The Observatory

Q&A with Tony Clark

Federal Labor Candidate for Deakin Tony Clark talks to Vision 2020 Australia about his journey into politics and how his blindness is an asset.

Tony Clark door knocking with supporters

  • This will be your second time running for a Federal seat in Victoria. Where does your motivation and interest in politics originate?

I’ve always been very passionate about the local community. I’ve been scouting since I was eight years old and I’ve been a leader for over 27 years. I’ve been a member of school councils and I’ve acted on many boards. I enjoy making a difference and seeing people achieve.

Whilst I’m passionate about the community, I also want to be a voice for the one in five Australians who are living with a disability and who have no power in parliament now. Particularly given the massive reforms to disability, with the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), I believe now more than ever is the time to get involved and be a part of it.

  • Tony, you lost your sight at the age of 19 from a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. You’ve previously described your vision impairment as a strength, can you elaborate?  

I was very fortunate to have my sight throughout my schooling years. It wasn’t until I was at university that I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. In a way I feel that I have more to prove then the next person, because in a sense you have a higher hurdle to jump over. I think that’s one of the unspoken, social norms that exist, that if you’re different, you actually have to prove yourself above and beyond other people. You have to overcome a whole lot of stereotypes and fears and that’s pretty tough.

I see my blindness as a positive, as an asset. I truly believe it gives me a unique insight into the world. My blindness has given me a set of life experiences that are unique and I bring these experiences to my work, to my politics.

  • Your campaign slogan, ‘No sight, Great vision’ has sparked significant traction. So can I ask, what is your vision?

Tony Clark's campaign poster - No sight, Great vision

My vision is of a community which is fully inclusive, where we have equality for women and where we no longer have prejudices around age and disability. I want to live in a world where we no longer need a human right’s convention for people with disability, where we don’t have a Paralympics, we have one Olympia. That’s my big picture vision, now we just need to have the policy and the process to get there.

For centuries, disability support has been framed around the concept of charity. This perpetuates the idea that people with disabilities are hopeless, that they’re burdens. With the implementation of the NDIS, our vision is finally shifting. We are moving to a time and place where people with disability are viewed as valuable. We need to stop demonising this group. This is about government and the disability sector coming together, compromising and agreeing on priorities.

  • In ten years’ time what would you like to see change in our community?

I want to see our attitude to employment change. I would like to see a move to implement quotas to employ people with disability. What we need is a cultural shift. The supports and systems are out there, what we need now is the leadership to make it happen.  

We talk about the NDIS, where we have a rich economic and market driven environment which has lots of options for people with a disability, where they can make a choice to receive a good quality service. This is a sign that we are making progress. I think it’s a balance; it’s about having those safety nets in place but it’s also about providing choice.

  • If elected you will be the first blind federal politician in Australian history. How can you encourage others to follow your lead?

As citizens we all have a choice to make, you can either sit at home and yell at the TV or you can be willing to put your hand up, make an effort and make a difference. And for me politics is all about the challenge; it’s about experiencing something new.

You know when I stood for preselection I had a guy come up and say to me, ‘I’m not going to vote for you, I think you would be more suited as a disability adviser,’ and I said to him ‘wouldn’t it be better to be a voice at the table rather than a whisperer in the dark?’