Media Release by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Labor misleads on disability wage tool payment scheme

It is deeply disappointing that Labor have sought to mislead the Australian people on the Government’s BSWAT payment scheme legislation.

It is also regrettable that they are attempting to play politics with the creation of a new wage assessment tool for people with disability.

During the caretaker period in 2013, the Department of Social Services applied to the Human Rights Commission for a three year temporary exemption from the Disability Discrimination Act for the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT).

The BSWAT was used in some Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs), but was found to be indirectly discriminatory in its application in two instances by the Federal Court in 2012.

The temporary exemption was sought to allow sufficient time for the implications of a Federal Court decision to be worked through and for a new wage assessment tool to be created.

It is unlikely that all ADEs who have used the BSWAT will be able to transition their workforce entirely to an alternative tool in the time frame provided by the AHRC.

This is why it was so disappointing that the AHRC’s decision did not provide ADEs with the amount of time needed to transition to new wage setting arrangements.

Nonetheless, the Government has committed $173 million for the creation of a new wage assessment tool, and to help ADEs that previously used BSWAT with transition costs to a new wage tool.

Work on developing the new tool is being led by the Fair Work Commission, in consultation with relevant stakeholders including employers, unions and advocates.

The process to create a new tool is entirely separate from the BSWAT Payment Scheme legislation, currently before the Senate.

The Payment Scheme will provide payments to eligible people with disability who have worked in an ADE and had their wages assessed using the BSWAT.

Labor are being deliberately misleading when they claim the Government’s legislation would prevent people with disability from exercising their legal rights.

This is a lie. We are doing the opposite of denying choice.

Through this legislation, we are putting another option on the table, an option which Labor seeks to remove for people with disability.

The representative action in relation to BSWAT could be a lengthy process with an uncertain outcome. We respect the right of people with disability to pursue this avenue.

However, we are seeking to provide an alternative choice that has a guaranteed outcome and a swift and transparent process in the form of a payment scheme from the Government.

The scheme would provide a fast and efficient payment to eligible workers with disability, and is entirely voluntary. No one will be required to participate in the scheme. Choice and control rests with the applicant.

And the Scheme provides free legal advice and financial counselling. In fact, participants would be required to seek independent financial counselling and legal advice – paid for by the Commonwealth – to help them make an informed choice.

Those who advocate blocking this legislation would remove choice for people with disability, leaving them with no option but to participate in a potentially lengthy legal battle with an uncertain outcome.

Labor seek to deny people with disability the choice to access a transparent process and swift outcome.