An Interview with Our 2013 Voices of Courage Honoree, the Government of Australia

Peter Versegi is Minister-Counsellor for AusAID at the Australian Mission to the United Nations, New York.

WRC: Australia is a recognized leader for supporting initiatives to develop the capacity of persons with disabilities to lead full lives. Why is this particular area important to the Government of Australia?

Peter Versegi: This particular area is important for three reasons. Firstly, reducing poverty is the fundamental purpose of our aid program. You cannot eliminate poverty without meeting the needs of persons with disabilities, as they are more likely to have poor health, lower levels of education, and fewer work opportunities. Secondly, it is a basic human value of Australians that all people, no matter what their circumstances, have the opportunity to lead full, productive lives and live without prejudice or fear. Thirdly, investing in persons with disabilities is good for development. They become active members of society, economically and socially, and can make an enormous contribution. Therefore, creating policies and programs that are inclusive of persons with disabilities has strong long-term benefits for the economy and society as a whole.

 What is involved in working on the disabilities agenda in NY at the United Nations?

In New York, we are doing global advocacy work on persons with disabilities. This involves how to include persons with disabilities in the post-2015 development agenda as well as ensuring that persons with disabilities are integrated into the current Millennium Development Goals. Secondly, there is our work within the humanitarian agenda. We are looking at how to best ensure that persons with disabilities are included in the humanitarian space – such as the crisis in Syrian refugee camps, in Mali, and so forth. We are influencing the debate and we work to ensure that issues of importance relating to disability inclusive development are being reported back to Canberra [Australian headquarters of AusAID] to inform our own program responses and funding.

In your opinion, what is the impact of the Women's Refugee Commission’s research, training and advocacy in improving the lives of displaced persons with disabilities?

Let me begin by saying that the Women's Refugee Commission and its Disabilities Program are deeply impressive. First, the organization goes to the field and documents what is happening. Next, when the Women’s Refugee Commission returns to report on what it has learned, the organization is very effective because the analysis and advocacy are evidence-based, measured, and have significant credibility in terms of global advocacy because it brings that field level experience to the table. Overall, the Women's Refugee Commission is a very effective advocate.

Moreover, Women’s Refugee Commission’s work has the potential to influence policies or resolutions that impact the way Member States or UN agencies do their work. This is the first critical area where Women's Refugee Commission has its influence. The second area of influence is with the actual interventions. The Women's Refugee Commission has tremendous impact in the way they do their work, the way they report on conditions and needs, and how that information is translated into broader support that is given to other agencies. From a UN Member State perspective, this is enormously vital in how we aspire to inform humanitarian funding responses.

What are your long-term goals for displaced persons with disabilities worldwide?

Australia’s long-term goal for displaced persons is that there will no longer be forced displacement anywhere in the world. We envision humanitarian responses that are accountable and effective for the needs of people affected by crisis, including persons with disabilities. In the mid-term, our goals are to reduce the number of displaced persons through emergency response. Then, we need to ensure that those responses are relevant and that the responsible agencies are held accountable for capturing the needs of persons with disabilities in their programs.


Read a supplemental interview with Ron McCallum, Chair, United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Professor Emeritus, and Mary Crock, Professor of Public Law, Associate Dean Postgraduate Research Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.