ACE Disability Employment Network - Conference Gold Coast Convention Centre

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

Good morning.

I’d like to acknowledge the Bundjalung people, the traditional owners of this land, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Thank you Aunty Patricia Leavy for your warm welcome.

Lucy Macali – CEO of ACE

Donna Faulkner – ACE Chairperson.

It’s an honour to be here this morning with the people who are doing so much to assist people with disability into employment.

And I thank ACE National for bringing us together and for inviting me to address what I’m sure will be a stimulating and productive conference.

Delegates

An annual conference is always a good opportunity to take stock, to share information and look forward to what lies ahead.

So in that spirit I’ll take the opportunity to acknowledge up front some impressive achievements.

Over the past year Disability Employment Network providers have placed more than 9,000 job seekers with disability into sustainable work lasting at least six months.

And through Vocational Rehabilitation Services you found sustainable jobs for another 8,000 job seekers with disability, injury or health conditions.

That’s a great result for each and every one of the individuals who found meaningful work through your efforts.

We all know the benefits a job can bring.

Whether we live with disability or not a job is the doorway to a life of increased opportunity and meaningful engagement our community.

When I became Minister for Employment Participation there was obviously a lot I needed to learn.

And I have to admit, I’m still learning every day.

Have I told you about the acronyms in this portfolio?

When I started in the portfolio I was completely befuddled by all the acronyms – DEN, DES, VRS, CRS, ACE, ITT – that’s just to name a few in this area!

So I immediately and very publicly declared that my first priority was to outlaw all acronyms.

But three and a half months later I have to admit I’ve failed dismally.

So that’s just a small part of the learning curve.

Clearly I understood employment issues.

As a Parliamentary Secretary my job had been focused on the rollout of stimulus projects to protect and support jobs in a time of deepening economic crisis.

But my new title is Minister for Employment Participation.

And that’s what I took a bit longer to learn and realise just how significant it is.

Participation by its definition is about engagement.

About being involved and included.

Keeping job seekers engaged with us during these tough times is critical.

We have to keep them engaged in education, training, apprenticeships, work experience programs, literacy and numeracy, whatever it takes to keep them with us.

But participation is not an end in itself. Rather, it’s the process by which we achieve the ultimate goal.

Worthwhile and sustainable employment for all those who want and are capable of work.

As I’ve already said, we all know the importance of a job.

I wonder if there’s anyone in this room who doesn’t remember their first real pay check.

The feeling of accomplishment.

A stronger sense of self worth and independence.

And that’s why I often tell my staff that we have the best job in the world.

Helping people realise their full potential and lead a truly fulfilling life.

I know you all share that feeling none of you are doing this job to get rich or famous.

You’re doing it because you’re committed to helping people.

And the impact you have is not just on the job seeker.

I see it demonstrated time and time again.

Last week I was in Townsville.

I opened the new premises of a disability service called the North Queensland Competitive Employment Service.

I spoke to the father of a young man who had been a client of the service and who had just gotten a job.

What I realised, talking to this proud parent, was the huge impact this service had not just on the life of the young man, but on the entire family.

He told me that it had not only changed his son’s life but that it had also changed his.

As I travel around the country talking about the impact of the Government’s economic stimulus package, I often refer to the multiplier effect.

That is, the ripple of economic activity that comes out of the actual investment itself.

What you do is the same.

Every time your service achieves a positive outcome for a job seeker with disability it has a positive effect on their family, on their happiness, their health.

And that in turn has a positive effect on their community.

So that’s why the work you do is so important – you are helping entire communities.

So on behalf of the Government, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, I thank every one of you for all you are doing.

So looking forward.

We are in the midst of a period of transition and change.

In the employment space we’ve gone from a skills crisis to the global recession.

Two very different challenges.

And I realise that change is not easy.

But there is, I hope, some welcome change.

On the 1st of March next year we start our new, uncapped, disability employment services.

An investment of $1.2 billion.

With two distinct and clearly defined programs.

