Speech by The Hon Paul Fletcher MP

National Disability Services 2018 CEO Meeting

***check against delivery***


Thank you Joan.

Good morning everyone.

I would like to acknowledge the Hon. Linda Burney, the shadow Minister for Social Services.

I would also like to acknowledge the new CEO of National Disability Services, Chris Tanti.

I am looking forward to working with you Chris.

Let me also congratulate Ken Baker on his 19 years with National Disability Services.

What Ken has achieved for people with disability is widely recognised and appreciated across the country.

It is a pleasure to be with you today to speak about the Government’s priorities for disability services.

This sector has seen extraordinary change – the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), reforms to Disability Employment Services (DES), and ongoing reforms through the Integrated Plan for Carer Support Services.

The reason for this change, of course, is to improve the lives of people with disability – and their families and carers.

But change is not always easy – which is why meetings like today’s are so valuable. The more that government can hear the voice of your sector, the better we can work together to deliver these reforms successfully.

In my remarks today I want to speak first about some of the progress we are seeing in the NDIS. Next I will discuss our focus on better employment outcomes for people with disability, and thirdly I will speak about our focus on supporting growth of the disability services market and workforce.


Let me turn firstly then to the NDIS – where the evidence shows the NDIS is making good progress towards delivering on its promise to improve the lives of people with disability.

The latest COAG NDIS September 2018 Quarterly Report was released on the weekend. It shows the NDIS continues to grow at a rapid pace and is, at the same time, within budget.

Let me make it clear that the NDIS is fully funded – thanks to our strong economy and improving Budget fiscal position. This was announced prior to the 2018-19 Budget and was reflected in the Budget papers.

Some time ago we moved away from the previous proposal that the Building Australia Fund would help fund the Commonwealth’s contribution to the NDIS.

The Government’s recent decision to allocate uncommitted funds from the Building Australia Fund towards the new Drought Future Fund will have no impact on funding for the NDIS, or the level of support NDIS participants receive.

Looking at the Quarterly Report, the NDIS was supporting 208,793 participants as at 30 September 2018.

Of these, 138,678 previously received support from existing State/Territory or Commonwealth programs.

Critically, 63,459 – or almost 1 in 3 participants – are now receiving support for the very first time. [1]

We are also starting to see the impact of the significant improvements to the participant pathway that are progressively being implemented by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

The proportion of participants who rated their overall experience with the planning process as either ‘Very good’ or ‘Good’ increased from 88 per cent to 93 per cent in the September quarter – the highest level since the trial phase. [2]

This is persuasive evidence that the NDIA’s pathway reforms are beginning to have a positive impact on participants.

The September Quarterly Report also shows that 45 per cent of participants aged 15 years and over increased their involvement in community and social activities in 2018-19, a significant increase from last year when it was only 36 per cent. [3]

The report shows more participants are exercising control over the supports they need to achieve their goals, with 24 per cent of all participants partly or fully self-managing their NDIS plans in the quarter, compared with 22 per cent in previous quarters combined. [4]

This progress is encouraging. But of course, we have more work to do.

We will continue to support the NDIA to roll out further improvements to the NDIS for both participants and providers.

The NDIS is one of the largest social reforms in Australia’s history. Rolling it out is a complex and difficult task. It will inevitably involve challenges. What is important is where problems arise, we take action to address them.

Disability Employment

Let me turn next to a key priority of the government – that more people with disability are able to secure employment.

NDIS Participant Employment Taskforce

Today I am announcing that we will establish the NDIS Participant Employment Taskforce.

As the Quarterly Report shows and as has been highlighted in the release of the NDS State of the Sector Report today, the employment outcomes of people with disability, especially NDIS participants, remains stubbornly low. Overall employment of NDIS participants has remained consistent at 22 per cent. [5]

The importance of work, of a job, is well recognised.

The independence, the dignity, the sense of connection to one’s community that a job brings, is fundamental for all of us.

