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Lina Caneva
Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and Editor of Pro Bono Australia News since it was founded in 2000.

Tuesday, 2nd June 2015 at 11:15 am

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New Disability Employment Model Needed

By Lina Caneva, Editor

The Federal Government is spending around $1 billion on disability employment services every year, but only a third of the people supported by these services will find a job. Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield, writes that Australia needs a system that works better for people with disability.

In Australia, a person with a disability of working age is more than twice as likely to be unemployed than a person without a disability. Wouldn’t it be great instead to have an employment rate for people with disability that reflects economic conditions; not disability?

We spend around $1 billion each year on disability employment services, but still only a third of those supported by these services will find a job. We need a new system that better works with employers and people with disability to overcome the barriers to employment.

In April I delivered a speech to the Committee for Economic Development (CEDA), outlining my plan to consult over the next six months on a new disability employment model for Australia from March 2018. You can read the speech here.

And in this year’s Budget, the Government started to deliver on this plan with a $25 million Disability Employment package. The package includes measures to better support younger people with disability seeking work, and a new pathway for people employed in an Australia Disability Enterprise to try open employment.  The disability employment package also reshapes outcome fees for DES providers to encourage them to find a person capable of working 23 or more hours per week, a job commensurate with their capacity.

And finally, the package delivers a new virtual market place for people with disability and employers. From July 2016 the Job Access Gateway will promote disability employment and give employers a real pathway to enjoying the benefits of employing people with disability.

Many Australian businesses are already employers of people with disability, with over one million people with disability of working age in Australia’s workforce.  While people with disability don’t necessarily ask to be recognised as having a disability, they are contributing to teams and workplaces across the country in many professions.  And there is a simple reason for this. It’s not really about Corporate Social Responsibility. It’s about employing a person with disability because it just makes good business sense.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry found that employing a person with disability is an effective way to become more innovative, to help overcome skills and labour shortages, to build a better team culture and to create a real competitive advantage with a more diverse workforce capable of better understanding the customer.

As Minister with responsibility for Aged Care, Disability and the NDIS, I have responsibility for two of the fastest growing sectors in Australia.  I speak with businesses and CEOs daily who are facing the challenges of finding and retaining good staff.  By 2050, the aged care sector alone will need to almost triple to meet the needs of older Australians.

Both these sectors are progressing rapidly towards a model where those receiving services are the ones who will decide the type of care they receive and who will provide it.  In this environment, where the consumer is at the centre and in control, service standards will become a major differentiator for customers in a competitive market, so having the right staffing mix is going to be critical.

I want employers to apprise themselves of the economic and social benefits of employing people with disability.  But I acknowledge that there are some extra challenges people with disability and employers face to making this a possibility.  The Government already provides workplace modifications and employment support services, but these need to be more accessible, and more targeted.

Over the next six months, I am going to be listening to businesses and people with disability on how we can build a system which better supports them. But I also encourage employers to take advantage of the system we have today.  We invest almost $1 billion a year to provide free support, training, wage subsidies and access to aids and equipment to support staff with a disability.

For businesses who see the business case for employing people with disability and are interested in taking advantage of these supports, I encourage you to visit JobAccess, online at www.jobaccess.gov.au or by calling 1800 464 800.

The first round of public consultations on disability employment is currently underway. To find out more about how to engage or to attend a public forum visit engage.dss.gov.au   

About the author: Senator Mitch Fifield is the Assistant Minister for Social Services with responsibility for disability and ageing. He is also Manager of Government Business in the Senate.


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Lina Caneva
Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and Editor of Pro Bono Australia News since it was founded in 2000.

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