Licia Kokocinski

on Thursday, 03 May 2012. Posted in Gillard Election 2010 Campaign

Licia Kokocinski

Licia is the Executive Director of Advocacy, Disability, Ethnicity, Community (ADEC). She migrated to Australia from Italy with her parents in 1955 as a very young child. The family was part of the great European post-WWII exodus to part of the world that offered greater opportunities than the war-ravaged Europe. She attended local state primary and secondary schools, and left after completing Year 11. She went back to complete her HSC as an adult, then entered University of Melbourne in 1978 to study part-time for a Bachelor of Arts, and completed an Honours level with a major in Political Science. She combined both study, employment and raising a family. Some years later, she followed up the first degree with a Master Degree in Public Policy and Management in 2004, focusing on the not-for-profit sector.

As far as professional life, Licia started with secretarial jobs and after graduating with her first degree took up work in a range of positions such as Equal Opportunities Conciliator, then a Workcover Rehabilitation Advisor. In 1988 she was elected to the Victorian Parliament as the Member for Melbourne West Province in the Upper House for the ALP, a position she held until 1996 when she lost pre-selection. Her highest political position was as Secretary to the Shadow Cabinet. Licia experienced both the highs of Government and the low of Opposition. She worked on a number of standing committees of the Parliament, party policy committees and ministerial committees. After 1996, she combined running her own consultancy with working in aged and disability in the western suburbs of Melbourne, an area she knew very well. She also worked for a time as a National Policy Director for an over-50’s organisation. In 2000, she was appointed as Executive Director to ADEC, a position she still holds.

The “fire in the belly” is social justice issues, particularly as they affect people from diverse cultural backgrounds and she spent most of her professional life on multicultural issues. Since 2000 she has concentrated on advocating on the rights of people with a disability from our ethnically diverse community.” 

Commentaries by Licia Kokocinski:

2 April 2010

What disability rights activists be looking for from the major parties

For the hard-heads in politics, disability is probably not a government-changing issue. So, what might disability rights activists be looking for from the major parties? And for ADEC – what are we looking for so that the rights of people with a disability from our culturally diverse society, are recognised.

Activists in the disability field come from a range of life experiences: Some may be people with a disability, and also from diverse cultural backgrounds; some may be parents, lovers, partners or some other way related to a person with disability; some may be genuinely passionate about the dignity of human life and cannot see why people are judged or valued simply by a measurement against bodily and mental perfection.

For me, the litmus test of how sophisticated and contemporary a society is, is measured by the level of human rights that everyone in a society is exposed to.

What I will be looking for in the policies of the major parties in the lead-up to the next federal election, is to what extent are they prepared to act to ensure that civil society includes people with a disability in every aspect of our nation’s future – not just elements for special pleading.

People with disability are just as diverse and come from just as broad a range of backgrounds and cultures as the rest of the Australian society – consequently, policies and actions need to reflect this diversity.

So – the areas that are important in the context that ADEC works in are:

· A commitment to implementing a non-discriminatory immigration and citizenship policy that ensures that people with disability are not prevented from seeking citizenship purely because of disability;

· Given the COAG changes that led to the Australian government divesting to the states the provision of disability services, that the national government develop benchmarks for states to reach;

· That the national government develop accountability mechanisms to ensure that policy directions at national level are implemented at the state level;

· That a national government take affirmative action for the next ten years to redress the decades of relatively insignificant improvements in the lives and status of people with disability;

· That in national policy matters, that inclusion of people with disability be taken as mandatory – this means that all policy pronouncements should be scrutinised against the UN Declaration on Rights of People with Disability and a human rights framework;

· That a national government secure bi-partisan approval for a mandatory national disability insurance scheme and if this not forthcoming, to proceed forthwith once the Productivity Commission has delivered on its findings;

· That a national government proceed with a legislated charter of human rights and responsibilities to ensure that, amongst other areas, the rights of all people with disability are respected and can be enforced.

There are numerous specific micro-policy areas that will be explored over the forthcoming months, but the above seven point charter is a start. This is what ADEC will be measuring the parties with.

18 April 2010

The Population Debate and the "ménage a trios"

There is much jostling and shadow boxing by all the parties in the lead up to the 2010 federal election. Some call it “hubris and humbug.” There is lots of noise, much of it self-serving and exaggerated, but no one is really sure what it all means. Public policy development becomes a casualty in this war of words.

There is one omnipresent feature of our form of democracy, that a “ménage a trios” exists. This threesome consists of: public policy development, populism and practical politics. Depending upon where one is in the election cycle, public policy development is the one who is going to get seriously hurt in this threesome.

Let me give you one example – the “population” debate.

Since Australian federation way back in 1900, the fear of being over-run by savage and unwashed hordes has been an enduring theme. In fact, the first piece of legislation passed by the Australian Parliament was about limiting migration. And what has changed one hundred years on! We have had fears of communist takeovers, crime gangs, military, economic and social invasions, and to inflame matters, the most strident and noisy are very happy to fan the flames of discontent.

Australia has a relatively small population, given its usable landmass. We have an ageing population which will not be of the same magnitude as Japan or Italy, but nonetheless, we will experience rapid ageing of the population. People with disability are living longer and staying at home with their families. We have a relatively high standard of living. The vast majority of people live in the cities.

