Speech by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

National Disability Services’ Disability at Work Conference

Location: Pullman Hotel Melbourne



Thank you Vicki for your introduction.

And thank you to NDS for inviting me to speak at the Disability at Work conference 2015.
I remember addressing the Conference last year in December, where we discussed disability employment and I announced $173 million in Government support to ADEs.

Now, less than 6 months later, there’s a lot to talk about.

Budget 2015

I want to start by first outlining some of the elements announced last week in the Budget.
The Budget demonstrates that the Coalition is wholly committed to the NDIS now and into the future.

Indeed, we will spend $695 million on the NDIS in the coming financial year.

We have also announced on Tuesday night $143 million to build the ICT system for the full Scheme so the NDIS can roll out on time and on budget.

For those of you who will be providing services to NDIS participants, this will mean a much improved process for all of the steps involved in your interactions with the Agency.

And to assist Australian Disability Enterprises to prepare for the NDIS, the Government has invested an extra $17 million to enable ADEs to access professional services focused on improving sustainability and preparing for likely higher wage costs over time.

We also announced in the budget a disability employment package that is the first step toward a new model for disability employment from March 2018.

This follows my address to CEDA late last month, where I announced the establishment of a taskforce to consult and make recommendations on changes to the disability employment programme.

The disability employment package – ‘a better way to work’ – is about improving economic outcomes for people with disability.

Now I should touch on the introduction of a new 23 hour employment benchmark – But we are introducing this measure because we want people with disability to be fully employed.

DES is about supporting people with disability to reach their full employment potential and under the current rules, participants with a work capacity of between 23 and 29 hours per week can be placed into a job of only 15 hours per week and providers are rewarded fully for it.

Overwhelmingly, participants say they feel underemployed.

People with disability are no different to any other Australians – they too want to work and earn a salary that is equivalent to their capacity, skills and aspirations.

This measure delivers on this aspiration.

From 1 January 2016, the benchmark will lift the expectation on providers to find their clients ongoing and fulfilling work and aims to provide better outcomes for approximately 30,000 people by helping them gain more sustainable employment while reducing income support reliance.

As part of the same package we made three other important commitments in DES, which will benefit providers considerably.

From 1 July 2015, DES providers will be able to concurrently support a person with a disability for 6 months while they are completing a state based Transition to employment programme.

From 1 January 2016 we have also committed $14 million to allow a person with a disability working in an ADE to be supported by a DES provider for two years, so they can dip their toe in the water of open employment while retaining their ADE job.

And finally, we are investing in a new JobAccess Gateway.

Many of you have told me one of the big challenges for providers is just getting the attention of business.

Again others have told me of their frustrations with how the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator programme interacts with providers.

From 1 July 2016, the JobAccess Gateway will bring together the NDRC and JobAccess to create a central and coordinated central access point to DES.

The JobAccess Gateway will provide information and rapid referral for employers and people with disability to DES services and supports.

And the Gateway will be the single point for in-work supports like the Employee Assistance Fund, Supported Wage System and wage subsidies.

Most importantly, I want the Gateway to also go out and engage with employers.

We are going to be working with groups like the Australian Network on Disability to develop materials for employers to build their disability confidence.

And these materials and supports will be there for DES providers, to help you with your conversations with businesses and to make your job easier.

Last Tuesday the Government also outlined a Small Business and Jobs Package to drive economic growth in Australia.

In the package were a number of measures to increase social and economic opportunities for people with disability, carers and other groups who have been locked-out of the job market for too long.

The package works on both sides of the equation. It provides opportunities for Australian small businesses, and will get more unemployed people into jobs.

The package also provides funding for two employment support models, which will be trialled nationally to get more young people with mental illness into employment:

  1. We will trial the Individual Placement and Support model in 15 headspace locations across Australia – to assist young people with mental illness to remain in education or move into employment; and
  2. The second trial – starting 1 July this year – will develop individually tailored DES supports to assist up to 200 young jobseekers nationally. It will target individuals with mental illness who have recently left school.

These trials will support youth mental health training and inform the work we are doing to redesign DES in 2018.

As I’ve already mentioned, we are continuing to invest in supporting Australian Disability Enterprises.

Strong and financially sustainable ADEs are crucial to ensuring the 20,000 Australians with disability who are employed in these organisations can be confident that their jobs are secure into the future.

