, I am told, `Sorry, there are no funds' ". I remember very clearly one mother saying, "If I leave my child on the Minister's doorstep, then they will find funds. Is that what I have to do?".