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Project Independence Reception, Government House


I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.

Good afternoon, all.

Linda and I are delighted to welcome you to Government House for this Project Independence reception.

I want to begin by thanking all of you for being part of an organisation that improves the quality of life for people with intellectual disability. Helping one of the most disadvantaged groups in the community is a wonderful thing to do. We are at our best when we are inclusive. So, to all at Project Independence and its many supporters, donors and volunteers — thank you for your expertise, compassion, generosity and kindness in helping provide a place of safety for residents to grow their independence.

I am delighted to serve as Patron of Project Independence. Your work to provide people with intellectual disability with the opportunity to acquire equity in a property using their Disability Support Pension is an exciting, new and unique model of homeownership. It makes independence an achievable goal — an empowering endeavour. And with that comes improved health and wellbeing — for both residents and families.

As Governor-General, it would be remiss of me to deliver a speech and not talk about COVID-19. The impacts of the pandemic have been severe and have affected everyone and every entity. Right now, thanks to our collective efforts, things are starting to pick up. While we continue to live with the pandemic, the long process of rebuilding has begun. And as we rebuild and plan for the future, I think there’s an acceptance amongst Australians that everything is up for discussion. One of those discussion areas is housing and, specifically, housing affordability.

For my generation, it was almost a given that one day you would own your own home. For my children’s generation and younger generations, this is no longer true. Or if it is, then purchasing a home is definitely harder due to higher prices and bigger mortgages. For people with intellectual disability, these challenges are major barriers to owning a home.

According to KPMG who were commissioned by Project Independence to produce a report examining a PI housing model: “Individuals with intellectual disability face significant barriers to home ownership. This is because they are less likely to be in the labour force, be employed, and earn a salary or wage.” 

The ABS estimates that more than 120,000 people with disability will need housing in the next five years. Applying the Bureau’s reported 21.5 per cent of people with disability having mental or behavioural problems to that estimate suggests that up to 25,800 people with intellectual disability will be seeking housing over the next five years.

Project Independence says that, based on pilots already completed, its model has the potential to address 60 per cent of the demand for 25,800 housing arrangements — that is, 15,480 people with intellectual disability.

To date, Project Independence has enjoyed success here in the ACT. Two developments — at Latham and Harrison — have been built and are operating successfully. And, I am informed, all is on track for a development in Phillip to be up and running next year.

It isn’t my role to advise or to lobby governments, but I do support creative, innovative solutions that benefit the community. Our nation is at its best when we look out for each other and balance self-interest with community mindedness. When we do this, there is no problem we cannot fix.

As Patron of Project Independence and as a supporter of developments that help build inclusion in our community, I will be keeping a close eye on the level of interest in the PI model in the future.

Again, Linda and I are very pleased to be able to host you today. The work you are doing for people with intellectual disability is potentially life-changing for them.

As I alluded to earlier, many areas of Australian life are up for discussion because of the pandemic. What must be sustained? What must be improved?

I thank and congratulate all involved at Project Independence for exploring ways to help people with intellectual disability to live independent and fulfilling lives.