To that end, I have ensured that ADEs will not have to go through an open tender process for funding beyond the end of this financial year.

As promised, I have also instructed my department to reduce the number of performance indicators in your ADE contracts, and to remove the ambiguity around the status of those indicators – they will now be ‘Activity Performance Indicators’.

For those of you with an interest, Warren Pearson from my Department will be speaking at this conference tomorrow and can take you through the details.

Beyond the Budget, we are also supporting people disability through a pilot programme called Ticket-to-Work.

Ticket-to-Work has had fantastic success helping 456 young people to access school-based traineeships or part-time employment

The Government initially funded Ticket-to-Work as a pilot, and now it is up and running I am pleased to hear that NDS has taken over management and eventual funding of Ticket-to-Work.

We need to work within our means to continually improve employment opportunities for people with disability.

Government already spends more than $1 billion a year on disability employment; I want to hear your ideas for how we can spend this better.

Disability Employment Taskforce

Employment is the key to welfare reform.

In a few years’ time we will be spending more than $40 billion a year on both income and non-income supports for Australians with disability.

Clearly, if dollars are any measure, there’s no lack of commitment here.

But people with disability are twice as likely to be unemployed than people without disability.

And this has not changed for decades.

There is really only one measure of success I am interested in:

We need an employment rate for people with disability that reflects economic conditions; not disability.

We need to stop having conversations about disability and start having conversations about employment:

  • We need a change in attitude to reach a point where employment for people with disability is expected
  • And we need to move to an employment services system that invests in people with disability to deliver what employers actually need

The McClure Report was unequivocal on the importance of helping people with disability find and retain work.

Today, we have the opportunity to re-shape our disability employment system into a durable model that will not only get people a job, but a career.

I mentioned earlier that I have establishment a Disability Employment Taskforce within the Department of Social Services.

One of the major roles for the Taskforce is to listen, and understand what the community wants and needs from disability employment services.

You should all by now have received information and been invited to attend the first phase of consultations in May and June.

We want to focus less on how Government works with disability employment providers, and more on the relationship between employers and people with disability.

We want to know what people with disability need from employment services and service providers.

To this end, there will be a six month consultation process where all stakeholders will have the opportunity to have their say on the right implementation model for disability employment services.

And I am conscious that the answers probably won’t come from government.

I welcome providers approaching this with enthusiasm.

I want you to look at how you do business as a provider.

I want you to look at what works best for you.

And more importantly, I want you to tell the taskforce.

I am not a policy purist, if we need a disability employment model from 2018 that delivers different things to different people and employers – then that’s what we will have.

The current DES contracts end in March 2018 and the Taskforce will use the consultation period to develop a new framework for disability employment. This will feed into, and build on, the work of the NDIS as it rolls out in-full, on-time and on-budget.

Australian Disability Enterprises

Finally, I want to give you an update on the work we are doing to support ADEs.

Over the past two years, this Government has been seeking certainty and stability for ADEs to maintain their business confidence.

I supported the application to the Australian Human Rights Commission for a three year exemption from Disability Discrimination Act application to the BSWAT. Disappointingly, the AHRC granted only a one-year exemption which expired on 29 April this year.

As many of you no doubt know, the Government applied for a further 12 month exemption.

While we await the outcome of that application the AHRC has granted an interim exemption.

We remain committed to our BSWAT Payment Scheme and are continuing to pursue passage of the Bill in the Senate.

As the ADE network transitions to the NDIS over the next few years, the Government will continue to support their role in providing quality employment for people with disability.

We have now committed $189 million to help the supported employment sector to transition to the NDIS and also to cope with the outcome of the Federal Court case against BSWAT three years ago.

We are dealing with the present through an application to the Human Rights Commission for an interim exemption for ADEs using the BSWAT.

We are dealing with the past through our payment scheme, the legislation for which is before the Senate.

And we are dealing with the future through the $189 million investment to create a new wage assessment tool and to assist ADEs to transition to a higher wage environment.


The next five years represents a time of great opportunity for people with disability in Australia and those who provide their support.

Importantly, we are also listening to what people want. This means that better services and support for people with disability are being rolled out.
Services and supports do not work in isolation and we recognise the need to consult with Australians with disability, employers, service providers and other stakeholders.

The new disability employment model will put people in work and help them stay there.