Caretaker message

Thank you for visiting this website. In the period preceding an election, the Australian Government assumes a caretaker role.
The Department of Social Services hosts this website and the department will manage it in accordance with the Guidance on Caretaker Conventions.

Speech by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Address at the Endeavour Council Annual Meeting

Location: Riverglenn Conference Centre, Indooroopilly, QLD

E&OE

  • Kelvin Spiller, CEO, Endeavour Foundation
  • Peter Short, Chair, Endeavour Foundation Board of Directors
  • Other members of the Endeavour Board
  • Distinguished guests
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

Introduction

Thank you, Tony (Hanmer) for your kind words.

I am delighted to be in Indooroopilly to talk to you this morning.

The Endeavour Foundation

I would first of all like to thank the Endeavour Foundation for asking me to speak today.

The Foundation does a marvellous job providing employment opportunities for over 1200 people with disabilities across Queensland in 24 different business services. That makes it one of the largest employers of people with disabilities in Australia.

Your work with – and dedication to – people with intellectual disabilities, especially, is widely known and well respected. And the longevity of your organisation is testament to the good name of Endeavour and its great work.

Government support

We all understand that some people with disabilities can face significant barriers when they try to enter the labour force and participate in their community.
Like Endeavour, the Australian Government understands these difficulties and is committed to helping people to get more involved in both work and community life.

It is why I approved, over $1.2 million to go to Endeavour under the Government’s Business Viability & Tailored Assistance initiative.

The first $200,000 of this has been used to help Endeavour develop a marketing plan for its various businesses, which will help secure employment opportunities for people with disabilities into the future. The feedback I’ve received is that this has been a very worthwhile investment.

You probably know that Endeavour has also recently signed funding agreements with my department, totalling over $11.5 million a year for their business services through to July 2007, and $684,000 for their two targeted support services, through to May 2008.

Overall, funding from the Australian Government to support the Endeavour Foundation this financial year will be more than $3 million higher than it was in 2003-04. Most of this welcome increase comes from the introduction of case based funding which will make sure Endeavour’s funding more closely matches the support needs of workers with disabilities.

The bottom line is that this funding assistance enables Endeavour to do what they do best – to give people with disabilities the chance to take on fulfilling work and make significant contributions to the company and their community.

Setting the scene

So much has happened in recent times it’s hard to know where to begin. We’ve seen:

  • The implementation of Quality Assurance legislation;
  • The introduction of case-based funding;
    and
  • The Machinery of Government changes that followed the last election.

And, of course we’ve just had a Budget. I will talk more about that shortly.

Changing face of Business Services

Under the Howard Government, funding to business services has increased by 44 per cent since 1996. In that time, the number of consumers ‘on the books’ when we do the annual census of business services has increased by 10 per cent. In real terms, this means that over 20,000 people will be employed in a business service this year.

Mindful of the fact that many people with disabilities wish to work in open employment, the government has also substantially increased funding to open employment services. In 2003-04, open employment services assisted some 45,000 jobseekers, of whom 40 per cent had an intellectual disability.

I think we should all be proud of the fact that, in that year, almost 35,000 people with an intellectual disability used an employment service funded by the Australian government. And I think it is interesting that slightly more than half of those people pursued open employment.

In Queensland, fewer than 17 per cent of people working in business services are under the age of 25 years. These figures obviously tell a story and certainly point to future challenges for both Government and organisations like Endeavour.

Giving people with disabilities the opportunity to acquire skills, work as a team, build self-esteem and confidence can make business services a key stepping stone to open employment. Investment in training is central to lifting skills and improving productivity, and I am pleased to note Endeavour intends to increase the role of Training and Development Officers in its workplaces.

A further challenge for government is to work with the business community to ensure that people with disabilities get the right support in the workplace.

We have taken a number of steps in this area. Last year, through my department, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was funded to develop a disability blueprint for employers, to lift employment of people with disabilities. Earlier this year, the Government also established an Employer Roundtable chaired by Mark Bagshaw, Manager of IBM Australia/New Zealand, with other members including executives from some of Australia’s leading business organisations including: McDonald’s, Westpac, Toyota, Woolworths, Telstra and Sara Lee. The Roundtable will complete an Employer Demand Action Plan by December 2005.

2005-06 Budget

Let me now turn to the recent Budget announcements and, in particular the Welfare to Work reforms and changes that will assist carers in our community.

The $3.6 billion package of Welfare to Work measures will, I believe, have a positive impact on both people with disabilities and the economy generally.

