Thank you, and thank you very much for the work you are doing in supporting the Government's efforts to be more innovative, creative, effective and efficient in the delivery of our aid program. I acknowledge Matt Thistlewaite, Theresa Gambaro, Members and Senators, ladies and gentlemen.

I am really pleased this morning to launch a new strategy to strengthen the inclusion of people with disabilities in Australia's aid program. It is called Development for All 2015 to 2020 Strategy for Strengthening Disability-Inclusive Development in Australia's aid program.

According to the World Health Organisation, one in seven people worldwide have some form of disability. That is an extraordinary fact - over one billion people worldwide living with a disability, almost as many people as in China, the most populous nation on earth.

The challenge with disability is that its impacts flow into every other aspect of life. People with a disability know the physical and mental challenges they face as a direct result of their specific condition. But they also know about the flow on effects, the extra challenges involved, for example, in getting an education or the barriers they face in getting a job.

People with disability are overrepresented amongst the world's poor, and the poor are overrepresented amongst people with disability.

The cycle of poverty and disability is well-recognised. Poverty increases the risk of disability through many factors - a lack of adequate nutrition, health care, safe working conditions, clean water and sanitation.

Disability increases the risk of poverty through stigma and discrimination and a lack of access to what others in society may take for granted - education, employment, public transport, or even participation in community life, all while families take on caring responsibilities.

Australia's aid program aims to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and enhance stability, particularly in our region, including through a joint focus on private sector and human development in the Indo-Pacific.

But we cannot achieve this if those most at risk can't participate in or access the benefits of our programs. Worldwide, there is a growing understanding of the importance of including people with disability in development initiatives.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Australia ratified in 2008, clearly sets out the rights of people with disability. It has been a powerful tool to promote non-discrimination, equality and the full and effective participation in society of people with disability.

Australia's effort to deliver disability-inclusive development has been recognised internationally. We have achieved significant improvements in the lives of people with disability in our region.

Disability-inclusive development is an issue of human rights and dignity, and an economic diplomacy challenge. If we fail to account for the needs of people with disability in our development program, we are undermining our efforts to drive participation and economic growth in our region.

This new strategy aims to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities in developing countries, particularly in our region, by enhancing the participation and empowerment of people with disabilities as contributors, as leaders, as decision makers in their community, in the government, in the private sector. It aims to reduce poverty among people with disabilities by improving equality for people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including service provision, education, and employment.

To achieve this, the strategy will focus on investments in supporting governance for equality through the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; helping to remove physical barriers to enabling infrastructure and accessible water, sanitation and hygiene; working with partner governments to enhance access to vital services, particularly inclusive education and skills and building resilience for disasters, and conflict-inclusive humanitarian assistance.

The strategy takes into account a number of important factors, including the interaction between disability and gender, the wide variation of disabilities and their impact, and the importance of evidence-based policy and programs. And as Ewen McDonald indicated, gender empowerment for women and girls is one of the pillars of Australia's aid program in our region.

The participation and leadership of people with disability in the aid program remains a key focus. This means seeking to include people with disabilities in all our development efforts, in the planning, the implementation and in the review processes.

We will also continue to support people organisations in developing countries which play a vital role in enabling those with disabilities. For example, Australia will continue to work with the Pacific Disability Forum, an independent regional organisation advocating for the rights of people with a disability, which recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary.

Over the weekend, I attended a Pacific Leaders’ meeting held in Fukushima. It was an opportunity for me to discuss with the leaders of our Pacific island countries the issues of development and how we can best direct our aid into areas which make the biggest difference - that includes supporting people with disability.

Over time, the Pacific Disability Forum has made a significant and tangible contribution to the lives of people living with disabilities in the Pacific. Australia has supported the Pacific Disability Forum’s work with disabled people’s organisations across the region to strengthen their influence at the national and regional level. The result of these actions is evident in the increasing number of Pacific island countries signing or ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Globally, we are not only seeing progress on the ratification of the Convention, but we are also seeing progress on its implementation.

In Padang in Indonesia for example, a ground-breaking local law protecting and promoting the rights of people with a disability was passed in March. The legislation covered opportunities for employment and access to vital services such as health, education and social support, but it also went further to cover involvement in sports and cultural life in Indonesia and disaster risk strategies as well.

In this case, people with disabilities have not just had their say, they have been instrumental in driving the process from initial vision, the funding, the drafting, and the lobbying, through to the final discussion of the legislation.

This was achieved with the help of an Australian volunteer, Eban Pollard, and a former Australia Award Scholarship recipient, Antoni Tsaputra.

I first met Antoni in Parliament House in 2011, when he was completing a Master’s degree in journalism and mass communication at Griffith University, with the support of the first Australia Award Scholarship disability support package. I was delighted to meet him then and delighted that he is still involved in supporting people with disabilities in the region.

These packages provide support to enable recipients with disabilities, like Antoni, to participate on an equal basis in the scholarship program. It aims to enable awardees to develop disability management skills and greater independence, which increases the individual's development impact on their return home.

Antoni has since returned to Indonesia and is making a strong contribution, as you have heard, to disability rights there, as Secretary of the Indonesian Disabled Rights Organisation in Padang, which lobbies for laws that support the needs of people with disabilities.

This great story is one of many across the region that demonstrate the value of investing in education, the value of the Australia Awards and also the leadership opportunities for people with disabilities. I am also pleased we will be hearing from another promising Australia Awards scholar this morning, Jhalak Sharma Sapkota, from Nepal, who is currently studying a Master of Diplomacy at the Australian National University.

And we pause again for a moment to think of those in Nepal who are still seeking to recover from the devastation of the recent natural disaster there. Australia has been on the ground early, we have been providing support, we have had a huge consular effort underway and we will continue to stand with our friends in Nepal as we continue to support the long term recovery effort.

Through the combined strengths of our diplomatic advocacy and our aid investments, the Australian Government will continue to support the full participation of people with disabilities in community and economic life.

Reflecting this commitment, the Government's decision to maintain our central funding allocation for disability funding is important. As everyone in this room knows, our aid budget is under pressure. We have to fix the level of debt and deficit we inherited in 2013, and savings have had to be found across government. But I was determined we maintain this funding, our central allocation of funding for disability, and we have done so.

As the world works towards agreeing a post-2015 development agenda that is inclusive of people with disabilities, it is a critical time for us all to work together. One of my first tasks upon being appointed Foreign Minister back in September 2013 was to give a speech during the United Nations General Assembly leaders' week. I said at that time we must ensure that we leave no one behind in our development efforts.

Many of you here today have been strong allies in putting my words into action. I acknowledge your ongoing contribution as researchers building the evidence base on the issue, as implementing partners delivering assistance on the ground and as advocacy organisations promoting disability rights.

In particular, I note the value of the leadership of people with disabilities and their representative organisations in the global movement for disability rights.

We are all working towards a common goal. Together, we can achieve real change for the better in the daily experiences of people with disabilities throughout our region. I thank you all for being here today as I launch an exceedingly important strategy as part of Australia's aid program.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555