Speech at NZDSN Conference

Tēnā koutou katoa. 

Hello, my name is Priyanca Radhakrishnan, and I am the Minister for Disability Issues. 

I also hold Ministerial portfolios for the Community and Voluntary Sector, and for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities. I am also the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment, and Workplace Relations and Safety. 

There are many synergies between all these portfolios, and my role gives me the opportunity to meet with, listen to, learn from and work alongside diverse communities who call Aotearoa New Zealand home.

Thank you all for your warm welcome. And thank you to the team at NZDSN for organising this conference and for giving me the opportunity to join you here today.

I would like to recognise and acknowledge you all for your hard work and commitment to supporting disabled people and tāngata whaikaha Māori.

I’ve been the Minister for Disability Issues since February.

That means it’s my job to advocate for disabled people and for the sector that supports them. It is important to me that your voices and experiences are heard in parliament. 

And in order to be an effective advocate, I need to know you. Who you are, what the challenges and the opportunities are.

And so, I’ve made it a priority over the past months to get out and about and visit as many disabled people and support organisations as I can and to attend relevant events. And I will continue to do that.

I’ve celebrated successes and also heard about the barriers that exist.

I applaud your sector for the way you have navigated and responded to the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 and to the extreme weather events.

I know that – like others in New Zealand and around the world – your costs are increasing.

I know that it can be difficult for you to attract and retain the staff you need.

I am also hearing that some of you are feeling uncertain about the future of your sector, and this is referenced in the title of this conference - “Disability Support – at the Crossroads”

We are all standing together at these crossroads today.

I understand that change can be challenging, and the path ahead may seem a little foggy.

But I also know that we are all here today because we share a common vision and are united in our desire to work together to create a better future for disabled people, a more sustainable future for the organisations that support them and a society that is truly inclusive and accessible. 

And that is what this Government is committed to - building a more inclusive and accessible society across Aotearoa New Zealand, where disabled people have the full rights and opportunities of all New Zealanders.

That will look different for different groups of people. For some in the disability community, it will be achieved through more effective person-centred disability services.

But for most disabled people, this will be achieved through universally designed policies and services that are developed across Government and across sectors.

This government is committed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention), Te Tiriti of Waitangi, and to the transformation of the disability support systems based on the Enabling Good Lives (EGL) principles and approaches.

More broadly, this Government’s commitment to disabled people can be seen in the Budget 2023 announcement, which increased support for disabled people through several key initiatives.

This includes more than $2 billion for the disability sector.

With funding increases of more than $863 million to continue the delivery of support to disabled people, including tāngata whaikaha Māori—that will provide for increases in volumes, as well as responding to cost pressure increases for disability support services.

It continues with the transformation of disability support services in line with the EGL approach, and it builds on the contingency funding for that transformation work that was set aside through Budget 2022.

A little over $21 million over four years to ensure that Whaikaha has the people and structures in place to be able to work effectively with the disability community and across Government as well.

We’re also investing in work across Government so we can work collectively to ensure that we meet the concerns and the aspirations of disabled people across New Zealand.

So, in Budget 2023, we also see funding to introduce a wage supplement to replace the minimum wage exemption; that is something that has been long awaited.

And, funding to support cost pressures experienced by Peke Waihanga, the Artificial Limb Service; to expand the Waitematā cross-Government safeguarding pilot and to ensure the accessibility of women’s refuges, as well; and, of course, to make half-price fares for Total Mobility users permanent.

To help us realise the aspirations of the disability community, last year this Government launched Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People. I understand it’s the first Ministry of its kind globally. 

One of the reasons that the establishment of this new Ministry is so significant, is because it creates a space for disability priorities to be highlighted and a shift towards the social model of disability where the focus is put on our collective responsibility to remove the barriers disabled people and their whānau face.

I would like to thank you all for your support as this new Ministry has worked incredibly hard to establish itself so it can start delivering on the expectations of the community it serves.

But I am also very aware, that this establishment phase has caused some disruptions to some of you here today.

Thank you for your continued commitment to disabled people, and to ensuring that there were no disruptions to the services and supports you provide during this time of change.

As a Government, we have given Whaikaha two main mandates.

The first is a cross government stewardship role, so it can guide and influence other agencies, and work to ensure the rights of disabled people and tāngata whaikaha Māori are being reflected in their work.

It recognises our collective responsibility extends across all of government and across all sectors who work and interact with disabled people.

Whaikaha is not meant to be the only government agency with commitments to disabled people. For meaningful change each agency must consider disabled people in their own work.

This work across government will create a more inclusive and accessible society, so that disabled people have the full rights and opportunities of all New Zealanders.

I also recognise the role I must play in ensuring disability issues, including the ones that will be explored at this conference, are raised in parliament and with responsible ministers.

I understand one of the key topics for discussion at this conference is the need for more and better accessible social housing and facilities, and the importance of respite and age-appropriate facilities to provide care for younger disabled people.

I recognise that a cross-government response, which benefits from the knowledge of our sector, will be needed to make the changes we need.

I am sorry I am unable to stay for these sessions, but I know that representatives from Whaikaha will keep me updated on the progress of these discussions.

I have already met with some of you during my term and hope to meet with more of you, as opportunities to do so, arise.

Unlike some other population-based Ministry’s, Whaikaha also has a considerable service delivery function and is responsible for funding over $2 billion in disability support services.

The second mandate this Government has given Whaikaha is for it to transform the disability support system in line with the Enabling Good Lives principles and approach.

I have visited and talked to some people in our communities who have articulated clearly, the benefits of this  approach  to their lives.

As Whaikaha becomes more established it will start to consider what changes can be made to the way services are commissioned so they are more person directed.

I know that many of you are fully onboard with these changes and recognise our collective challenge to implement them.

And I also don’t want to underestimate the challenges that are involved in making these changes. I know that some providers are finding themselves in a tight fiscal position and it can seem challenging to know where to begin.

I also know that workforce will be another key area for discussion at this conference. Once again, this government recognises there is no quick fix solution to this system wide issue.

But I am optimistic and can assure you that this government is committed to working with providers to find a solution.

I expect Whaikaha to continue to work collaboratively with the sector as it starts to transform the system to respond to the aspirations of disabled people.

While promising progress to improve outcomes for disabled people can be seen across-government, it is critical that work continues to ensure:

  • work programmes under the Disability Action Plan, and responses to the concluding observations from the Convention examination are progressed
  • disabled people and their whānau are well-engaged in the range of work programmes occurring across government and
  • work continues to improve disability data and evidence to help inform disability policy development and monitoring across all portfolios.

It is an honour to serve the disability community as Minister for Disability Issues – while we have made good progress, there is much more to do.

I am sorry that I do not have adequate time to stay and answer your questions today, but I would like to continue our engagement. NZDSN have offered to collate any of your questions in writing to send to my office, and I will be able to respond to you in due course.

Thank you for giving your time to listen to me today. I hope this conference will provide an amazing opportunity for you all to gather together with your friends and colleagues – post COVID as we look to the future to explore solutions to some of your current challenges. 

Ngā mihi nui.