Who values the lives of People with Disability?

In an impassioned speech in the Senate, Western Australia Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John accused the Federal Government of not valuing the lives of disabled Australians.

Senator Steele-John told the Senate that the Government has seen disabled Australians as acceptable collateral damage during the COVID19 pandemic.

Parliament resumed in Canberra this week with the backdrop of increasing political criticism over the Government’s handling of the pandemic and failure to vaccinate and support a range of vulnerable Australians including people with disability, indigenous people and those in aged care.

With an election due soon, Senator Steele-John launched a political attack on the Government.

“Disabled people in this country will never forgive this feckless government for its disgraceful failure to keep that community safe, to keep our community safe,” the Green’s Senator said.

“We will never forgive you, nor will the older Australians of this country, nor will the First Nations peoples of this country and nor will the immunocompromised of this country, for propagating the absolute lie, the total misrepresentation, that it is acceptable for our lives to be lost in this pandemic and that anybody with an underlying condition can be and should be written off as collateral damage.”

“You have done so much harm in your time here. So much good work that needed to be done has gone undone. So much time has been squandered.“

“The work of so many dedicated community members during this pandemic, attempting to keep each other safe, has been undermined by the reality that this government sees human lives far more in dollars and cents than it does in inherent human value.”

“For all these reasons and so much more, this government divided, this government benighted, this government failed and rambling into ruin, must now be swept from this place. A lack of confidence does not nearly cover it. Condemnation and allocation to the dustbin of history is all that you deserve.”

Senator Steele-John on the Senate floor, photo courtesy Australian Greens

Senator Steele-John is the Greens Spokesperson for Disability Rights and Services, Youth, Peace and Disarmament and Veterans’ Affairs and Health.

He has been in the Senate since 2017.

Before entering parliament, he studied at Macquarie University (BA in Politics and History) and was a disability and youth advocate and activist.

A full transcript of the speech is below.

Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (13:09): I rise to speak on the motion to suspend standing orders. During this great COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian community—disabled people, older Australians, First Nations peoples, young people—needed their government. They needed their government to listen to them and to act to provide help. And over the last two years this Morrison government, time and time again, have failed. They have let the Australian community down.

The Australian community said, ‘Let us have vaccinations. Let them get to the people that need them. Let’s get it in quick; let’s learn from the failures of other jurisdictions around the world as they battled the pandemic,’ and the Morrison government let us down. The Australian community said, ‘Let us have income supports so that we can focus on getting better, rather than worrying about where our next meal comes from,’ and the Morrison government let the community down. The community said, ‘Let us access, for everyone, the basics that we need to be safe during the pandemic. Let us access RATs and masks and proper ventilation in our schools to keep our kids safe,’ and the Morrison government let the community down. Failure compounded failure, and the outcome was people put at risk and people dying.

Disabled people in this country will never forgive this feckless government for its disgraceful failure to keep that community safe, to keep our community safe. We will never forgive you, nor will the older Australians of this country, nor will the First Nations peoples of this country and nor will the immunocompromised of this country, for propagating the absolute lie, the total misrepresentation, that it is acceptable for our lives to be lost in this pandemic and that anybody with an underlying condition can be and should be written off as collateral damage. You have done so much harm in your time here. So much good work that needed to be done has gone undone. So much time has been squandered.

The work of so many dedicated community members during this pandemic, attempting to keep each other safe, has been undermined by the reality that this government sees human lives far more in dollars and cents than it does in inherent human value. For all these reasons and so much more, this government divided, this government benighted, this government failed and rambling into ruin, must now be swept from this place. A lack of confidence does not nearly cover it. Condemnation and allocation to the dustbin of history is all that you deserve. May you go there and never be thought of nor spoken of again. 

The above wording comes from the draft Parliamentary Hansard.

Nic Stuart

Nicholas Stuart is an author (Kevin Rudd, an unauthorised political biography; What Goes Up, behind the 2007 election; Kevin Rudd, 2007 - 2011) and columnist with the Canberra Times. He was the ABC's Indochina Correspondent when he suffered a significant head injury in a car crash in Bangkok.

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