OFFICIAL OPENING OF REHABILITATION INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS

  • Jim Bolger
Prime Minister

President John Stott, Dr Oscar Arias, Susan Parker, Anne Hawker, Gavin Robins, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to have the privilege of opening the 1996 Rehabilitation International Congress and of welcoming you all to the city of Auckland.

I have come here today having just opened my Partys 1996 election campaign at a venue on the North Shore.

I might say that for a politician in full election mode, an audience as large as this one is a most tantalising target.

I will, however, resist the natural temptation, a harangue on the incomparable virtues of my Partys record in office, vision for the future, and the importance of First Tick National on October 12th.

I will instead confine my remarks to the topic of the moment.

We are proud to be able to host the Congress as part of New Zealands contribution to the Asia and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons 1993-2002.

It is wonderful that so many experts from around the world have gathered here to share their knowledge and experiences with us.

I welcome you. I thank you for coming. And I assure you that your presence here is appreciated by all New Zealanders.

The benefits that will flow from such a forum for us, our neighbours, and for people with disabilities in the Asia and Pacific region are significant and perhaps incalculable.

We, here in New Zealand, are keenly aware that people with disabilities, in as far as it is humanly possible, have the right to enjoy the same quality of life as all other citizens.

We are working steadily towards that goal. In June last year we signed an historic document in which our commitment was firmly stated.

That document was the Economic and Social Commissions Proclamation of the Decade, recognising the full participation and equality of people with disabilities in the Asian and Pacific region.

Its signing was recognition that the Government and people of New Zealand understand and respect the special needs and great potential of people with disabilities.

The theme of the Congress is Equality Through Participation.

When I read those words I could not help but think of the achievements of our athletes and no doubt your own at the Paralympics in Atlanta a few weeks ago.

In New Zealand we took special pride in the achievements of our Paralympic swimmers, Duane Kale and Jenny Newstead, who won no less than seven gold medals between them.

Their achievements and those of others spoke every bit as eloquently of the Olympic ideal as the able-bodied games held earlier - and, I suspect in many ways, more so.

There were no acts of nationalistic jingoism.

But there was a sense of joy in competing.

There was the iron will to win, there was courage in great abundance, and there was grace in both victory and defeat.

Was it not these qualities that the founders of the modern Olympics sought to rekindle in the world when they gathered in Athens a century ago?

I believe they were. And that all of us are indebted to the people with disabilities at Atlanta who reminded us that the age of good sportsmanship and fair play in sport is not yet past.

I dont believe I can abandon this athletic theme without acknowledging the presence here today of John Stott.

John was a member of the New Zealand Paralympic team in Israel in 1968, and has been the President of Rehabilitation International these past four years - elected in Nairobi in 1992.

This was despite the fact that he spent most of his time there in hospital.

That, I believe, says something about indomitable spirit.

The preparation and management of this Congress here in New Zealand has been principally carried out by non-Government organisations - The Accident Rehabilitation and Compensation and Insurance Corporation, and DPA - the Assembly of People with Disabilities (an affiliate of Rehabilitation International).

Government agencies have also assisted.

They have combined their resources and expertise to hold a Congress which, I believe, will prove to be of international quality.

I congratulate and thank all of them for their efforts.

It is, I believe, timely that this Congress is being held in Auckland, given the major changes in New Zealand over the past decade, including reforms in the areas of health and disability.

The issues, aims and objectives of the Congress have been set out as Access, Human Rights and Vision.

In terms of Access and Human Rights, New Zealand has been very active in recent times.

Since 1988 equal employment opportunity provisions for people with disabilities in the public service have been embodied in the State Sector Act.

Employment opportunities have improved with the establishment of Work Bridge, New Zealands employment agency for people with disabilities.

We are removing barriers through changes in the provision of employment and training support funding for people with disabilities, and positive changes to benefit abatements.

The Government recently announced that the purchasing of open employment placement, self employment assistance and training support services for people with disabilities, will move from the Community Funding Agency to the Department of Labour.

This will mainstream employment issues for people with disabilities, by moving them away from the spectre of dependency and encourage greater independence and participation in the workforce.

We have also been paying special attention to our young people with disabilities.

The 1989 Education Act advanced the rights of children with disabilities in education, ensuring they could attend their local schools.

About 65 per cent of special education students are enrolled in regular classrooms and 71 per cent of all New Zealand schools have at least one student with special education needs.

The Support for Independence strategy released in 1992 began a process which has resulted in major changes in the funding and delivery of disability support services.

A combined presentation on these changes will be made during the Congress proceedings by the Hon Katherine O'Regan and Government officials in more detail in a special workshop - Vision to Reality - tomorrow afternoon.

There have also been improvements in the way disability services are delivered and significant funding increases have been made.

Disability is included within the brief of the Health and Disability Commissioner, who developed the Consumer Code of Rights, along with a supporting advocacy service.

This came into force in July of this year.

Disability was included as a new ground of unlawful discrimination in the Human Rights Act 1993.

Discrimination is now unlawful in the areas of education and training, accommodation, the provision of goods, facilities and services, and employment.

Finally, we have also been active in international fora, especially in relation to weapons of mass destruction and landmines, which maim and cause untold human suffering.

In April this year the Government formally renounced the operational use of anti-personnel landmines. The Hon Paul East will speak on this during the Congress.

The final aim of your Congress is a Vision to the future. Of what might be achieved by participation.

In addressing this you might keep in mind the words:

Perfect courage is to do without witnesses what one would be capable of doing with the world looking on.

I wish you well in your deliberations over the coming days; and hope that they will be highly productive.

I thank those of you who have travelled far to share your wisdom with us.

And I trust you will find time to enjoy the delights of Auckland what we call the City of Sails which will soon host the defence of the Americas Cup.

I know that some wonderful entertainment has been arranged for those times during the Congress when you need to rest from your deliberations.

I am very pleased to now declare the 1996 Rehabilitation International Congress open.