Speech by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Launch of the Australian Disability Enterprises Website

Location: Melbourne Museum, Melbourne


Thank you

I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people and members of the Kulin Nation, and I wish to pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

It is great to have so many people here to talk about disability enterprises. You’re an interesting mix of people, in case you weren’t aware of that.

Some of you run Disability Enterprises, which is great, and some of you run large companies.

Most of you know what an ADE is and does, but for those who may not, I’ll explain a little bit about them.

There’s 610 ADEs across Australia and they employ 20,000 people with disabilities who can’t work in open employment. There’s another 10,000 people who work supporting those 20,000 so it’s a large number of people involved in the sector.

Disability enterprises probably generate $250 million dollars of turnover so it’s a significant section of economic activity.

The challenge for us, and that’s why I was keen to have this breakfast to launch this website, is to raise the profile of what you as disability enterprises do.

Just because someone has a physical or intellectual impairment doesn’t mean they can’t work. The core of what an ADE is about is giving people the opportunity to work who might otherwise not get that opportunity.

We all know that work isn’t the defining feature of our lives, but it is a big part of our identity. Work gives you the opportunity to participate in society, to contribute, to give value to the community.

In this country if you have an impairment you are often denied the opportunity to participate.

It is obvious in this country that people with disability are not provided with an equal go, so we need to look at ways in which people with a disability can be treated equally.

Impairment is a fact of life, many of you will have heard me say this before, but what I believe disables people in a practical sense is not their impairment but the attitudes towards it, and the barriers that exist to people with an impairment.

So I think there’s a big role for work to break down the barriers of discrimination and to rectify the internal exile that many Australians with disability experience.

Most Australians believe that by-and-large they have a right to an education, the right to a job, the right to the opportunity to work towards purchasing a house and the right to be able to obtain some measure of economic security.

For people with disability in Australia today, those rights are far more theoretical than real.

Where work comes in is it is a ford across the river, from one part of this nation that is discrimination and disadvantage to another part which is opportunity. This is where disability enterprises come in, to provide that opportunity for people to work in some capacity.

Disability Enterprises though, are facing some challenges.

People ask me: what exactly is a disability enterprise? We used to call them sheltered workshops, and then we moved to calling them business services, and now on to disability enterprises.

There are issues with the way some disability enterprises see themselves. This part of my talk is aimed at those involved with disability enterprises, because I think some of them struggle with explaining who they are.

I said there’s 610 of them, some of them are very large and are already doing business with some of the biggest corporations in Australia.

But how does a business that employs people on supported wages with people whose productivity is not 100 per cent, how does that business sell itself?

How does it sell itself as providing a quality, cost-effective product, whether it be gardening, laundry or the hundred other things you do, and also providing the social benefit of employing people with disability, people who would otherwise not be gainfully employed?

I think there is a story to tell about disability enterprises.

The reality is that after the reforms of the last 20 years these are places that treat their employees very well.

I’ve been to a lot of factories over the last 20 years, but I’ve rarely been to places where the people are so happy, and I’ve rarely seen places where you have such skilled and dedicated staff supporting the workers with disability.

The day before yesterday I was in Perth visiting a metalworking shop, a disability enterprise, with supervisors who could have been earning more up north in the mines but who had chosen to support workers in a disability enterprise.

The people who work there, some with mild impairments and some with significant ones, are there enjoying the work and the social interaction that comes with it.

There is something very fine going on in these enterprises, something very fine indeed.

The parents of adult children who go to these enterprises know that when their children go there they have an identity, a mission and a sense of being valued socially and within their communities.

It is amazing how many pieces of work you see in the community that had part of their genesis in a disability enterprise. From the headsets at Qantas to the forensic kits which police forces use in Australia and which are packed in a disability enterprise.

There are tasks that can be done by disability enterprises in a way that suits businesses very well.

So my observation to the ADEs and the other businesses who are here today is that there is a significant chunk of economic life being done through disability enterprises.

Disability enterprises have a narrative we should be proud of. They provide an opportunity for 20,000 people who would not otherwise participate in the community to participate, and that is an excellent thing.

In addition, as many of the people here will tell you, their clients are happy with the work they do.

Again in WA I visited a disability enterprise whose products went out in cardboard boxes with “made in WA” on them. So I asked them why don’t you put something on the boxes to say the products are made by people with disabilities? Oh, there might be a stigma, I was told.

I want to say to disability enterprises – be proud of who you are, and be proud of what you do. Be proud of the contribution you make.

Many of the disability enterprises, and there’s a lot of different ones in Australia, have done a lot of work building up there individual brands, and there are businessmen who know all about them. That’s a great development.

During my time as a director of a superannuation fund, there were many industry funds that had their own branding and marketing and operated individually, but came together under the common brand of an industry fund that reflected our shared values.

I’d like to see something similar in disability enterprises, and see more made of the common values and aims of the individual organisations.

Many of the enterprises started out as family-run businesses, perhaps looking for a way to employ a family member with a disability. They have moved from family enterprises, although often with strong family values in their businesses, into large professionally run organisations.

You have come of age and can be proud of the businesses that you run.

What you do is good, you don’t have to try and hide it.

These days, when you buy a washing machine it comes with an environmental rating, nowadays when you buy a house it comes with an energy-efficiency rating.

Disability will have come of age when the fact that an enterprise that employs people with disability is seen as a plus not a minus.

I think we will all be better off the more disability enterprises have the chance to say: “Hey, there’s more than 600 of us. When you buy something from one of our enterprises, you’re buying something that’s not only a quality product, but that’s infused with our values. You’re buying something that’s a beachhead against discrimination.”

So I think that today is important, and this website is important in highlighting what you do and who you are. Because you do have a good story to tell.

And to those corporations who are here, why can’t we ensure that, all things being equal, a portion of your budget goes on products purchased from disability enterprises, to provide more opportunities for businesses whose specialty is not only what they do, but employing people with a disability?

In conclusion I would like to say that the path for people with impairment is one where they don’t get an equal share of employment or other things, and they don’t get an equal say in society.

In all things to do with reforming the role of people with disability, economic power is fundamental. I see disability enterprises as a very clear and positive economic empowerment of people with impairment and their families. I am very pleased that you have all come hear today to hear about this process and what is going on with disability enterprises.