The population, despite the current birth rate of just under 2 children per couple, is not at replacement rate. Australia has to supplement its population with immigration, and increasingly, fixed-term migrants, to continue to sustain our standard of living – and to pay for the increasing ageing of the population.

How do people who fear population growth think that our society can be supported? Who in Australia will pay the taxes to fund social goods and infrastructure, given that at some point in our lifetime, one quarter of the population will be retired or unable to work due to frailty of old-age. Who will care for our people with disability once their parents die? Support workers? Well, yes, but only if there is an available pool of workers.

With a declining tax-payer/employable persons base, there won’t be enough people in the support services, even if individuals miraculously had the money purchase services.

So, the public policy tension is that, to maintain a basic standard of living, we have to manage an increasing population to counter the natural reduction in taxpayers. The populists in our community will declare that our environment will be permanently damaged and our cities crowded and resemble sardines in tins, and the pragmatic politicians lick one finger, puts it up to the wind and goes with the air flow! All the noise is about immigration and stopping refugees. How short-sighted.

4 May 2010

Preliminary response to Henry Tax Review

The Rudd Government has handed down its initial response to the Henry Tax Review. I don’t want to be characterised as a “nay-sayer” because many of the changes mooted by Treasurer Swan are welcome as good public policy and it is clearly written with the election in mind. While the emphasis has been on long-term savings (amongst other things) in recognition that Australia is an ageing population, I wonder what the changes to superannuation will mean for women – as carers of people with a disability (the vast majority of carers ARE women), and for women generally.

Point No. 1 – It is mostly women who care for people with a disability and/or ageing partners or other relatives. Focusing ones life on caring for person with a disability means that personal savings may be zero. If the carer has a partner, then they will have to rely on that person’s superannuation or an aged persons’ pension. If the carer is single, the situation is dire. By 2020 when the compulsory superannuation contribution rises to 12%, if one does not earn a living, then 12% of nothing is still nothing! Virtually all of the people who come to the agency which I lead are recipients of pensions or benefits of one type or another. I have a huge concern that the gap between those who have the wherewithal to financially plan for retirement will increasingly be better off than for those women who are carers of people with a disability. For working people, the rise in superannuation payments is a welcome policy response.

Point 3 – People with disability find it difficult in finding on-going or any employment.

Point 3 – Due to structural and other barriers, women generally still earn less than men and leave the paid workforce earlier.

The philanthropic and charity sectors (and those organisations who have charity status) are aware that the government has at this stage, shied away from changing the rules governing registered charities: Am sure it would not have escaped Dr Henry’s notice that charity status and the taxation benefits pertaining to this status make up for the lousy pay for staff. Given that there is a pay-equity case before Fair Work Australia, the removal of charity status can only occur with huge pay rises to workers in those organisations designated as charities. And who is going to pay for these huge pay rises? It is fundamental that workers are entitled to be treated with dignity and to be rewarded accordingly, but someone will ultimately have to pay.

I look forward to the federal government making some announcements about the principles that could underpin a national disability insurance scheme, whether as part of additional responses to the review of taxation or as a result of Productivity Commission deliberations.

To finish, I do wish the Opposition would develop coherent policy positions rather than simply repeating the mantra about how Australian’s should pay less tax. Talk about “nay-sayers!”

18 June 2010

Congratulations to the Parliament on passing the legislation on paid parental leave

This week, federal parliament finally passed a bill that will provide parents 18 weeks paid leave at the minimum wage. The definition of “parent” refers to either parent, and also brings in adoption under the umbrella. The laws will take effect on January 1 and has built into it a maximum salary qualification.

This is the first major substantial change to working conditions since the equal pay case of many decades ago, and makes the older piece of legislation allowing 12 months unpaid maternity leave pale into insignificance.

Yet, with this most radical legislation, the Melbourne “Age” relegated it to page 8, along with other bits and pieces on federal politics. At least the “Herald Sun” gave it page 1 – strange for a paper that has a traditional and stereotyped outlook on life and society!

In the end, the Opposition supported the bill, saying that they will make improvements when (and if!) they become the government at the next election. The one spanner in the works was Senator Fielding – surprising – no! He appears to be working assiduously to attract the ultra-traditional/family values/domestic role for women votes in order to be re-elected to the Senate. It remains to be seen if he gets enough first preference votes to make up a whole quota to get him into the Senate without relying on preference deals. He is clearly signalling to all and sundry that, at the next election, he is not confident of getting any preference deals from other significant parties.

If any of the parties have any real understanding of how Australian society works – rather than how people would like Australian society to work – preference deals with religious-based groups like Family First and their representatives, will be dismissed out of hand.

Getting back to the parental leave – the issue now for all employers is to seriously think about their responsibilities in providing additional parental leave. In the not-for-profit sector, many agencies already allow for twelve weeks paid parental leave and have done so for several years. This is in order to retain valued and skilled workers given the low salary base in this sector.

One of the unintended consequences to the new law is that many mothers (especially) will return to work after 18 weeks, foregoing the rest of their unpaid leave allowance. This is to be regretted, if this is what transpires.

I still look forward to another piece of public policy becoming reality – the introduction of a National Disability Insurance Scheme.