Speech by Senator the Hon Anne Ruston

Disability Employment Australia National Leader’s Forum


Can I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. 

To David and Rick and to everybody here, thank you so much for the opportunity to be here.

I’m preaching to the converted when I say that getting a job and having a job is an absolute game-changer in everybody’s life and that shouldn’t be any different for somebody who has a disability or somebody who lives without one.

The importance of the independence, the self-confidence, the skills and the connections to society and community that are created when you have a job are absolutely essential and not the least of which it means you have an income.

We are committed as a Government around employment for all Australians but in my position as the Minister for Social Services I’m very focussed on disability employment.

My one simple goal as the Minister responsible is to make sure we give people who have a disability access to the full suite of opportunities in the employment sector – whether it be self-employment, open employment, supported employment or other types of employment. It is absolutely essential we continue to focus on that.

I want every person with disability who has the capacity to work to get a job.

In particular, I want to see more opportunities for every person who’s able to get into open employment, to actually be open employment. 

I want to make sure that employers see employing a person with a disability as just a mainstream, everyday activity.

I want everybody who’s living with a disability to be a taxpayer because that is great outcome for them, for families and for society as a whole.

Unfortunately employment does remain an issue for people with disability – I’m not telling you anything that you don’t know.

Participation in the workforce for people with disability is lower than those that live without a disability.

Participation rates for people without disability continues to improve in our workforce but participation rates for people with a disability hasn’t.

In fact, at the moment there’s a 30 percentage point difference between the participation rate for people who are without disability and those with a disability.

We are absolutely committed to make sure that we fix that problem and there is every reason that we can with the help of the people that sit in this room. 

Improving employment outcomes is a high priority when it comes to disability and I’m sure that it’s absolutely the highest priority for everybody that’s in this room.

But equally we understand that as government there are things that we need to do, levers that we need to pull, policies that we need to put in place to ensure that we give you the best opportunity to deliver on behalf of the people in Australia with disability. 

Today, I wanted to talk about some of the key policy levers:

•    the Disability Employment Strategy 
•    the reforms to Disability Employment Services
•    the Star Ratings Framework 
•    the Employ Their Ability campaign and AccessAbility Day
•    the NDIS Participant Employment Taskforce

At the end of the day, my decisions are guided by what is best for the individual and that must be guided by the feedback that I get from individuals who live with disability and from people like you who engage on a day-to-day basis with the employment sector.

Disability Employment Services

For the past nine years, DES has obviously been something that has been very important in the employment path of people with disability.

And you have helped employers to get themselves up to speed in understanding what it is to employ somebody with a disability but, most importantly, to retain those people in the workforce.

Over the next four years, we have set aside $3 billion to invest in DES and associated services to help people with disability, as I say, not just to get a job, but to make sure they keep that job.

Last year in July the Coalition Government introduced two essential reforms to improve employment outcomes for people with disability.

Firstly, to increase participant choice and secondly, to foster greater competition in service provision. 

We haven’t got out evaluation results back yet but what we do know is that there are some very encouraging numbers that have come through:

•    At the end of September, there were almost 260,000 people with disability in the program.
•    Another 175,000 people with disability aged 15 or above were in jobactive.
•    The Average monthly referrals to DES have increased by 31% compared to the previous two years.
•    The number of participants in DES increased have increased by 23% 
•    People with disability now have more choice when selecting their provider, increasing, on average from 7 to 17.

The early signs are looking very good. 

It is essential to have a healthy and vibrant disability sector, and that’s about making sure that we not only get people with disability into work but also into the open market place.

This is a long-term commitment, it doesn’t happen overnight and hopefully the evaluation will support us in some of the further decision making and policies we need to develop to make sure that we continue that progression from people who are coming into work for the first time and working them through all of the areas and supports they need to actually be work ready and go into the open market place.

I am keen to hear back from you as to how you think things are going and what you would like to see us doing in the future so that we ensure that we maximise the opportunity for every Australian with a disability who wants to work to be able to get that job and keep it.

DES Star Ratings

Another area I’m really keen to get your feedback is on the DES Star Ratings.

This has been a really important component in terms of measurability.

The current method used to calculate the star ratings rewards innovative providers for their effectiveness.

They give participants an indication of which provider is more likely to get them a job.

But as a new Minister in the portfolio I was very interested into how star ratings had been presented and I want to know from you whether you think they are fit for purpose.

Are they actually delivering the kind of outcomes you would like to see? 

If we need to modify the star ratings, if so what should be changed?

Employ Their Ability / AccessAbility Day

A crucial element in all our efforts to increase the employment outcomes for people with disability is the attitude of employers.

It’s disappointing to see that whilst research points to the fact there is a desire for employers to employ people with disability, that desire doesn’t often translate into actual action.

A lack of confidence appears to remain in the wider employment sector about employing people with disability.
I want to work with you on how we encourage greater understanding in the employment sector about the huge benefits of employing somebody with a disability. 

If we can just get the employers through the door they will be able to understand that with the right support people with a disability can be some of the greatest employees that they will ever have.

I think that’s what we need to make sure to continue.

Disability Employment Strategy

Embedding employment into the lives of people with a disability – if that is what they want to do – is absolutely essential.

We can do better, we will do better and I’m sure working together that that outcome will actually be achieved.

We need to make sure we give people with disability access to the full suite of options for employment – be it self-employment, supported employment or mainstream private and public sector.

Over the coming 12 months the Department will be working with all sectors, whether it be your sector, whether it be people with disability, whether it be the business community or state governments, to make sure that we develop a Disability Employment Strategy that starts to mainstream disability employment into everybody’s vocabulary.

It will be part of the National Disability Strategy that we are currently writing. 

Our current strategy ends at the end of 2020 so we’ve got a lot of work to do over the next 18 months.

NDIS Participant Employment Strategy

Over the last few years there has been a lot of focus on the NDIS and part of the challenge has been now to make sure employment is something that is very firmly embedded in everybody’s plan.

The NDIS Participant Employment Strategy, which was released by Minister Stuart Robert earlier this month, describes how we will help more NDIS participants achieve meaningful participation in our economy.

The goal is to enable 30% of participants of working age to be in paid work by June 2023—up from 24% today.

It is absolutely essential that we continue to work not only with people who have NDIS plans but everybody person in Australia with a disability to make sure that we can meet their desires, their aspirations in relation to employment. 
Because clearly everybody benefits, absolutely everybody benefits, when more Australians are in work.


In conclusion can I just say thank you so much for the opportunity to be here today.

I hope you have a fantastic conference and I look forward to hearing back from you about some of the things that you deliberate on.

Hopefully some of the questions that I’ve proposed to you today will be part of those discussions.