ACE Annual Disability Employment Services Conference - Grand Ballroom, Hotel Grand Chancellor, Hobart

Speech
  • Minister for Employment Participation
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery

Check against delivery

Acknowledgments

I’d like to acknowledge the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I also wish to acknowledge ACE Chair Donna Faulkner and new CEO Lynette May—congratulations on your appointment and I look forward to working with you.

I also wish to thank Rick Kane who filled in as acting CEO over the critical months for the rollout of the new Disability Employment Services and acknowledge Luci Macali formerly your CEO, now welcome here in her new role as the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator.

The sector, and the Government, is fortunate to be so well served by such outstanding professionals.

Last, but not least, I acknowledge our international visitors and other invited guests.

Introduction

It’s a great pleasure to be able to join you for your annual conference.

Particularly as I’ve spent this past week in Parliament House – if you tried, you couldn’t find a more closed workplace in serious need of integration into the community.

Your experience provides contributions that are grounded and an important counterpoint to what would otherwise be a rarefied existence of a Minister.

Once again ACE has done a fantastic job bringing people together to share the successes and challenges we face as we work to improve job participation for people with disability.

As you all know, the new Disability Employment Services started on 1 March, so this is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the progress we’re making on that front and explore the challenges that lie ahead.

Today, I want to talk about the key government priorities underpinning this vital work.

These priorities are to sustain a strong economy to make sure all Australians can share in prosperity through social inclusion and promoting workforce participation.

The challenge we confront

We know from the most recent ABS research in 2003 that 17 per cent of Australians aged 15 to 64 reported that they had a disability of some type.

The people you help daily are a key part of this group, together with Australians who have experienced significant injury or health condition.

Disability affects many Australians in many ways — either directly or through family members, friends, co-workers and employers.

This is the growing challenge we need to respond to, and we must do so strategically.

A strong economy

Some people ask me why as a Labor Government we are so focussed on forging a strong economy.

The answer is simple. A strong economy underpins opportunities for employment and generates the prosperity needed to meet human service needs.

It allows us to lift standards of living and enable all Australians reach their full potential.

Of course, if you look globally, Australia’s economy is doing very well.

We’ve averted the worst of the global financial crisis and the Rudd government did what it had to do - acting early and decisively to support jobs.

Australia’s labour market has been performing strongly over the past six months, with total employment increasing by 178,800 and full-time employment accounts for the majority of this increase, up by 147,300.

Further aggregate monthly hours worked also increased, by 37 million hours.

Australia continues to fare much better than comparable counties. Australia’s unemployment rate currently stands at 5.2 per cent, well below the United States at 9.7 per cent, the United Kingdom 7.9 and France with an unemployment rate of 10.1 per cent.

I feel I’m on safe ground in saying that your job is made easier if unemployment is low and job growth strong.

While the Government is proud about this performance, we are not self-satisfied.

My focus is on improving employment participation to ensure that those in the community who are disadvantaged in the labour market can reach their full potential.

We all know the benefits a job can bring – financial independence, a sense of accomplishment and a valued place in society.

Past achievements

I hope you’ll forgive me for being a bit political, you might have heard that later this year there will be an election.

I realise that many people are cynical about politicians and the political process.

However I think Labor in Government is justifiably proud of its record in supporting people with disability into open employment.

The Hawke then Keating Governments introduced the Disability Services Act 1986 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

Those Governments developed local services for people with disability into an on-going, open employment program.

The Support Wage System, introduced in 1994, was a genuine innovation adding productivity-based wages to the tools available for securing open employment.

With Disability Employment Services the Rudd Government has continued that tradition of substantial and strategic reform.

It represents a $1.7 billion investment over the current contract period.

Importantly, as you know, the introduction of DES has been accompanied by the uncapping of program places.

In the first 3 months, referrals to DES have increased by around 20 per cent compared to March to June in 2009 for DEN and VRS.

More people with disability have the opportunity to benefit from access to more appropriate employment services.

This is strategic both because people with disability are a growing as a proportion of those in our community and, as we know all too well, unemployment can rise and fall.

I don’t want to trumpet on too much because there’s always more that can and should be done, but this uncapping of the program is significant and something the Government is very proud of.

Disability Employment Services

When I spoke to you at your ACE Disability Employment Network conference last September, the new services were in the final stages of development.

It’s amazing how much has changed in such a short space of time.

