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Reception in honour of World Down Syndrome Day and 10th Anniversary for Down Syndrome Australia, 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, everyone. Linda and I are delighted to welcome you to Government House for this reception to mark World Down Syndrome Day, which of course was yesterday.

Can I begin by drawing your attention to some of the decorative features of the room today:

First, the floral arrangements – they are courtesy of ‘GG’s Flowers[Canberra]’, and both Gayana and her Mum, Geetha, are here with us. Second, the colourful Great Barrier Reef socks being worn by some of my staff  – they were designed by Peter Rowe, who lives with Down syndrome, and Kendall Perkins. The selling of the socks is a simple way to raise funds for local Down syndrome associations.

It’s great to be holding receptions at Yarralumla again. This time last year all of us were trying to come to grips with a new way of living and working, thanks to the pandemic. In many of my speeches over the past year, I’ve said that we’re all experts in the virtual field now.

Linda and I enjoy holding receptions because we meet people who are doing outstanding work in the community. And there are many, many of them. Quite often we head upstairs at the end of a day and say, ‘Wow! How inspiring were those people or how good is that organisation.’

Many groups have been in the spotlight of late – First Responders, Allied Health professionals, scientists, Emergency Services personnel, Service clubs … just to name a few. All doing critically important work in the community. There’s another group of people I’d like to mention. You – the wonderful people at Down Syndrome Australia.

For 10 years, Down Syndrome Australia has been advocating for people with Down syndrome – ensuring their voice is heard on the national stage. What better time to celebrate your 10th anniversary than at an event to mark World Down Syndrome Day. Congratulations! What a 10 years.

Over the past 18 months alone, DSA has:

  • provided information and resources to thousands of people with Down syndrome and their families in Australia. I understand many of the resources developed by DSA are now being used by organisations internationally as well.
  • supported the Down syndrome community to navigate COVID-19
  • secured grant funding to address health inequalities for people with Down syndrome  
  • provided advocacy in relation to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety – this included providing five submissions to the Commission
  • supported the Down Syndrome Advisory Network
  • launched a new Health Ambassador program, where 10 people with Down syndrome are employed to work with health professionals to better understand how to communicate with people with Down syndrome. The health ambassadors are also here with us.

Linda and I are pleased to be able to help shine a light on the outstanding work Down Syndrome Australia is doing.

As you know, the theme of World Down Syndrome Day this year is ‘Connect’. It is a very apt theme given recent events. In Australia, there has I think been a realisation of how important ‘staying connected’ is to our mental health and wellbeing. Perhaps moreso for people with Down syndrome. In the early stages of the pandemic, people relying on support workers were in a terrible predicament as support workers were unable to work due to their own health concerns. People with Down syndrome and their families also faced added worries, knowing they were at higher risk of developing serious symptoms if they contacted COVID-19.

I commend all at Down Syndrome Australia for your outstanding efforts in maintaining a high-quality level of support to people during the pandemic. ‘Connect’, will resonate strongly in the community and help ensure people with Down syndrome can participate on an equal basis with others. As the Down Syndrome Australia vision states: an Australia where people living with Down syndrome are valued, reach their potential and enjoy social and economic inclusion.

There’s that word, inclusion. It’s at the heart of strong communities. I’m pleased to say we now have Jack, a young man with Down syndrome, working here in the House on a part-time basis. In just a matter of weeks he has made his presence felt and added value to our workplace. Jack benefits by having a job. Government House benefits by having him here. When we are inclusive, we all benefit.

Again, Linda and I are delighted to host this reception to mark World Down Syndrome Day and to share in your 10th birthday celebrations. These anniversary receptions are such joyous, uplifting occasions. So, please – pause today and celebrate.

Thank you for what you do to improve the lives of people with Down syndrome. They want the same things as we all do – to be part of the community, to go to their local school and to find a meaningful job. The work you do helps benefit people with Down syndrome and helps build stronger, more inclusive communities.