President’s Report, AGM 24 March 2021
Fellow members, last year, I noted that PWDACT had been renewing its organisation structure and activities. I mentioned that our CEO then, Rachel Sirr, had increased our profile in the community. Many in Government and the sector, and our members, had commented on our greater presence in the community.
But I also noted the difficulty we had had with funding over a number of years. Our core funding did not cover the salary of a full-time CEO.
I outlined changes that we had undertaken to streamline our activities. Unfortunately, they involved reductions in staffing in order to fit within our limited funding.
Matters came to a head, as they had for many organisation’s, with the advent of the Covid 19 virus.
Unfortunately, Rachel Sirr left to head the Federal Government’s Covid-19 media group. It was a bad time to be looking for a replacement just at a time when we needed to be involved in the ACT Government’s formulating if Covid policies.
Craig Shannon was eventually selected to fill the position on a short-term basis.
Much of Craig’s activity involved liaison on a range of Covid-19 official activities. I would like to record my thanks to Craig for quickly stepping into the role. However, while PWDACT returned to take its advocacy role in these official activities, a range of other activities had to be curtailed. Covid restrictions meant that we could no longer continue with planned morning teas, forums and other activities.
A key activity involved developing a policy manifesto for the ACT election. We joined with ACTCOSS and Advocacy for Inclusion to challenge all parties. However, we were unable to hold a public meeting to hear from and directly challenge all the candidates.
Because of these difficulties, your Committee agreed to discuss with the ACT Government and Advocacy for Inclusion the possibility of combining forces. You may recall that the ACT Government been urging us for some time to discuss a merger with AFI. AFI, for its part, was also keen to explore such a possibility.
These discussions began in the second half of 2020 and by now have signed an MoU and an auspicing arrangement with AFI. We have two members on a Joint Steering Committee, which has met a number of times over the past four or five months.
A key element of the merger will be a commitment, endorsed by the ACT Government, for the new organisation to continue the systemic advocacy activities of PWDACT.
While we have spent some time progressing the legal and regulatory requirements for the merger, the joint organisation plans to re-start these activities next month.
The first step will be another issue of the revamped Canberra Disability Journal in April.
We have stressed the need to continue the activities that only our organisation undertakes. These involve systemic advocacy in a wide range of areas – transport, housing, education, employment and health as well as broad issues such as the funding and operation of the NDIS.
We have also stressed the need to build on our activities to engage with diverse groups – CALD, youth, indigenous and LGBTIQ groups – whose disabled members may have special needs that are not being recognised, let alone pushed strongly. The new Policy Manager appointed by AFI has a background in diversity issues. I look forward to discussing with her our joint plans over the next few weeks.
We recognise that AFI, by virtue of its individual advocacy, has insight into issues affecting individuals with disability that PWDACT may not have. We believe that the marriage of individual advocacy and systemic advocacy will place the new organisation in a much stronger position to be an effective advocacy force in the ACT.
I have been heartened by the willingness of AFI to continue the work of PWDACT. The ACT Government has also pushed strongly that this is a condition of the merger. From now till the end of June, AFI will undertake a range of systemic advocacy activities to be funded under contract from PWDACT and with the overall management of the joint steering group. This will help develop the capacity of AFI and the skills of its staff before the merger is effected.
The next major legal step will be the development of a Constitution for the merged organisation. Once an agreed draft is prepared, PWDACT will need to hold a Special General Meeting to endorse it and, in effect, complete the merger. At that point, all of our members will be automatically eligible to be members of the new organisation.
Given the financial constraints on our organisation for many years, compounded by the difficult past year, I believe a merger with AFI is the only feasible option if we want to continue PWDACT’s systemic advocacy in future. AFI has shown that it is willing to take on this role, and to date, its representatives have been most enthusiastic about doing so. I believe it will only be good for people with disability in the ACT.
24 March 2021