I’d like to thank you for your great effort and professionalism in delivering that change so positively.

Providers have worked incredibly hard to learn the new services and program elements and to prepare staff and clients for the changes.

At the same time you have continued to deliver the Disability Employment Network and Vocational Rehabilitation Services programs.

This has been a mammoth effort involving a productive partnership with DEEWR, as well as intensive engagement with the sector.

Public servants often get bad press, so I want to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the important contribution to the rollout of DES made by so many within the Department.

So how have we gone so far? Well, the figures coming through are encouraging.

We now have 224 organisations delivering Disability Employment Services from almost 2,000 sites around Australia. This extensive coverage includes remote and regional areas.

By late February this year, more than 100,000 participants successfully moved from their former program to the new services.

And more will continue to do so in the next few months, as they achieve an employment outcome and move into Ongoing Support.

By end of May, more than 37,000 new participants had been referred to Disability Employment Services, including more than 21,000 new commencements.

We have more than 121,000 participants currently in Disability Employment Services across both programs.

Of these, more than 9,000 are in Post Placement Support, working towards achieving an employment or education outcome; while some 13,000 are receiving Ongoing Support assistance.

These are fantastic figures, and they speak volumes about the excellent work being done by providers with participants and with employers.

So congratulations for your tremendous contribution.

Looking ahead

I have had the privilege of serving as Minister in this portfolio for a year, not long in the scheme of things.

But it has been long enough for me to know that the task of improving what we do must be continuous – we can never relax or take things for granted.

One of the first and most important decisions I took as Minister was to put in place an Invitation to Treat process as an alternative to a competitive tender for Program B, now DES Employment Support Service.

That decision allowed you to attend to the changes involved in implementing DES, and has given you more than two years to position yourselves for a competitive process for the next contract.

A number of providers have expressed a desire to offer their services in other areas as a choice for people with disability. A continuing closed program would deny both those opportunities.

People with disability deserve, and public accountability requires, that the best quality services possible are provided.

Since the key decisions that led to DES there have been several further measures announced that I wish to mention.

Productive Ageing Package

As you know the ageing of the Australian population poses a major challenge, and rates of disability and ageing tend to rise together.

Under the Productive Ageing Package, the Government is committing $43.3 million over five years to help mature-age Australians remain engaged in the labour market.

The package includes the $9.8 million Experience plus On-the-Job Support program.

Over four years from 1 July, this will provide face-to-face training and support for up to 2,000 mature-age workers at risk of losing their job due to their health condition, illness or disability.

The support, to be delivered by Disability Employment Services under the current Job in Jeopardy assistance, will include workplace assessments, modifications and advice.

I urge you to use your networks to discuss the Experience plus On-the-Job initiative, particularly with employers and mature-age workers.

They may not realise that assistance with job retention is available for an age-related health condition or functional limitation.

2010-11 Budget Measures

The Budget includes several measures that will have a positive impact on Disability Employment Services.

Many of these respond to ideas and constructive feedback from people like you, and carers and other stakeholders about how the system needs to continue to improve. And I want to thank you for that.

Extension of Eligible School Leaver definition

The Government is making it easier for young people to forge a pathway from school to employment.

From 1 July this year, we will be extending the definition of Disability Employment Services ‘eligible school leaver’ to young people with disability accessing state government transition to work programs, or those who have been out of school for up to 12 months.

These young people will no longer require a Job Capacity Assessment to test their eligibility for Disability Employment Services.

If they register directly in Employment Support Service, they will attract the highest funding level.

Fee loading for participants with moderate intellectual disability

The Budget also provides extra resources to assist people with moderate intellectual disability in finding employment.

From 1 July, the Government will fund a two-year trial of a 70 per cent loading on some fees for participants with moderate intellectual disability.

I understand there may be some concerns that this measure targets assistance on the basis of disability rather than other criteria, so I ask you to give me a moment to explain.

Low skilled and unskilled jobs in our economy have been on a long term decline. In response, this Government has greatly increased funding for vocational training for job seekers.

For most people, including most people with disability, schooling and vocational training provides a foundation for employment. This is much less so for people with moderate intellectual disability.

There were strong arguments put to the Government for improved funding for DES provided pre- and post-placement support for people with a moderate intellectual disability. It was decided that this would be conditional upon such job seekers securing sustainable employment.

