Speech by The Hon Sarah Henderson MP

National Employment Services Association Leadership Forum

 I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri people and pay my respects to their elders – past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge the NESA CEO, Sally Sinclair, and the NESA Board.

I am pleased to be with you here today at the National Employment Services Association Leadership Forum.

I recognise the important role NESA has played for over twenty years in working with providers to deliver best-practice services and strengthening the partnership between government and the sector.

I also acknowledge the leaders here today and the enormous value of the work you do in the employment services sector, particularly during a time of significant change.

I would like to use our time today to:

  • introduce myself and priorities in my Ministerial role
  • discuss the Employ their Ability campaign
  • provide an update on DES reforms and the NDIS
  • leave time for questions and comments.  

By way of introduction, I have been a local member for Corangamite since 2013, and was recently appointed Assistant Minister for Social Services, Housing and Disability Services in the Morrison Government.

Before entering Parliament, I worked in journalism and law, but was inspired by my parents’ political careers to run for Parliament.  I am a determined, strong local voice for my electorate, which spans from west of Geelong and includes much of the Great Ocean road.

From my home near Geelong, I have seen the National Disability Insurance Scheme gain momentum as it rolls out across Australia.

For many people, the support they receive through the NDIS is life changing.  However, major social reforms like the NDIS take time to mature and I expect the scheme will continue to evolve and grow over time.

An important part of this is listening to people’s experience with the NDIS.  While 88 per cent of participants rate their experience with the NDIS as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’, we will not stop there.

I can assure you, I am very focused on the 12 per cent, and am looking for further opportunities to improve the experience of participants and their family members with the NDIS.

Within the disability portfolio, it is also my privilege to oversee a range of initiatives and programs in the area of disability employment.

Employment is a huge focus for the Liberal National Government, as you no doubt heard from my colleague, Minister O’Dwyer, this morning.

For people with disability, employment offers more than simply the income it generates – it offers opportunities for social inclusion and participation.

This is why employment is a major of focus of the National Disability Strategy. All governments are committed to this national approach to support people with disability to reach their potential and participate as equal citizens in Australian society.

Our job is to get the policy settings right, so that you and your organisations can drive with passion the work you do to improve employment levels for people with disability.   

Around one in seven, or 14 per cent, of Australians of working age have a disability. However, people with disability only comprise 9 per cent of the workforce. That is because only 53 per cent are participating in work or seeking work, compared with 83 per cent of people without disability.

Of those 53 per cent, ten per cent are unemployed – almost double the national rate of 5.3 per cent.

These differences perpetuate disadvantage in our community. Our challenge is to break this cycle and encourage and support more employers to make their workplaces more inclusive of people with disability.

Hiring a person with disability is a win-win. It brings new perspectives, skills and diversity to the workplace. It also provides that person with a sense of dignity and pride.

The Australian Government is committed to this outcome. This is why we have been acting on a number of fronts to encourage employers to aspire to inclusive workplaces and to improve opportunities for job seekers.

On this note, I would like to share with you a new video, which is part of our Employ Their Ability campaign launched on 1 July.

You may be aware of this campaign. It aims to raise awareness of the benefits of employing people with disability – reaffirming that when you overlook people with disability in the recruitment process, you could miss out finding the best person for the job.

Dinesh is one of our five personalities appearing in our advertising campaign. All personalities featured in this campaign are employed, hard-working, committed, and also happen to live with a disability.

The organisations they work for see the value in bringing unique and valuable perspectives to their workplaces and being representative of their communities and customer base.

The campaign aims to highlight the supports and services available through the JobAccess website, to assist with all aspects of disability employment.

The target audiences for this campaign are human resource managers, who display high levels of commitment and are influencers within their organisations; as well as middle managers, who are the key decision-makers.

Campaign communication is complemented by targeted advertising on the digital channels that employers use when recruiting. The campaign is using Facebook, LinkedIn, recruitment and job/career search websites, and employer-specific websites to ensure employers get information about the benefits of employing people with disability and the support available to do so when they are actively recruiting.

I encourage you to promote the free tools and resources available through the JobAccess website to your employers and jobseekers. This free service provides the necessary information and supports to make a job placement successful.

Focus on Employer Engagement

Greater focus on employers is necessary and overdue. Unless employers can be engaged to consider people with disability as potential employees, the best efforts of job seekers and providers will not result in jobs.

Engaging with employers more broadly has always been a difficult task. Many employers lack the confidence and skills to employ people with disability, and are unaware of the Australian Government support and programs available to help them.

While the overwhelming majority of employers indicate openness to hiring people with disability, only around a third of businesses show behavioural commitment to doing so.

When the Australian Government commissioned research into Building Employer Demand, we wanted to influence employers from an evidence base.

I trust most of you would be aware of the Report, available on the Social Services website.  

The research showed that large and medium employers were more open to employing people with disability compared to small and micro businesses.

