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Employment for Australians with Disabilities – Everybody’s Business Including NFPs

12 January 2012 at 10:05 am
Staff Reporter
Australia ranks 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employment participation rates for those with a disability and we really should be hanging our head in shame, according to the President of the Victorian Disability Services Board, Tricia Malowney who speaks from her own experience.

Staff Reporter | 12 January 2012 at 10:05 am


Employment for Australians with Disabilities – Everybody’s Business Including NFPs
12 January 2012 at 10:05 am

Australia ranks 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employment participation rates for those with a disability (1) and we really should be hanging our head in shame, according to the President of the Victorian Disability Services Board, Tricia Malowney who speaks from her own experience.

I suppose the question everyone must ask is why is it so – why are we not employing Australians with disabilities – do we think that we are so much less employable than people with disabilities in other OECD countries, do we think that the underemployment of Australians with disabilities is not happening or do we just not think about it at all.

I actually think that it is not something that we think much about – after all, it is not our business – people with disabilities – well I beg to differ – it is everybody’s business and change will not happen unless we start to think about our own employment practices.

The first thing we need to do is examine what is happening and why Australians with disabilities have such small participation rates – The OECD report says that Australians with a disability are half as likely to be employed as people without a disability.[2]

The majority of us do not have a severe or profound disability – over 4 million Australians (18.6%) have a disability according to ABS data[3], but only 1.2 million (5.8%) have a severe and profound disability. Yet, the unemployment rate does not reflect that reality.

We are becoming a little sick of hearing from successive Governments that we need to take people off the Disability Support Pension and get them into work – I can assure you that no-one wants to live on the poverty line. And I am sure that there are very few people who realize how much it actually costs to have a disability – you have to catch taxis because public transport is not always accessible, and you have to pay rent because you are not employed and can’t afford housing, and if you do you have to live way out because of a lack of affordable housing that exacerbates your transport problems. And you can’t get employment because of a lack of affordable transport…

What we do is we reduce the amount of funding for living by transferring people to unemployment benefits and tell them to seek work – what work? who will employ us?

Certainly State and Federal Governments are not doing their fair share, and they must set an example by taking the lead. Since 1993, there has been a steady decline in the number of Australians with disabilities employed by the Australian Public Service. The figure was 5.8% in 1993, and only 3.8% in 2003-2004[4].

Victorians with a disability make up 4% of the Public Sector workforce[5]

The Australian Government has made disability a priority in all AusAid programs – including a disability component in funding agreements. Wouldn’t it be great if we made it a priority here?

There is an opportunity for the Not For Profit sector to come to the party – why isn’t the Not For Profit sector required to employ Australians with disabilities as part of their funding agreements.

So many times we hear of situations where people with disabilities are taken on board as volunteers, often to undertake administrative duties, and then when a paid position is advertised, it goes to someone without a disability.

One of the most offensive comments I have heard is from the CEO of a Not for Profit which supposedly “supports” people with disabilities and he proudly told me that they pay the expenses of people with disabilities who volunteer with them. I was too flabbergasted to ask if he is paid a salary or only expenses.

And yet there are great models of Not For Profit Sector organisations which do employ people with disabilities, whose CEO’s are women with disabilities, and whose Board’s are Australians with Disabilities.

All employees of Women with Disabilities have a disability, and anyone who knows the organisation knows that it achieves far beyond its funding or employee resources, making life better for Victorian women with disabilities – through systemic change.

It is seen as normal that at least 30% of staff employed by Housing Resources and Support Service have a disability. As a small brokerage agency, they continually expand their reach and include other marginalized communities, recognizing that there are Victorians from CALD communities and Indigenous communities who have a disability, and that homelessness is an issue that impacts on the lives of Victorians with a disability.

Not only are they respected by all sectors – they provide productive workplaces.

Our challenge in the first instance is to get the Government Sector – both State and Federal – to face their responsibilities and start employing people with disabilities – and then to get the Not for Profit sector to start meeting their obligations – even if it has to be by writing it into funding agreements.

Then it is the turn of the mainstream sector – and I have to admit, that some of the Banks are actually doing very well – some of them already have programs to assist people into employment – and it is great to see.

Everyone wants to see people with disabilities off the disability support pension, but it isn’t going to happen unless people are offered real jobs – and not only in the disability sector. Australians with disabilities also care about the environment, transport, education, health, justice and safety and all the other areas in which other Australians work.

In the words of Our Governor General Quentin Bryce, AC CVO, “Our history has many examples of Australians struggling for equality of opportunity and equal rights for the disadvantaged among us, however, people living with a disability are, too often, left behind, even though their skills and experience are of great value[6].”

About the author

Tricia Malowney contracted polio at age four months and used callipers until she was 16. At age 36, she developed post polio syndrome, was retired from a middle management position with Victoria Police at age 46 and now uses a range of mobility aids to get around.

She is President of the Victorian Disability Services Board, Chair of Women with Disability Victoria Board, Chair of Housing Resources and Support Services Board, Chair of the Royal Women’s Hospital Disability Reference Group, Deputy Chair of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council, Member Women’s Health Victoria Council, Member Women’s Health East Board, Member of the Coroner’s Reference Group on Family Violence Deaths, and is the community representative on the Victorian Road Based Public Transport Advisory Council.

Tricia is also a member of the Royal Women's Hospital Community Advisory Committee and their Primary Care and Population Health Reference Committee, Breastscreen Victoria Community Advisory Committee and Maroondah Breastscreen Community Advisory Committee.

She is Patron of the LeadAbility Program being run in the State’s North to provide mentoring for Women with Disabilities in Rural communities.

Tricia's interest is in improving access to services for Victorians with disabilities, with an emphasis on access to Justice and Health. She is committed ensuring that a disability lens is applied to the development of policies and that a gender lens is applied to the disability sector.


[1] Price Waterhouse Cooper Disability expectations Investing in a better life, a stronger Australia Achieving better outcomes for people with a disability and their families, November 2011

[2] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2010). Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers – A Synthesis of Findings across OECD Countries.
[4] Australian Human Rights Commission National Inquiry into Employment and Disability
[5] Victorian Government, States Services Commission, Annual Report 2010-11
[6] Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce, AC CVO, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia For in Disability expectations Investing in a better life, a stronger Australia Achieving better outcomes for people with a disability and their families ,November 2011

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One comment

  • Barney Lund Barney Lund says:

    Well said Tricia. As a hard of hearing public servant, one of my biggest frustrations is the lack of proactive support within government for employing and supporting people with disablities. It’s a real shame, because the public sector provides steady, well paid jobs in good working conditions. The vast majority of work is office based and suited to people with a range of disablities.

    I have friends and colleagues who are deaf, speech and vision impaired or mobility impaired. They are some of the most dedicated, talented and productive people I have ever met and it’s an absolute honor to work with them and know them. I also have friends with disablities who struggle to find work despite numerous qualifications and even actual industry experience. It’s ridiculous that Australia is so far behind the 8 ball on this. I’ve written an article about it at

    Thanks, and keep spreading the good word.

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