Two years ago, I was standing on a street stall with Terri Butler MP spruiking the credentials of our Member for Griffith. An articulate young woman with a cognitive impairment approached us and raised questions around policy for people with a disability. Many of the issues we talked about were universal to many of us with a disability and although our discussion was brief, it stayed with me.
As someone with a disability and who experiences bouts of mental illness, I started questioning why the party didn’t have a specific group to capture the experiences of people with a lived experience of disability and/or mental illness. How could we filter the experience of that one person through the bowels of the Labor Party without the emotion, urgency and importance of the issue being lost?
We’ve always been at the forefront of policy changes that enable and support people with a disability. Labor created the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Australia's biggest social policy reform program since Whitlam’s introduction of Medicare. And yet, we had no specific group or association that could solely focus on driving forward change and creating policy that impacts nearly one in five Australians.
We had managed to form groups and associations to empower women, the LGBTI community and environmentalists, but not the most marginalised group of people in society. Fourty-five percent of us live at or below the poverty line, 47 percent of all working-age people with disability are not in the labour force, children with a disability are four times more likely to be victims of sexual assault and violence and women with a disability are 40 percent more likely to be victims of domestic violence.
The barriers we face in trying to live our daily lives and the stigma associated with mental illness can only be overcome by having us actively involved in the policy process and political life. It just didn’t seem right that we should be left out of the political process. Our party needed to be more inclusive.
I started making calls, harassing Jeanette Temperley and Mike Smith continuously over many weeks to get this organisation off the ground. Finally, around a table, in November 2015 we held our foundation meeting. The room was a buzz that night as people with a lived experience of disability and/or mental illness told their personal stories, and spoke of what it meant to be recognised within the party. Labor Enabled was born.
Labor Enabled was endorsed by the Administration Committee in December 2015. The Labor Party is the first political party in Australia to create an association or group to capture the views, ideas and experience of people with disabilities. And it all began in the great state of Queensland. In this relatively short time we have grown to a membership of over 250, have become an influential policy generator, established links and have great support from the disability sector.
A Labor Enabled member told me this week that coming to our meetings was like being greeted by a big close knit family, where you huddle around the fire, talk openly about your experiences, laugh, cry and formulate plans to conquer the world. In our case, getting disability rights at the top of the political agenda.
Labor Enabled has become the political voice for people with disability and/or mental illness and our motto is simple - Advocate, Include and Empower. We are now moving towards our first conference – Smashing Barriers - which will give us the opportunity to plan and formulate a platform for change. We will also introduce a mentoring programme, to begin at State Conference, to guide our emerging leaders.
Labor Enabled hopes to build a future in which people with a disability and/or a mental illnesses have seats in state and federal parliaments. Ultimately, we want recognition of our human rights. We want to work, have equal pay, access to essential services, have representation at senior levels in the public and private sector and live in a safe environment. We call on all progressive members to get behind Labor Enabled and build a truly inclusive party for everyone.
by Brad Sparrow Edited by Ali France