Despite their enthusiasm and commitment, people with disability too often find it hard to get into the workforce.

Around 14 per cent of working age people in Australia have a disability – but people with disability comprise only nine per cent of the workforce. [6]

There is much we have already done to support more people with disability to get and keep jobs.

But I want to see a stronger focus on job outcomes from the NDIS.

This is where the new Taskforce comes in.

It will look at how we can best support NDIS participants to seek employment both through the NDIS and through services such as DES.

We recognise the pathway for people with disability may be different – but typically it will begin with good school to work transition planning.

Senior staff from my Department and from the NDIA will comprise the Taskforce. It will begin work immediately and report regularly so that the Government remains informed of its progress.

We want to see a clear and smooth pathway for NDIS participants into education or jobs – with the lowest possible administrative burden for both participants and providers.

The new Taskforce will undertake a series of national consultations. It will also draw on the findings of previous work and sector consultation, including the 2015 Disability Employment Taskforce, the 2017/18 Department of Social Services consultations on the future of supported employment and the 2018 NDIS participant pathways review.

Three important elements of its work will be to address interface issues between the NDIS and DES; to advise on how we best maintain supported employment as an option for NDIS participants to choose (including finalising pricing for workplace supports in supported employment); and finally to complete an NDIS participant employment strategy.

The Taskforce will not be responsible for broader disability employment policy such as DES or issues related to wage tools and the Fair Work Commission.

Its particular task is to iron out and resolve employment issues so as to create a clear and smooth pathway for participants and providers with the least possible red tape.

I have asked the Taskforce to maximise the use of mainstream services; to avoid duplication between NDIS and mainstream services; and provide continuing support for those in supported employment who are transitioning to the NDIS.

The Taskforce will work toward providing choice and control for people with disability when pursuing their employment goals – and toward making sure services are responsive to their choices.

These kinds of interface issues – disagreement or confusion about who does what – are inevitable when introducing a scheme as big and as life changing as the NDIS.

But we need to resolve them – and this is where the Taskforce can assist.

Disability Employment Services

Developing this NDIS Employment Strategy will complement our recent reforms of Disability Employment Services (DES).

Opening the market has increased the range of choice and services available for DES participants.

There are currently 130 organisations delivering DES. This was an increase of 13 organisations delivering DES for the first time. With 4,000 locations across the country, the number of sites has almost doubled. [7]

As of October this year, there were 209,000 people with disability participating in DES. [8]

The reforms have encouraged increased competition between DES providers which means better services for participants.

DES providers have to attract job seekers to their organisation – instead of being guaranteed a share of referrals from Centrelink as was previously the case.

Providers now have flexible service delivery options, simplified claims processing and reduced burden of evidentiary requirements.

Early results are promising: 15,000 more people have used DES in the first four months than would have been expected under the old system. [9]

We need more employers to understand the benefits of employing people with disability.

While most indicate they would be interested in employing people with disability, only a third of businesses take the initiative to do so.

Employ Their Ability

Another action we are taking to drive jobs for people with disability is an advertising campaign, Employ their Ability, which launched in July. The aim is to raise awareness of the benefits of employing people with disability.

Its message to employers is that when you overlook people with disability in the recruitment process, you could miss out on finding the best person for the job.

Five outstanding young Australians tell their story in the advertising campaign.

They are all employed and the organisations they work for talk of the value they bring to the workplace.

That is a message we all need to promote as much as we possibly can.

Until employers understand there are great benefits in employing people with disability, the best efforts of both job seekers and service providers will not be realised.

AccessAbility Day

Let me mention one more initiative: AccessAbility Day.

This month AccessAbility Day will take place across Australia in the week Monday 26 to Friday 30 November.

The purpose is to help employers to connect with people with disability who are looking for work.

Employers can explore the concept of employing a person with disability while providing an opportunity for job seekers to get an insight into a particular job or type of work.

Jobs and the NDIS

In the last part of my remarks, I want to turn to our focus on supporting growth of the disability services market and workforce.