Among this cohort, there was widespread agreement that employees with disability have a good attitude to work and are loyal to the business.

This is evidence you know about in practice.  

The Government continues to rely on the valuable skill of employment services providers to build and leverage relationships with employers in the local region.

We have also increased our efforts to promote JobAccess as a source of information, support and tailored disability employment advice to employers as well as people with disability and service providers.

New content includes improved resources for employers to raise awareness, address negative stereotypes and promote good practice in disability employment.

The website has been enhanced with information about the DES program to support job seekers choices, and information about available DES providers.

On the topic of Disability Employment Services or ‘DES’ reforms launched on 1 July this year, I became responsible this program as Assistant Minister earlier this year.

I would like to acknowledge the considerable work by NESA and other stakeholders who worked with Government to develop the new DES framework, which offers opportunities for real improvements.

I am pleased to say the new DES program, after four months, appears to be operating well.  I acknowledge there are some concerns and appreciate that you are raising these through NESA and the Department, and I have been advised of some of these concerns.   

Opening the market has increased the range of choice and services available for DES participants. 137 organisations were approved to deliver DES from 1 July 2018, up from 117 under the old contract. That includes 39 organisations delivering DES for the first time.

Similarly, the number of sites delivering the program has effectively doubled, to 4000 locations across Australia. This engenders increased competition between providers to provide innovative services and greater choice for participants to find the right service for their needs.

As part of the transition, some 24,000 DES participants transitioned to a new service provider, including 6,500 participants who exercised their right to choose a different provider than the one they were allocated.

For DES providers, the new grant agreement has allowed flexible service delivery options, simplified claims processes and reduced the burden of evidentiary requirements.

The new program allows successful providers to grow their business, and for the first time introduces indexation of fees.

It is too early to see the measurable effect of these changes but the smooth transition from the current arrangements to the new program is a testament to the professionalism of DES providers.

Early signs are promising with an increase in referrals to DES.  There are more than 10,000 more people in DES at the end of the first three months, than would have been the case had the old rate of referrals continued.  

Early signs also show an increase in the numbers of participants being placed in employment, although we will have to wait to see whether this translates into higher rates of 4, 13, 26 and 52 week outcomes.  

I appreciate it has not been without adjustments and challenges for some DES providers. I will be taking a close interest in the performance of the new program.  I am keen for it to be more flexible and responsive, and to result in more employment outcomes for job seekers overall.

I want to assure you the Government does not regard its consultation with the sector as finalised with the introduction of the new DES. I recognise the vast pool of expertise in employment and disability employment that organisations such as NESA represent.

We will continue to engage with you and with other stakeholders to ensure DES and other Government programs are effective in meeting the needs of people with disability.

The first meeting of the DES Reference Group since the start of the new DES grant agreement was held on Friday 19 October 2018 and covered a number of participant choice issues. This was the first of a continuing series of meetings between the Department of Social Services and a range of stakeholder organisations, including NESA.

It is in the shared interest of the Government, providers, job seekers and employers to identify and improve aspects of the program that could work better. I want to encourage you, through NESA, to continue advising the Department where the program can operate better and to raise any concerns regarding the new DES program and other employment services.

I will take the opportunity to briefly update you on the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  

The NDIS is a new way of providing support to Australians who have a permanent and significant disability, by giving them choice and control over the services and support they can access.

There are now more than 200,000 people accessing the NDIS across Australia, and almost 60,000 people for the first time.  

Economic participation of participants is integral to the Scheme, and it was always an ambition of the NDIS to see greater economic participation for participants.

By providing a range of supports for people with disability, the NDIS can provide participants with new opportunities to consider employment options that may have been too difficult prior to receiving NDIS supports.

I know a much smaller cohort of your clients are NDIS participants.

However, the department is currently exploring how NDIS participants can effectively pursue appropriate supported or open employment through accessing Government employment services, including DES.

I am very focused on how the NDIS can be an enabler of employment opportunities.  I would be interested in your views on how to improve the connection between participants and access to DES.

Finally, I would like to give a special mention of an upcoming initiative.

AccessAbility Day is an Australian Government initiative that allows employers to connect with people with disability who are looking for work, to see their potential in the workplace.  

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

In 2017, AccessAbility Day was trialled in eight sites around Australia and over 240 employers hosted more than 440 people in their workplaces for a day.

This year, AccessAbility Day is being rolled out nationally across Australia in the week Monday 26 to Friday 30 November 2018, leading up to the annual United Nation’s International Day of People with Disability on 3 December.

Following the success of last year’s pilot, I would like to commend the initiative and encourage you to support it.

In conclusion, I would again like to acknowledge the strength of expertise in this room, and with your support and leadership, we will continue to improve services and enable people with disability to experience a full and productive life.

There is still significant hard work and challenges that lie ahead.

I look forward to consulting with you to make positive changes and continue the great support you provide to people with disability and their employers.

I wish every success for your forum, and thank you for inviting me to speak.