And just three funding streams – from the previous nine.

That’s all the result of some extensive consultation and work that was undertaken well before I arrived on the scene.

At this point I should acknowledge my colleague Brendan O’Connor, who really deserves all our thanks for what he achieved, particularly with the uncapping of services.

I can assure you this was no small achievement.

I’d also like to thank and compliment your leader Lucy Macali for her advocacy work with the Disability Employment Network.

I’ve been particularly impressed by her expertise and professionalism.

I know my office has often called upon Lucy’s experience and long standing knowledge of you and your views.

She is a person I can trust to tell me frankly what we get right and, more importantly, what we get wrong.

She is a great advocate for you, and I am personally very grateful for her assistance.

ACE represents providers who serve a diverse and complex job seeker group, giving invaluable support to its members, many of whom are world leaders in the field of quality employment services for people with disability.

I’ll be continuing to rely on ACE to provide leadership for the sector in the transition to the new services.

Your contribution to the Government’s review of disability employment services has seen changes that will make a real difference to the lives of Australians who live with disability.

[Invitation to Treat for Program B services]

I’d like to briefly mention the Invitation to Treat for Program B services.

As you all know last month I announced the final purchasing model for the new disability employment services.

This involved my decision to extend the Invitation to Treat for Program B to all current Disability Employment Network providers – both Capped and Uncapped.

I have to say, it was not a decision taken lightly.

And despite what some might say, it wasn’t about rewarding so-called poor performers.

It was about fairness. Fairness to providers and fairness to job seekers most affected by this process.

Because I believed the method to determine who would be offered an invitation to treat or have to tender for Program B services was flawed.

And worst of all, unfair.

I was aware that the impact of a tender process on individual providers and job seekers would be significant.

Now I have no problem with a competitive process.

We all want the highest quality organisations providing the best, most effective services to disadvantaged job seekers.

But I needed to be sure that the disruption the tender process would cause was justified.

And given my concerns around the method of determining who would have to tender, I decided it wasn’t.

I met with the peak bodies, talked to providers and listened to their views.

Those views confirmed my concerns.

It was accepted that a competitive tender would happen and there was no question of the need for quality service.

But it was clear the sector was not ready.

It was clear we needed to give more assistance to providers to help prepare for a tender.

A seamless transition to a more competitive model is needed.

That’s why eligible providers will have access to a Capacity Building Fund to help them make the transition over time.

I hope the decision gives your organisations the certainty you need to get on with the job and keep working.

I know there may be providers of services in the new Program A who feel the Invitation to Treat should also have been extended to them.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the existing contracts and Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines this was not possible.

But the good news is we are still on track to implement the new and improved uncapped disability employment services from March 1.

So we’ve come a long way but our work is not yet done.

[Two stage Invitation to Treat]

Now as I hope you all now know I have decided that the Invitation to Treat will be undertaken in two stages.

The first stage will ensure the formal Invitation to Treat letters include all the Employment Service Areas for each provider.

It gives providers a chance to make the case for the inclusion of Employment Service Areas not apparent to the Department because of the complexity of current arrangements.

That’s a nice of way of saying if you have an unregistered site now is the time to let us know so it can be included in your share of the business.

It is my hope this stage will ensure the program commences on a sound and consistent contractual footing.

So tomorrow the Stage 1 letters are going out so you all need to get cracking!

The timelines are tight, but I urge you to provide input before the Invitation to Treat business shares are prepared.

At this point I would also like to thank and acknowledge the work of Tony Waslin, Jenny Chadwick and their team from my Department.

They’re working very hard to ensure your views are heard and where possible incorporated in this complex process.

[Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy]

I’ve talked a lot about what’s happening in our respective worlds, but in the broader disability space there’s a lot of other work going on.

I know my colleague Bill Shorten will be speaking to you on Friday and will have a lot more to say.

Earlier this month he and I launched the National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy.

The Strategy is based on consultation with more than 700 interested people and more than 300 written submissions.

