It has been my duty or privilege to meet each of our country’s leaders since 1986. In that role I have had the chance to observe each in their interactions and reactions to people with disability. Here they are:
Bob Hawke (on numerous occasions) Mr Hawke was happy to spend time with people with disability. He listened, asked sensible questions and made sure each person he spoke with felt heard. I thought he was thoroughly engaged with our job seekers and interested to listen to what they had to say.
Paul Keating (on several occasions) We won the PM’s employer of the Year event in 1995 and Mr Keating took a keen interest in the process that led up to that event, spoke then and on other occasions with staff and clients and showed a sense of humour and compassion in his interactions with people who had significant disability.
John Howard (on numerous occasions) Mr Howard always had time for people with disability, I personally saw him stop what many might consider more important matters to ensure he spent time with NOVA’s job seekers. Howard’s government initially treated the task of finding work for people with disability with little interest, reducing funding. Subsequently that changed and some significant reforms were introduced that enabled more people to participate.
Kevin Rudd (almost, once) Mr Rudd invited us to attend a function at the Rooty Hill RSL (these days a famous venue) and I waited for our introduction assuming the group of assembled job seekers and workers might get a moment of the great man’s time. That wasn’t the case. We waited we lined up and then we were told Mr Rudd’s schedule meant he had to leave and he waived us off with a ‘sorry, an important meeting to attend’ conveyed to us via Roger Price, former MP for Chifley.
Julia Gillard (I should confess to being in love – she thought we were shaking hands, I prefer to think we were holding hands!). Ms Gillard took time to have her photograph taken with NOVA’s job seekers, took an active interest in each and was interested in their viewpoints and those of my staff. Ms Gillard was approachable and comfortable around people with disability.
Others of note:
Gough Whitlam. Possibly the most intelligent person I have met the great man was at ease in the company of people with disability and keen to hear their viewpoints, adjusting his discussion to suit the need and ability of his listener. Mrs Whitlam was equally at ease and as a couple they took a genuine interest in the aspirations of NOVA’s clients.
Tony Abbott (on numerous occasions) Mr Abbott clearly wants to get things done and small talk is unnecessary. That said, I know that he is a great advocate for people with disability, generous with his time and willing to advocate for change where that is seen to be of benefit for the person or the community.
I draw no conclusions from these observations just present them as they appeared to me.
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