Speech by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

Purchasing with Purpose, Expo, Canberra

Location: Canberra

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Good morning everyone. It’s very nice to be here today for a number of reasons.

It’s nice to be here with so many people who share a common interest. I acknowledge Ken Baker and Louise Gray who are doing a lot of work with the national leaders of NDS in terms of how we improve ADEs. But the reason why I’m so pleased to be here is it is very easy in politics to get consumed by the 24 hour news cycle.

We’re seeing very complex and distressing events in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Government is trying to ensure that mining companies pay their fair share and, understandably, we’re hearing some billionaires complain about sharing. That’s how you get to be a billionaire.

But these are issues which are very, very important issues, as are a multitude of other issues. But as I know, many of us here think there’s one issue which just never gets the attention it deserves, that the urgent always shoves aside the important. And when I refer to important I obviously mean improving the position of people with disabilities.

So that’s why I’m so pleased to be here, because what you see here, and I recognise all the Government departments and statutory authorities here, is I’m sure that you the visitors will have picked up from the people who are involved with Australian disability requirements, you’ll pick up the positive energy of Australian Disability Enterprises.

It’s a positive energy because that is at their core. Disability Enterprises at their core have a very uplifting view of human nature. Now for the people who work in ADEs, and there’s many great organisations here, they don’t see themselves as missionaries about uplifting the human soul. And that seems a very poetic term to describe the day-to-day of what ADEs do, but there is a view in ADE which says that because you have an impairment that is not the end of the story. There is a view in ADEs which says that people who can’t work in open employment shouldn’t be consigned to day programs. There’s a view that work is uplifting. There’s a view that the social interaction which comes with working alongside other people, helps believe in identity.

We all intuitively know it’s true that our work gives us some of our identity. It’s not the sum of us, it’s not the whole of us, but the job you have can have a lot to with the happiness you enjoy. Obviously the remuneration’s important  but let’s face it in life, as I know, if you don’t have a job that you like then really your quality of life is not what it is, what it should be or what it could be.

And what I see with ADEs is providing a quality of life for 20,000 Australians who but for the existence of ADEs would not have the quality of life that they do.

You know, every day in Parliament, and in the nation’s capital, we discuss what we should do to better improve the nation. And I have a simple test about what should govern our actions, be it as legislators, as people working in the public service or, indeed, just as citizens of our country. It’s a “but for” test. Ask yourself every morning to every night when you go to bed, are there things that I have done today that but for me doing this would not have occurred?

And there are some things which you do in the course of a day which, frankly, if you didn’t do it someone else would do it. It could be something as mundane as opening the mail or it could be something as important as speaking on legislation. The truth of the matter is there are some of our actions in a day which if we didn’t do it someone else would do it.

We love to think that we’re indispensable but there’s many things we do, which frankly someone else can do. But sometimes there are things that you do which if you did not do them, would not happen. Actions would not occur. People would not be empowered.

I fundamentally believe that Australian Disability Enterprises and the people who work for them and with them, they pass the “but for” test every day. But for what happens in Australian Disability Enterprises there would be thousands of Australians, whose only misfortune is to have an impairment, would not receive the empowerment, the social interaction, the sense of purpose, the support, the training.

So there if we think that this but for test should be supported, if we think that the work of Australian Disability Enterprises is important, I think it then falls on the people not immediately involved in Disability Enterprises, but in the radiating circles which come into contract with the ripple in the pond – stone in the pond, which is caused by Australian Disability Enterprises, the rest of us have an obligation in our actions to make sure the but for what we do, these ADEs can keep doing what they do.

I believe that disability as a political issue is neglected. I believe it does not receive the attention it deserves. I take some responsibility for that. But I think we can all look at what we can do to improve the situation.

Now there’s no question but there has been some concern in the recent budget about the initial presentation of budget in terms of extra funding for ADEs. For those of you who don’t understand what I’m talking about you’ll just have to ask someone else. But what I will say is there are negotiations under way and we’ll continue those this week.

But what we can also do, other than the Government assisting directly with funding, is we can support ADEs, improve the ability that they have to stand on their own feet.

ADE leadership has an obligation to constantly improve. What I mean by that is that I see ADEs as functioning social enterprises, working on a not-for-profit basis, who are capable of employing people, admittedly receiving significant government subsidies, but are also capable of generating income for that business. Income which is reinvested in the people who work in that business.

Some ADEs do very well in terms of the percentage in their total revenue, having some significant source generated from beyond government subsidies. Others find it harder.

I can’t say I judge why some find it harder and some find it easier. There’s plenty of reasons which contribute to that. I do hope to see that ADEs continue to improve reforming their governance structures but I have a fundamental view that if ADEs are to flourish into the future it cannot be done solely by government subsidy.