This measure will be a trial and the evidence gathered will help determine whether targeted assistance can help job seekers with higher support needs achieve better outcomes through sustainable work involving more hours per week. And we will keep ACE members advised on the outcomes of this trial and invite your input.

DSP Employment Incentive Pilot

We’ve also introduced a DSP Employment Incentive Pilot.

From 1 March 2010 the Pilot offers wage subsidies of up to $3,300 for employers who employ eligible DSP recipients, is being implemented by providers of Disability Employment Services, and is available for DES – Employment Support Service participants in receipt of the Disability Support Pension.

1,000 DSP Pilot wage subsidies have been allocated to the 15 Labour Force Regions with the highest number of DSP recipients.

Disability Employment Forum When I spoke to you last, I talked about the culture change that needs to take place in the board rooms and among employers – something Bill Shorten has been working hard to change.

To help meet that goal, I am today announcing that in collaboration with ACE, Parliamentary Secretary Bill Shorten and I will host a National Disability Employment Forum on July 29, 2010.

Inevitably, the period of consultation and change leading to the implementation of DES has given focus to the relationships between Government as funding provider and you as service providers.

That is an important relationship.

However, the really central relationship is between employers and workers or job seekers with disability.

Effectively connecting job seekers to jobs means addressing both the supply and demand side of the equation.

The Forum will not be a large conference. It will be an opportunity for engaging corporate and public sector leaders, peak business organisations, training groups, unions and consumers on the key challenges employers face in taking on people with disability is timely.

As you know the employment of people with disability across the public sector, including by agencies of the Australian Government, must improve. This will be one of the important priorities for the Forum.

We need to break the stereotypes. To do so we need to ensure that employers have good information about, and positive experiences arising from, the employment of people with disability.

And you know, as well as I do, that despite the myths about increased risks and costs of employing people with disability, the benefits that an employee with disability brings to a business far outweigh any costs.

I’m sure the forum will help identify ways to dispel some of these myths.

We also need to work harder at getting the message out that help, such as workplace modifications and other supports are available to businesses if they need it.

It’s fantastic that the forum will give us the chance to hear first hand about some of the innovative and flexible job designs that employers who are leading the way already have in place.

We expect everyone to bring ideas and to be prepared to act on them.

Government isn’t a bottomless pit of money, but we are serious about sustaining momentum and I can tell you today that we will be acting on what we hear first hand.

Innovation Fund Announcement

But we need to do even more! Our policies need to be matched by funding. Words are only as important as the action that brings about results.

I am a big supporter of social enterprises. I believe that sector can and should be supported to ensure there are opportunities created for people with disability.

In July 2010 the Innovation Fund will call for submissions. Together with Parliamentary Secretary Bill Shorten, I announce today that the Innovation Fund will include a component seeking social enterprise proposals that specifically target open employment of job seekers with disability.

People with disability under the DES and Australian Disability Enterprise programs will be eligible to be employed in these social enterprises.

Over the 2010-11 and 2012 years a total of $3 million has been provided for this initiative.

A process of consultation, including with ACE, is currently underway following which guidelines will be released. A call for submissions will be made during July.

Disability Employment Services Reference Group

As I mentioned earlier, we need to keep making adjustments to DES, and more broadly, to ensure that people with disability realise the opportunities that we are all working towards.

The Government respects and values your robust and independent views. We need strong and constructive advocacy from the sector to help us get it right.

In the past we’ve relied on Luci Macali and the broader expertise of ACE.

Of course, like any new program, there have been teething issues to be ironed out with DES.

But I’m confident we will continue to work together to address these as they continue to arise, which is inevitable with such a large scale reform.

As well as dealing with the here and now—laying solid foundations to help people with disability find and keep a job—we must also be thinking about the future.

It’s why I established the Disability Employment Services Reference Group.

It will have input into the next contract period, the evaluation of DES and monitoring of the National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy that needs consideration and input.

The Groups membership is diverse, and includes ACE, other provider peaks, employers, consumer rights organisations, union, academic and government personnel, including a joint approach with FAHCSIA and Parliamentary Secretary Bill Shorten

Conclusion

Every Australian who can, and is prepared to work, must be given the chance to do so.

Everyone deserves a fair go. And as a nation, that’s what we are about.

I’m confident we can accomplish our shared purpose of improving the employment participation of people with disability.

I thank you for your professional commitment to this important work.

I look forward to receiving more of your considered advice about how we can make things better.

For more information

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