Bilateral Visit to Australia

Friday, April 17, 2015

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind visit to Australia to meet with my ministerial counterparts and foster trans-Tasman cooperation across both my Customs and Disability Issues portfolios. My Customs and Disability Issues portfolios are streets apart which meant that although I was in Australia for an official visit it seemed like two official visits!

The first day of the visit was spent in Canberra where I met with: officials from the Department of Social Services (the equivalent to our Ministry of Social Development),  the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare and Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Border Protection Command Headquarters and Hon Peter Dutton – Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

The remainder of the visit was spent in Melbourne where I met with:  open employers (employers who promote and support the employment of disabled people), employment service providers (those who match disabled people with employers), the National Detector Dog Breeding and Training Centre – did you know that each year Australia gifts New Zealand five Customs dogs? – and Senator Mitch Fifield the Assistant Minister for Social Services (who has responsibility for Disability Issues).

I also met with officials and participants from the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Scheme is similar to our Enabling Good Lives programme which began in Christchurch in 2013. Enabling Good Lives (and Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme) heralds a new way of supporting disabled people that offers people greater choice and control over the supports they receive and the lives they lead. In Geelong, I met with participants (and their families) of the Australian Scheme and the changes they reported in their lives as a direct result of having greater choice and control were particularly poignant. 

You will all be pleased to know that the Ministers, officials, public servants, not-for-profit organisations and ngos with whom I met were all interested in Christchurch. Everyone asked how the rebuild was going and how the residents were faring – they all shared personal stories about their memories of our pre-earthquake city. It is really encouraging to know that our friends across the ditch are monitoring the progress of the rebuild and supporting us as we restore and improve our city. 

Senator Mitch Fifield is Assistant Minister for Social Services, with responsibility for disability and ageing.

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Detector Dog Breeding and Training Centre, Melbourne.

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Hon Peter Dutton.