Speech by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Address to Disability Employment Australia Leaders’ forum

E & OE

Thanks very much Rick. It’s great to be with you all.

Can I acknowledge from the outset Donna Faulkner, DEA’s Chairperson.

I would also like to thank Rick Kane, and the Board of Disability Employment Australia, for giving me the opportunity to address this Forum.

We are also joined by Felicity Hand, the Deputy Secretary from Department of Social Services, who does such good work in disability. Here also is Patrick McClure, who is such a serial contributor to public policy, and I know you will enjoy getting to hear what Patrick has to say later today.

As the Minister responsible for aged care, the NDIS and Disability Employment, I have responsibility for a portfolio that supports around one quarter of the Australian population.

And between my colleague Scott Morrison and I, we are responsible for around one third of the Commonwealth Budget, $150 billion – more than the budgets of Victoria and NSW.

But these responsibilities are the very core of Government priorities.

It’s the reason we pay taxes, to ensure Australians, when faced with extra challenges can receive the support needed to help them stay engaged in society.

There has been a real change in conversation in Australia, with the NDIS now in seven trial sites supporting 11,000 people, people with disability should not only have the right supports available to them, but that these supports should focus on helping them contribute to society – and where possible engage in productive employment.

I know I don’t need to tell you the benefits of employment.

But we are in a buyers’ market in employment, there are more people looking for work than there are jobs – as a Government we are working hard to stimulate the economy and drive jobs growth, but there is also more we can do to support people into employment.

I’m going to be frank with you. The Commonwealth Government will invest $1 billion next year in Disability Employment Services. But under the current system it cost around $30,000 per job and only about one in three jobseekers supported in DES will find employment.

I know this is better than the JSA numbers, but we need to think seriously about how the disability employment system can better support people with disability into employment.

And we know this requires coordinated, committed and staged action over the longer-term.

Today I want to talk about the Disability Employment programme, and ways we can work together to improve the system.

I know you all have a lot of experience and knowledge to share about helping people with disability into employment, and hearing from you interests me a lot.

Over a million Australians with a variety of disabilities are already in the workforce and enjoying the economic and social freedom that brings.

But more needs to be done to improve our participation rates. The latest ABS Survey of Disability and Carers found that, in 2012, there were 2.2 million – or 14.4 per cent of Australians aged 15-64 years of “prime working age” – with disability.

But workforce participation of people with disability remains low.

In 2012, the unemployment rate for people with disability was almost double that for people without disability.

This reinforces what we’ve learnt about the challenges of encouraging employers to hire people with disability, particularly in a softening labour market.

There is a real catalyst for change at the moment.

With the NDIS progressing to full scheme by 2018/19 and increased workforce demand in aged care, health and disability sectors, there are both opportunities and expectations of change.

Increasing employment for people with disability through the NDIS is long-term aim, and part of the reason the Productivity Commission concluded that the NDIS will ultimately add one full percentage point to Australia’s GDP.

This brings DES to the front and centre. Employment services are vital to ensure people with disability have the best opportunities possible to participate in employment.

I mentioned before that the Commonwealth’s investment in DES will pass the $1 billion a year in 2016. But the community expects spending that kind of money will deliver people with disability jobs.

DES is doing some great work, but we know it could do some things better. The entrenched low participation rate for people with disability confirms this.

One of the reasons for this is discrimination and attitudes in the community. To assist with that end, George Brandis the Attorney-General in consultation with myself has given a reference to the Human Right Commission to look at what are some of the barriers for people with disability and for people who are getting a little older to getting into the workforce. What is the basis of discrimination and what are some of the things we are able to do to address them.

I think this inquiry will be an important piece of work.

But the other side of this is that the disability employment system also needs improving. We can’t increase employment opportunities for people with disability if we don’t have a system with employers at its core.

With all DES services contracted until 2018, I am interested over the next 18 months to consult with you and the community about a new model for disability employment.

There needs to be significant change to achieve better employment outcomes for people with disability.

Any model of the future needs to build on the successes of the current system, on the skills and knowledge of the current providers.

But a new disability employment system will need to deliver what employers need.

A new disability employment model will need to deliver better choice and control to its customers – employers and people with disability.

Of course, I’m not going to wait for systematic changes to make the programme better.

That’s why I have already announced more than $13 million in red-tape savings, most recently with the 18 month ongoing support trial.

And I am continuing to look at more red tape measures, because I want to see you spending your time helping people with disability into employment.

This includes looking at a risk based compliance model in DES, where good providers are rewarded for good practices and for doing the right thing by participants.

I have also asked the department to look at better coordinating site visits between the Department of Employment and DSS to ensure you don’t have government officials knocking on your door every day.
I am also keen to promote the benefits of market competition.

Last budget we put an additional $141 million a year in the hands of non-government providers to deliver DES services through the recent DES-DMS tender.

To ensure people with disability are receiving services from only the highest-performing providers with a demonstrated ability to help people into work.

Forty-eight organisations won the business previously delivered by one government provider, and almost 21,000 people with disability successfully transitioned to their new DMS provider.

These participants now have more choice of providers to give them the best possible chance of finding, and keeping, a job.

So I am also keen to look at choice for employers and the employer interface with DES, particularly with large employers, in the medium term.

We need a circuit breaker, which can help employers and DES providers to work together. I think we can look a bit more closely at the NDRC and JobAcess website to see how it can make your job easier.

Finally, the Government is continuing to look for innovation and new ways to deliver services. And you are part of that source of innovation.

Consultation Process

Last month, I asked the Australian Network on Disability with the Department to host a number of Business Roundtables. The focus was on the barriers businesses face in employing a person with disability, and where the current system doesn’t meet their needs.

These roundtables start a conversation with businesses about employing people with disability.

Overwhelmingly, I have been told that unless the system is built to work for business, it won’t work for people with disability.

The early feedback indicates we need more investment in capability – a greater focus on skills rather than disability.

In closing, no idea is a bad idea, if it helps a person with disability into work. In particular if we can spend the money we do currently in a better way, I am all ears.

Over the next 18 month, I want you to be talking with DEA, because Rick and his team will be talking to me about how build a new disability employment system for 2018.

We will also be holding a number of forums around the country to engage with, because we need your ideas.

I am not a policy purist. I won’t let design elegance get in the way of practical outcomes. I know that the model we may end up with will need to address different areas of need.

I look forward to working with you to improve how we support people with disability into jobs.

Thank you.