Speech by The Hon Jane Prentice MP

Disability Employment Australia (DEA) National Leaders Forum


Good morning everyone. Thank you Rick for that introduction.

I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet, the people of the Kulin (Kool-in) Nation, and their elders, past, present and emerging.

I would also like to acknowledge:

David Coles, the Chairperson of Disability Employment Australia, and

Keryl Neville, the Vice Chairperson of Disability Employment Australia.

I welcome the opportunity to talk to you today about the work the Australian Government is doing to improve employment supports for people with disability. Rick and his team from Disability Employment Australia are passionate about working closely with Government to ensure that we hear your feedback so we can build a better system.

Over the past year, there has been significant activity to improve employment outcomes for people with disability – none more so than the changes to the Disability Employment Services, or DES program.

If we go back to the Leaders Forum this time last year, Minister Porter and I had just released the Disability Employment Services 2018 Discussion Paper.

This paper identified some of the key themes about improving Disability Employment Services, based on the public consultations that had taken place.

The themes were that:

  • disability employment services be relevant to the participants themselves
  • disability employment services meet the needs of employers who are responsible for the job opportunities; and
  • there is flexibility and support for disability employment service providers so you can do your job properly.

As a result of the final consultations in late 2016, the DES changes to the DES program were announced in the May 2017 Federal Budget.

As part of the changes, the Government will continue the significant investment in DES and will now include annual indexation of payments. Over the next ten years, more than $300 million has been committed to index payments to DES providers, ensuring that providers can do their job properly and continue to support jobseekers and employers.

The changes aim to improve outcomes for participants, providers and employers alike to achieve long-term sustainable employment for people with disability.

They support innovative, flexible approaches to the inclusion of people with disability in the workforce and job support.

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

Job seekers will also 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 the new arrangements, it will be easier for new providers to enter the DES market and for existing high performing providers to expand into new areas, enabling them to match the footprint of the employers with whom they work closely.

The funding model has also been revised to better align provider revenue with performance and to reward providers for the successful placement of people in lasting employment, in proportion to the difficulty of achieving that.

There are also greater incentives for DES providers to achieve employment outcomes for jobseekers who are harder to place.

One of the major changes of the program is the establishment of a new panel of DES providers through a grant application process.

This process commenced in August with a Registration of Interest process, followed by a grants application round, which closed at the end of October.

The Department of Social Services is currently assessing the applications that were received and I have been advised there has been an encouraging level of interest from organisations, both current providers and potential new ones.

This is a positive response as the reason for opening the market was to attract quality service providers who are dedicated to assisting people with disability into work, and who may bring innovative approaches to supporting people into employment.

As part of the grant application process, some 75 per cent of existing DES contracts – those that were rated as three stars or above – were offered an ‘Invitation to Treat’. All but a very few of these have been accepted giving the providers the opportunity to continue to deliver DES in those regions from mid next year.

This is a very encouraging and will help to ensure that service delivery is maintained at a good standard, and that most current participants will be able to stay with their current provider if they wish.

Increasing the competition and contestability of DES was fundamental to improving the overall performance of the program.

To ensure a smooth change over to the new arrangements, we have established a Transition Reference Group consisting of representative peak bodies – including DEA.

For the DES reforms to be effective, DES providers need to continue to engage and work successfully with employers – small, medium and large – to encourage them to recruit more people with disability, and to build their confidence in doing so.

The Government has continued its focus on building employer awareness and capacity so that employers are confident and well equipped to employ people with disability if they wish to do so.

One of the ways we hope to achieve this is through the newly launched ‘AccessAbility Day’, which is being trialled in eight locations across Australia from 4 to 8 December this year in the week immediately following the International Day of People with Disability, celebrated on 3 December.

AccessAbility Day aims to bring people with disability and employers together for one day. Employers can connect with a person with disability and see their potential in the workplace, while people with disability can have an opportunity to experience a workplace or role.

I look forward to AccessAbility Day opening doors for employers to a new pool of talented and capable individuals

I would like to acknowledge and thank the participating DES providers for their assistance. These providers will be engaging participants and employers in the locations where we will be trialling the pilot.

I encourage you to promote this initiative to your networks in the trial locations, including employers and people with disability who can participate on any one day during the week of Monday 4 December to Friday 8 December, by registering at www.JobAccess.gov.au/AccessAbilityDay.

In addition to this initiative, I am pleased to announce a new subsidy to be offered to employers who employ DES participants, commencing from December this year.

Wage Start is a wage subsidy of $6,000 that will be available to employers who take on DES participants who have been receiving DES services for at least 12 months, have an assessed work capacity of 15 hours or more per week; or are completing a Youth PaTH internship and transitioning to paid work.

This subsidy should provide an incentive for employers and it is hoped that this will help to open more doors for people with disability who are keen to secure a good job.

We know there are some very solid and innovative employers out there and this year the Government will once again be hosting the National Disability Awards as part of the International Day of People with Disability celebrations.

As you may already know, one of the five categories in the Awards is the Employer of the Year Award which recognises excellence in workforce diversity by providing sustainable employment opportunities for people with disability.

I am sure the finalists of the Award will be an inspiration for other employers to create an inclusive society for all.

You and I both know that employment offers many personal, social and economic benefits to a person’s life, as well as their community.

It not only provides security and independence, but expands our social networks, and gives us a sense of responsibility and self-worth.

The Government values this critical role of those at the forefront of providing employment for people with disability –particularly the role of Australian Disability Enterprises, otherwise known as ADEs.

We recently funded the expansion of the BuyAbility website. BuyAbility is an initiative aimed to increase employment opportunities for people with disability through the management of socially responsible procurement opportunities for ADEs.

The BuyAbility website features a new search tool to enhance access to goods and services produced by ADEs, making it easier for government and private businesses to search and connect with socially responsible businesses to procure goods and services and support the future of supported employment for people with disability in Australia.

As leaders in disability employment, I encourage you to use the search tool yourself by visiting www.BuyAbility.org.au

You should be proud that under the current DES program, more than 300,000 people with disability have been placed into work, and more than 200,000 have achieved employment lasting at least 6 months. 

However, I also want to point out that there are more people out there who would like to work, who are eligible for work, and are currently not in DES – some 230,000 people.

DES has an important role in assisting all eligible people with disability to seek employment.  Efforts need to be made to bring more people into DES as people with disability address their immediate personal needs through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and wish to seek employment in the open labour market.

While we are looking to DES providers to embrace the new system and establish strong relationships with employers and participants, it would be remiss not to look for other connections to provide employment support that complements the supports provided through the NDIS.

DES providers are well placed to work with NDIS providers and have a key role in supporting those eligible for DES into the open labour market.

Employment is extremely important for both individuals and their local communities. It offers both financial security and independence. This is something we all want.

I am confident that the program changes to DES will bring us closer to achieving this for all members of society. 

I am also confident that you will play a vital role, as you already have been, in ensuring the DES program will provide consistently superior outcomes for people with disability.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge that two of DEA’s Board members who will be standing down after the DEA Annual General Meeting, which will take place at the conclusion of the forum. 

Keryl Neville and Donna Faulkner have worked tirelessly for more than ten years on the Board, with both having served time as Chair. They are both passionate and dedicated to this cause and I wish them both the best in their future endeavours. 

In closing, I thank you all for the great work you do, and I wish you a very productive forum. 

I look forward to hearing the outcomes of today’s discussions, as we all work towards developing innovative and responsive new ways to help more people with disability into open employment.

Thank you.