I rise today to acknowledge a wonderful result for some extraordinary people in my electorate of Bennelong. After a long period of advocacy on my part, the Karonga School in Epping, which provides education for over 50 intellectually and physically disabled children, will be able to substantially rebuild its ageing and inadequate learning areas. In the recent New South Wales state budget $3½ million was allocated for new classrooms and other therapy facilities.
I want to thank the New South Wales Minister for Education and Training, Verity Firth, for making Karonga a priority. When I saw her last year she was entirely sympathetic and fully briefed on this but at that stage unsure whether a budget allocation could be made. But, as we know, persistence pays off. Principal Sue Dennett, P&C President Helen Hukins and Vice-President Kath McLean have never stopped pushing for what the children, teachers and parents at Karonga deserve—that is, a modern learning environment.
Many of the children at Karonga are wheelchair bound. Others have no verbal communication and others need to be tube fed and changed regularly. Teachers have to deal with children with severe challenging behaviours that require specific environments and management. Karonga’s extraordinary teaching and support staff have an exceptional vocational commitment to what they do. For instance, the last time I was there, a few weeks back, one teacher, Sharon, spoke of how the latest in ICT and better diagnosis can unlock what is inside a child who otherwise struggles to communicate in any way we would recognise. I am confident that the new century holds out great promise that those living with a disability can be empowered by advances in both medical science and technology.
I am also acutely conscious that there are other deficits. I hear over and over from stressed and often exhausted parents of disabled children that the system is simply too hard to navigate: it is fragmented, incoherent and inadequate. When you talk to mums about this, as I have done over the last couple of years, you hear different stories of how they access services, of time delays, of huge out-of-pocket expenses and particularly of how uncoordinated the care is.
An acute area that needs to be addressed is better after-hours care for children because so many mums I talked to have qualifications but are unable to participate fully in the workforce, as is their right and as they wish to. This is an area we need to rethink and redesign so that we can have greater equity and fuller participation of parents who are caring for children with disabilities.