What we have to do, if you imagine an X and Y axis. On the Y axis you’ve got a government subsidy. On the other axis you’ve got the outcome in terms of delivering services to the consumer. So you’ve got government on one axis and you’ve got consumer demand on the other.

Now what we have to do is rather than have it be a straight line between as you increase the Government subsidy then the amount of interaction with the consumer goes up. What we have to do is create some value, whereby we can encourage businesses, ADEs, to build their profit base.

Now the way we do that is prove good contracts. ADEs cannot survive in the future I believe if they don’t have a trifecta or a trilogy, or three factors, going for them. One, that the work that they do has to be of good quality. Two, that the work they do has to be cost sustainable for people to purchase the services.

So it’s got to be reasonably priced and has to be good quality. The people who buy the services know that they’ve got a service which is quality, a service which is reasonably priced, and then they have the added benefit of knowing that it has a social value above and beyond buying product and services from other businesses in the marketplace. The added value being that you employ people with impairment.

Now I think there is a very clear selling factor there, a very clear value proposition. ADEs have moved from being the sheltered workshops to being modern social enterprises. This transition has not been easy and it’s still under way. And the transition has been led by people working with ADEs and, indeed, periodic support from governments of all political stripe.

But I think that for the businesses who are here visiting ADEs and seeing what they do, we have a very modern value proposition in front of us. People in supermarkets will make sure their tuna has been strained by dolphin-friendly nets. You can drink your coffee, which has been grown in fair circumstances, which is nice. You can have your chocolate which is fair trade, which is lovely.

But to me they are a brand above all else, which is why we look at users – and why people like doing that. They like to think that they’re contributing to saving the dolphins and they’re contributing to the wages and conditions of African coffee bean pickers, if that’s how you pick beans.

Anyway, the point is that they’re good things. They are excellent things. But to me, why do we need to look abroad for social value when in fact you can buy services from businesses whose premium goal is, primarily the sole mission in life, is to empower and include people with disability.

So I think that today’s exhibition is an excellent idea. The Federal Government has freed up procurement guidelines such that if you’re taking a bid from an ADE you don’t have to go through the full tender process.

For those of you here who are procurement managers, you know, the idea that your life can have a millimetre, or an inch or a metre, less of red tape surely must be attractive on top of all those other positives that have been put. I think the ADEs make up an important part of the industry in Australia. There are things which are manufactured still in Australia by people working at ADEs which I think most Australians think no longer – don’t even happen here. So I think that there is a fundamental value proposition in ADEs which I think that this exhibition tries to highlight. One, you can buy Australian made. Two, there’s a social context to supporting organisations who are employing people with impairments who otherwise wouldn’t get a go. Three, in my experience the quality of product in ADEs is generally very high and the price is generally very reasonable. That’s four. What I also want to say beyond this is that the Government is committed to improving the position of people with disabilities.

But what I have discovered in the last 30 months is that, one, people with disability generally experience second-class outcomes in Australia, despite the finest efforts and the positive stories here and in many other places. The sum of the parts creates lesser results than the individual contributions of those who work with people with disability and care for them.

But if we are to lift the status of people with impairment to equal with all other Australians, which is where it should belong – and we’re an ambitious nation and we should never set ourselves a second-class target when we’re capable of doing better. We are a rich nation and we should never set ourselves a miserly outcome when in fact we believe in a generous view of the world – it seems to me that we need to have economic activity. In my experience as a union rep it was always easier to negotiate the pay rise from a business that was growing than a business which was just making ends meet or shrinking.

Where there is more wealth to be created then it is easier to share those results. To me, part of that picture lies in the ADEs developing economic strength to promote their product and to play into the community at large.

So today I see as one of those little victories or, indeed, it may be larger than a little victory. There’s a lot in disability which can get you down. What I see with ADEs is perspectives of hope, perspectives of validation of human beings, not looking at someone’s impairment but the whole person.

I think that ADEs generally do a very fine job and I believe that part of the success in the future for disability employment will be the demonstration that you can make a buck which can be ploughed back into your members, to your cooperatives, to the people who work with the service. And you can do it by engaging with the open economy, and the open economy can do better than it may do now by finding some of its business solutions, some of its profit solutions, some of its quality solutions and some of the social values which all Australian corporations and government should be engaged in, through working with ADEs.

So thanks very much for listening to that talk. As I say, I get a vibe from being amongst people who care about their fellow citizens but who also understand that the way to improve people who rely on care is not just to treat it as charity but to say we can aspire to better through the economic activity of the organisations we work in.

Growth I believe is a key – is one of the drivers to the improved position of people with impairment so they can assert their rightful position as equals in our society. Thanks very much for letting me talk this morning.