Welfare to Work measures

Roughly a quarter of all people who work and receive the Disability Support Pension are employed in business services. I am confident that organisations like yours will continue to have a strong role to play in providing employment opportunities for those with moderate to profound disabilities in the future.

The focus of the welfare to work package, however, is on those people with a disability who can work in open employment at full award wages.

From 1 July 2006, the changes mean new eligibility criteria will apply to the Disability Support Pension (DSP). People who are currently on DSP will continue to receive this payment. These changes only apply to new applicants.

People are currently eligible for DSP if they are assessed as not able to work 30 hours a week at full award wages in the open labour market. Under the changes those who can work 15 or more hours per week will be able to claim the enhanced Newstart Allowance and will be required to seek part-time work of at least 15 hours per week.

Under the enhanced Newstart arrangements, the means test has been relaxed so that those who work part-time can get to keep more of their earnings while they remain on a part-rate benefit payment.

People already receiving DSP on 11 May 2005 will not be affected by these changes and will be assessed under the existing test – that is, whether they can work 30 hours a week at full award wages.

These changes will help people with disabilities make the most of opportunities to find jobs. They will also help ensure that the Disability Support Pension is better targeted to those who are unable to support themselves through work in the open labour market.

Can I emphasise that these changes will not affect people in business services who receive pro rata award wages, even if they work more than 15 hours a week.

The changes will also see Jobseekers with a disability benefiting from a very comprehensive work capacity assessment that will cover medical conditions, work capacity, intervention needs and referral options. And an extra $80 million will be provided over four years for pre-vocational training to help people with disabilities prepare for work.

The Government is also providing an extra 62,000 places in rehabilitation and disability open employment services over four years.

Incentives to work

To encourage people on the DSP to give work a go, DSP recipients will have a right of return to DSP within two years, if they start a job but are unable to sustain it for any reason.

And Job seekers with disabilities on enhanced Newstart who have part-time work obligation will also be eligible for a once-a-year Employment Entry Payment of $312.

Mobility Allowance will also be increased from $69.70 to $100 per fortnight for people on Newstart Allowance (including those people who have moved to Newstart from DSP) who work more than 15 hours per week and are unable to use public transport.

Changed administrative arrangements

May I just mention – and you will all probably be aware of this as well – that Open Employment Services have been transferred to the Employment and Workplace Relations portfolio.

As well, responsibility for vocational rehabilitation and the administration of the Disability Support Pension and Mobility Allowance has also come under the Employment and Workplace Relations umbrella.

While I will still be closely involved with a range of disability-related issues, as will my department, there is a strong argument to say that the new arrangements will provide an opportunity to streamline current arrangements.

Carers

Turning now to measures in the Budget that assist those people who dedicate themselves to caring for a person with a disability or the frail aged. Their amazing commitment is coming to be acknowledged more and more.

In recognition of the fantastic job they do, we have, once again, in June this year, automatically paid one-off bonuses of $1000 to eligible people on Carer Payment, and $600 to eligible people on Carer Allowance for each person they care for.

As well, to make it easier for doctors and for carers who look after people with a disability, new conditions and modifications to some of the existing eligibility descriptors will be added to the Lists of Recognised Disabilities. Not only will this make things clearer, it will also help in fast-tracking eligibility assessments for carer payments.

Carers are important to employment

One often-overlooked contribution made by carers is how critical their role is to enable people with severe or profound disabilities to participate in employment.

In Queensland, almost 90 per cent of workers in business services receive care, the majority of which is provided on an informal basis. It will come as no surprise to you to be told that some 56 per cent of workers in business services live with their families – and it is largely they that provide the care.

Like the rest of the Australian workforce, the business services workforce is ageing, and this ageing is reflected in higher levels of activity restriction and greater needs for support. Indeed, over the past three years the number of business service users with a profound core activity restriction has increased almost three times as much as the increase in the overall number of business service users.

Succession and Future planning

However, what sets the workforce in business services apart is that the carers who make it possible for people with severe or profound disabilities to work are also ageing.

Collectively this presents us with some important challenges:

  • How best to support an ageing workforce in business services;
  • What ‘retirement’ options should be available to older workers with disabilities, including those who wish to scale down their working commitment; and
  • How best to support ageing carers.

I have a deep personal interest in how we can more effectively support older carers as they age and, in particular, how we can help families plan for the ongoing support of family members with disabilities after the carer dies or can no longer manage the role.

I will be very interested to hear the outcomes of your discussions yesterday on this issue.

Conclusion

Thank you once again for inviting me along today.

And congratulations to Endeavour for all their wonderful work in the community.

Thank you.