Speech by The Hon Jane Prentice MP

Disability Employment Australia (DEA) Conference 2017

Thank you for inviting me to attend the Disability Employment Australia annual conference.

I am sorry I cannot be with you today – especially as you went to the trouble of meeting in Brisbane. I imagine there will be a lot of discussion on changes to the DES program, and the disability sector more broadly.

The program changes announced earlier this year are a culmination of extensive consultations with DES providers, employers, and people with disability.

DEA has been instrumental in these consultations, working with Government to find ways to improve the performance of DES so that more people with disability achieve the social, emotional and financial benefits that work brings.

The reforms to DES aim to improve outcomes for participants, providers, and employers alike by achieving long-term employment for people with a disability.

We want people with a disability to have better opportunities than ever before. It should be easier for people with disability to find and keep a job.

This is the aim of the new reforms when they take effect from July 1 next year.

The changes also strengthen incentives for DES providers to match the right person to the right job, achieving placements that work for both employers and employees.

In the May Budget, the Government announced an additional investment of more than $300 million over the next ten years to index payments to DES providers, ensuring that providers can continue to support jobseekers and employers with payments that maintain their value.

I am sure you have all been made aware of recent research from the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Network on Disability, which has found that businesses consistently report the competitive advantage of employing people with disability.

Benefits like improved productivity and improved workplace culture have been well documented.

These reforms will see more businesses benefitting from having access to a larger pool of talented people, who happen to have a disability.

A key feature under the new arrangements is that job seekers will have more power to choose their employment service provider and to change to another provider if they feel they are not receiving the assistance they need.

Under these reforms, the current market share arrangements will be removed and the market opened up to new providers.

It will be easier for new providers to enter the DES market and for high performing providers to expand into new areas, enabling you to grow your business and deliver stronger services to more job seekers, building on successful relationships with employers.

The Department is in the process of establishing a new panel of DES providers. The first stage of that process was a registration of interest process, which has now closed.

The next stage will begin this month which will see organisations which registered interest in delivering DES being invited to apply to be on the panel through a grant application process. This stage will also involve offers or ‘Invitations to Treat’ to existing better-performing DES providers.

From April 2018, we will publicly announce the providers who have entered into agreements to provide DES after June 2018.

Of course change is not always easy; there will be a lot of work and effort required as we transition to the new program while seeking to minimise disruption for DES participants and employers.

However the benefits of the reforms for all involved will be well worth it.

I thank DEA for continuing to work with the Department and other key sector groups through the DES Transition Reference Group established to assist in the smooth transfer from the old program to the new one.

In closing, I wish you a very productive conference. I look forward to hearing the outcomes of the discussions and will be interested to see how DES providers can embrace the changes, and be innovative and responsive in helping more people with disability into open employment.

Thank you.