Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC, Governor of New South Wales
Special Olympics Australia - Signature Dinner | 6th September 2019 - Luna Park, Sydney
I am delighted to be here this evening on the traditional land of the Cammaraygal People of the Eora Nation and to pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
I am also honoured to be here to support Special Olympics Australia.
As most of you would know, I come from a judicial background and so I wish to commence my remarks tonight with reference to a fundamental concept of our legal system: equality before the law. Equality in that sense is synonymous with fairness, regardless of, for example, gender, ethnicity, ability or disability, sexuality, age, religious affiliation, socio-economic background, literacy level. However, equality before the law does not necessarily mean “same treatment”. To quote from a leading High Court case:
‘discrimination can arise just as readily from an act which treats as equals those who are different, as it can from an act which treats differently persons whose circumstances are not materially different'.
Of the 7.80 million residents of NSW, 1.37 million or 17.5% - almost one in 5 - have a disability. 5.89% of people with disabilities in NSW have an intellectual disability.2 Putting a number on that Australia-wide, 711,000 Australians have an intellectual disability.
People with a disability face a number of barriers when participating in court proceedings: much of the problem is around communication and understanding – or a lack of understanding of the needs of people with a disability. It is now recognised that judicial education is essential to ensuring that those who dispense justice do justice.
The same can be said in any field of endeavour. Too often, people are not sensitive to the needs of persons with a disability – or are just not very good at knowing how to communicate with people who seem to be different to themselves.
Those with an intellectual disability are wonderfully productive people in our community: they work, travel, study and live independently. They are artists, performers, and sports people.
Too often, though, these talented members of our community face social and financial challenges others don’t. A recent report, commissioned by SBS, found that by harnessing social inclusion the benefit to the Australian economy would be as much $12.7 billion, including by increasing workplace productivity and reducing the cost of social services. The report’s author says:
‘It’s about giving people (including people with disabilities) all of the opportunities to have the most prosperous life they can – that is access to health services, education services and participating in the community.’
Australia is a signatory to a raft of United Nations Conventions relating to human rights, discrimination and the need to treat people fairly.
These have been specifically enshrined in the following statutes: the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth), Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 (Cth) and the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW).
Other legislative measures, such as the NSW Disability Inclusion Act (2014), acknowledge that people with disability have the same human rights as other members of the community and that the State and the community have a responsibility to facilitate the exercise of those rights.
A question that could be asked is whether ‘sport’ is a human right? One in five – or 20% of Australians - now regularly play competitive sports, down from 27 percent in 2001, according to the latest sports participation data from Roy Morgan Research.7 The Special Olympics, on the other hand, represents the participation of less than 1% of Australians with an intellectual disability.8 That means 99% of people with an intellectual disability are missing out on the opportunity to be active, to be socially engaged, to gain self-confidence. So the answer is – the ability to access sport is a human right.
By building resources and capacity to facilitate the participation of people with an intellectual disability in sport and to provide the best possible framework for this to be achieved, we are adhering to the terms of our international commitments and to our view of inclusion.
Special Olympics Australia has, since 1976, been part of a global inclusion movement using sport, health, education and leadership to provide these opportunities through accessible sports training, coaching and competition in local communities around Australia.
Let’s make Ability the visibility, through inclusion.
Published with permission