Transcript by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

The Alan Jones Breakfast Show

Program: The Alan Jones Breakfast Show, 2GB Radio

JONES: The Federal Court found that the formula used to calculate wages for Australian Disability Enterprises – we used to call them sheltered workshops – that formula was discriminatory, according to the Federal Court. In other words it was unacceptable to pay disabled workers less, because they produced less. The court decision only applied directly to two workers, but it’s opened the door to a class challenge. Arguing all productivity based wages paid to disabled people are discriminatory. And now the law firm Maurice-Blackburn acting on behalf of disability advocates – whoever the hell they are, they do not represent the disability sector – are now suing the Commonwealth for compensation. That is back pay. Now Mitch Fifield is the Federal Minister for the disabled, he does a colossal job, very sympathetic, very understanding and he’s spoken to these people which they appreciate. His Government, the Abbott Government obtained a temporary exemption from this Federal Court order which somehow found its way to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Gillian Triggs mob, whom you wouldn’t feed. Because the Abbott Government sought from the Human Rights Commission – and they’ve got form – to temporarily protect sheltered workshops from the effects of the 2012 Federal Court decision. The Federal Government, Mitch Fifield, wanted three years reprieve. They were given twelve months. That expires today. So what happens now? Mitch Fifield and the Abbott Government tried to resolve this problem with a bill to ensure the status quo which would allow sheltered workshops to continue to pay productivity based wages. The bill was rejected by the incompetence in the Senate in November. Today’s D Day. Senator Mitch Fifield is on the line. Mitch Good Morning.

FIFIELD: Good Morning Alan.

JONES: Thank you for what you do for these people. Well now, firstly who are the Senators who voted against this bill to protect the status quo?

FIFIELD: Well, Alan I have to start with the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens. Senator Lambie also couldn’t find her way to supporting the legislation that we put before the Senate. And I mean, this is amongst the most important work that I do Alan. There are 20,000 Australians who work in Disability Enterprises. They have the dignity of work. When someone asks them, what do you do? They get to say I work at that Enterprise down the road. And we can’t underestimate the importance for an individual of being able to answer that question, what do you do? What’s your job?

JONES: And they’re run by compassionate and committed people who want to give these people with disabilities the best chance possible to have a fulfilling life. There are things, what they’re paid is important, but there are things other than the pay that’s important to them. Dignity, self-esteem, companionship and so on.

FIFIELD: That’s right and I think it’s always a mistake when some of the advocates isolate out the hourly rate an individual is paid. You’ve really got to look at the package of supports that someone gets. They get the hourly rate, they get the disability support pension, they get the health benefits card, they get the disability support workers who are there to help them, they get companionship, they get friendship. And most of us find our friends through the work that we do. And they have the dignity of work. And just because you might have an intellectual impairment, why should you be denied the dignity of work.

JONES: So, the bill is presented by you to give temporary exemption from the Federal Court decision. Now won’t be debated until July at the earliest. What happens today? This is D Day. Anyone in a Disability Enterprise now who pays a productivity based wage tomorrow is breaking the law.

FIFIELD: Alan I directed my Department a few weeks ago to lodge an application for further exemption for an additional year and also to seek a temporary exemption until such time as the Human Rights Commission find their way to addressing the issue of an exemption…

JONES: What? Gillian Triggs? Good Luck! When did she last get anything right? Gillian Triggs.

FIFIELD: Alan you’re right I applied initially for a three year exemption. I was extremely disappointed when the Human Rights Commission only gave a one year exemption because it does take time to resolve these things. We had put a process in place to try and develop a new wage assessment tool that has a broader level of confidence. I’ve also put aside $173 million to help develop the new tool. But also, so that we have provision there for any additional costs that Disability Enterprises might face in transition.

JONES: What happens tomorrow when these kids go, these young people go, disabled go to the sheltered workshops, we’ll call them Disability Enterprises and they can’t pay what they are currently being paid, these outfits will go broke. These people will be without a job. What happens?

FIFIELD: Well that’s why it’s just so important that the Australian Human Rights Commission issues a temporary exemption.

JONES: What today?

FIFIELD: Today. So rest assured…

JONES: That’s what you’re seeking?

FIFIELD: That’s what I’m seeking. We’ve been on the phone to them yesterday. We’ll be onto the phone to them again today. We’ll be on the phone to them every day until we get that temporary exemption.

JONES: And I’ll keep in touch with you.

FIFIELD: Really appreciate the support Alan.

JONES: Thank you for the terrific work you do. You’ve done a terrific job. That’s Senator Mitch Fifield. The Labor Party yet again opposing common sense in the Senate.