BRIAN ABBOTT: Australia will spend $7.5 million on new initiatives aimed at improving the rights of people with disabilities in developing countries.
The Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, says $4.5 million will go to the Pacific Disability Forum.
He says the remaining $3 million will go to the Disability Rights Fund
Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles joins us.
RICHARD MARLES: It is much needed to improve the status of people with a disability. But, in saying that, I think a lot of really good work has been done over the past few years. We are seeing countries seeking to ratify the UN convention on the rights of persons with a disability. We're seeing that with Indonesia, we're also seeing that with PNG. And that represents a really important step forward for the status of people with a disability.
In a different context, you were speaking with Prime Minister Tuilaepa of Samoa. I was in Samoa a couple of weeks ago for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of independence. One of the most wonderful things was that almost at the head of a very long procession — which was a wonderful procession by the people of Samoa — were the groups representing people with a disability. You had people with a disability pretty well leading that procession, celebrating the role they play in Samoa and the contribution they're making to that country. And that said a lot to me about the status they hold in Samoa and the value that’s placed upon their contribution. So, there is much work that needs to be done, but the Pacific has come a long way as well.
BRIAN ABBOTT: Would Samoa be unusual in the fact that it recognises disability and doesn't try to hide the disabled away or doesn't try to discriminate against the disabled as they suffer in some of the other countries in the Pacific?
RICHARD MARLES: That’s a good question. I wouldn't want to say that Samoa is unusual but I certainly would say that I think what Samoa did in the way they put that procession together was absolutely wonderful. And many people were commenting. So, I think they are certainly leading the way.
But the point you make is a good point. Often, what we see with people with a disability is that they are shunned and, if you like, kept behind closed doors and not recognised within the community. That’s something which happens across the world. I think it’s a particular feature of the developing world.
There are almost a billion people around the world who have a disability. It’s hard to imagine a more vulnerable group than those people who have a disability and are living in the developing world. There is no doubt that even in the developed world, there is discrimination against people with disabilities, but that is happening in the developing world as well. This is exactly what we need to work to redress. That’s what this money is aimed at doing, working with the Pacific Disability Forum to have them support disability groups around the Pacific to achieve just this, improving the rights of people who have a disability, and improving their status within their own countries.
BRIAN ABBOTT: So, the disability forum will channel this Australian money out to the various island nations across the Pacific?
RICHARD MARLES: Yeah, that’s the idea. And they do fantastic work. They're based in Fiji and they do fantastic work with lots of disability groups around the Pacific. They provide a community of disability groups around the Pacific and they meet every year — I think it’s every year — but they certainly meet frequently with the Pacific disability conference which I spoke at last year in Auckland.
One of the important roles, which is also going to be played here, is preparing countries to put themselves in a position where they can ratify the UN convention on the rights of persons with a disability. That’s the step we need to be encouraging countries to take.
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