I’ve no doubt many of you had input.

The Strategy embraces much more than the new Disability Employment Services.

There will be more work to determine the future of Australian Disability Enterprises.

We will launch the Disability Support Pension Employment Incentive Pilot.

And there will be a range of Innovation Fund projects that address barriers to employing people with disability.

Already we have earmarked $6.8 million for a pilot that encourages employers to give jobs to 1000 Disability Support Pension recipients.

Here’s how it works.

The Disability Employment Service provider will identify, recruit, prepare and support Disability Support Pension recipients to find work.

They will match them with an employer willing to accept a $3000 wage subsidy, payable after the person has worked at least eight hours a week for 26 weeks.

I think it’s very promising and I’ll keep you posted on its success.

And we will boost the number of people with disability in the Australian Public Service.

The Australian Public Service Commission will be developing training and best practice advice for its agencies and managers.

The Commission will ask all Australian Public Service agencies to produce an employment target of people with disability.

They’ll also being asked for strategies to employ more people with disability.

I know many of you have a keen interest in this strategy and I want to assure you the strategy document is not the end of the process, but rather the beginning.

It is my goal to ensure not only that we implement the measures outlined in the document, but that we do better.

And I look forward to reporting progress on that at our next gathering.

[Pre-employment referral Job Capacity Assessment]

Another positive development is the removal of disincentives for Disability Support Pension recipients who want to work.

These clients now undertake a new ‘pre-employment referral’ Job Capacity Assessment.

It determines the most appropriate services for them, but doesn’t affect their pension.

Since then, more than 13,000 Disability Support Pension recipients have sought assistance from government employment services without jeopardising their pension.

Of these almost 9,000 have started in employment services and almost 1,000 have found a job.

These are great results.

Of course you all know about Job Services Australia.

You might be interested to know that on the figures we have to date since the new system started on 1 July there have been almost 59,000 job placements.

Of those almost 40 per cent are from Streams 3 & 4 our most disadvantaged job seekers.

Of course it is early days.

But these figures are very encouraging.

They show we’re providing better services to those with the greatest barriers who need it most.

I wouldn’t be telling you anything you don’t know when I say that the current disability employment system is overly complex.

Our changes to streamline it and cut through the some of the red tape weren’t just about making life easier for providers or job seekers or even for me as the new Minister as important as that was!

It was also about making it simpler for our other key group in this whole equation – the employer.

With such a complicated system I don’t how any employer wanting to hire a person with disability would have managed to navigate this system.

Although the current tender does include elements of our new Employer Incentives Scheme I believe there is still more we can do to make it easier for employers to access workers with disability.

Because I’ve met many businesses who tell me how keen they are to employ people with disability.

Because despite the myths you hear at times 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. Research shows that employees with disability have, on average, a lower number of OHS incidents and lower worker's compensation costs compared with other employees. Employees with disability also have, on average, better attendance rates and higher job retention than employees with disability. Employing people with disability can build staff morale and teamwork, raise management awareness of workplace practices and conditions and increase customer and staff loyalty.

So we need to do more and make it easier to meet the demand and goodwill that is out there in the business world.

Conclusion

Since I became Minister for Employment Participation I’ve had the privilege of working with some incredibly dedicated professionals in the disability sector.

I’ve really appreciated the way everyone has taken ownership of the new disability employment services.

And I look forward to working with you over the coming contract period and beyond.

As I hope you all know, improving the options of job seekers with disability is at the heart of the Government’s reforms.

And I hope and believe that what we’re doing will help you serve your clients better.

And I have every confidence that you will rise to these new challenges.

This is a unique opportunity to work together on a new way forward.

And just as I did at another gathering like this I want to urge you to collaborate.

Share your ideas.

Share your innovation.

By working together cooperatively we can all improve the ways we are doing things and provide a better service to those who need it most.

Because what you’re doing isn’t about charity – it’s about realising opportunity.

Opening the doors of economic and social opportunity to those who will truly benefit.

Thank you

For more information

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