The NDIS is one of the largest job creation opportunities in Australia’s history.

The Productivity Commission predicts the disability sector will account for one in five new jobs over the next two to three years. [10]

The disability care workforce will need to grow by up to 90,000 full‑time equivalent workers to deliver the extra supports provided by the NDIS.

It is important that people with disability themselves are among those able to take advantage of these opportunities.

Workers with disability bring lived experience, knowledge and understanding to their work in the sector.

Around 11,500 job active participants and more than 2,400 DES participants have gained jobs with NDIS providers since the Scheme began. [11]

It is pleasing to see how the disability services market is transitioning and expanding.

The number of registered providers increased to 17,925 at 30 September 2018, an increase of 7 per cent on the previous quarter. [12]

The NDIA is also working on ways to measure the extent to which the market is increasing capacity to provide more services and meet future demand.

As you know we are investing $45 million through the new NDIS Jobs and Market Fund for targeted projects to grow the provider market and workforce.

This is building on the over $110 million funded for projects to prepare both participants and providers for the NDIS through the Sector Development Fund.

The first round of the Jobs and Market Fund will open shortly, and I encourage you all to consider projects that would help providers transition to the NDIS.

We are looking for innovative projects that focus on:

  • increasing the capacity and capability of NDIS providers and workers
  • enabling participants to influence the growth of the market
  • helping us develop under-supplied markets or
  • increasing the evidence base for market and workforce growth.

This is just the first opportunity to apply for Jobs and Market Fund funding, with the next round to follow in the first half of next year, 2019.

The $33 million Boosting the Local Care Workforce Program will also increase provider capability and boost local job opportunities across Australia, with a focus on rural, regional and outer suburban areas.

Regional Coordinators have already begun working with disability service providers to identify opportunities for job seekers under the program. A Sector Transition and Employer Support Initiative will provide business advice to help eligible disability service providers prepare their businesses to deliver services under the NDIS.

The first of three rounds of grants up to the value of $20,000 each will open early next year.

While all governments are working together to make the NDIS market succeed, it remains crucial that providers recognise the opportunities from the $22 billion a year investment.

The Government wants to develop an efficient and effective provider market.

Where there are concerns, the Government and the NDIA are taking them on board. One good example is pricing.

When the NDIA found there were concerns that some price caps were constraining market development and outcomes for participants, it commissioned an Independent Pricing Review.

The NDIA accepted all 25 recommendations made by the Review. It has moved quickly to implement recommendations which will provide the most immediate financial benefit to providers.

These included temporarily increasing price limits for most supports from July this year, and automatic updates to participant budgets and services to reflect these price increases.

The NDIA has set up a Pricing Reference Group, which includes external experts, to oversee the implementation of the recommendations, as well as future pricing decisions and approaches under the NDIS.


Let me conclude by expressing my thanks to National Disability Services. You do so much in working to achieve our collective goal, that people with disability have the widest possible range of choices to fully participate in the community, social and economic life of our nation.

I note from your annual report that in the last year National Disability Services lodged 33 submissions to national enquiries and reviews; responded to NDIA’s Independent Review of Pricing; advocated for the future of supported employment, school-to-work transition and DES reforms; and submitted proposals to the Federal Budget.

NDS representatives serve on a wide range of advisory committees to governments.

It is an impressive contribution.

In my short time in this portfolio I have already been struck by the contribution you make. I look forward to working with you as we strive to improve the lives of people with disability, their families and carers.

[1] COAG Disability Reform Council Quarterly Report 30 September 2018

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (4430.0), 2015

[7] Internal analysis undertaken by the Department of Social Services 2018

[8] Department of Jobs and Small Business, Labour Market Information Portal, DES Monthly Data October 2018 (to be published late November 2018)

[9] Ibid

[10] Productivity Commission 2017, Review of NDIS Costs

[11] Internal analysis undertaken by the Department of Social Services 2018

[12] COAG Disability Reform Council Quarterly Report 30 September 2018