A bid to have the only openly disabled Member of Parliament (MP) as chair of a disability-related committee was voted down in the very first vote of the new Senate yesterday.
The vote was called by Greens Senator Larissa Waters, which aimed to change the appointment rules for the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to allow Senator Jordon Steele-John to become the Chair.
The Chair and Deputy Chair positions on the Committee are currently held by Labor and Liberal MPs, and the major parties banded together in voting to prevent that from changing.
Senator Steele-John says the major parties have missed an opportunity to promote disabled leadership by teaming up to vote against changing the rules.
“As it currently stands, I can be a member of the Committee under the current rules that govern how all Senate committees are run,” he says.
“However, my colleague [Senator] Waters moved to change the rules to make it possible for a member of a minor party or an independent to be Chair, instead of limiting the role to only a Government member.
“Having a disabled person be Chair of a committee that ideally works to support better systems for disabled people just makes sense.
“The Government maintains control over these committees and in this case, we saw it as an enormous opportunity to champion disabled leadership in the face of a failing status quo.”
Although Senator Steele-John has been an “active” member of the Committee since early 2018, he says that has not been enough to achieve the change the community needs.
“The Albanese Government has a clear responsibility to make changes to our NDIS urgently, effectively, and alongside our incredible community,” says Senator Steele-John.
“But voting against this motion shows that their priorities do not include true transformation for our NDIS.
“This was a huge opportunity to start doing that. They failed to see that, and they have failed to act in [the] community interest.”
The decision of the major parties to join together, as Senator Steele-John says “against disabled leadership and disabled voices as they so often did under Morrison’s Government”, left him feeling “unsurprised but disappointed”.
If the rule change had been supported, Senator Steele-John believes he could have had more of an impact on issues affecting Australians with disability.
“Being the only openly disabled person in Parliament, I’ve seen my lived experience bring authentic representation to a committee that oversees much of the NDIS’ work and processes,” he says.
“My office and I have heard frequently just how important this genuine representation has been to our community. It’s something I’ve been very proud to take part in.”
Senator Steele-John was also nominated by his Greens colleague for Deputy President of the Senate but was unsuccessful in that bid as Liberal Senator Andrew McLachlan was chosen.