Disability Advocates Welcome New Social Services Ministers
27 August 2018 at 4:04 pm
Disability advocates have welcomed the appointments of Paul Fletcher and Sarah Henderson as social services ministers, after outgoing minister Dan Tehan was moved to education amid a cabinet reshuffle.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled his new-look cabinet on Sunday, announcing Paul Fletcher as the minister for families and social services and Sarah Henderson as assistant minister for social services, housing and disability services.
“Paul Fletcher MP will serve as the new minister for families and social services. Mr Fletcher is enormously qualified to take on this cabinet position to ensure Australians have continued access to an affordable and sustainable safety net,” Morrison said.
“Sarah Henderson MP will be appointed as assistant minister for social services, housing and disability services.”
Fletcher has previously served as minister for urban infrastructure and cities, and also minister for territories, local government and major projects, while this is Henderson’s first ministerial role.
Both ministers said on Twitter, they were honoured to serve in their new roles.
I am honoured to have been appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Families & Social Services in the Morrison Government – a vitally important portfolio which serves millions of Australians
— Paul Fletcher (@PaulFletcherMP) August 26, 2018
I’m honoured to be appointed Assistant Minister for Social Services, Housing & Disability Services in @ScottMorrisonMP’s new generation team. I look forward to hitting the ground running in this important role. #auspol
— Sarah Henderson MP (@SHendersonMP) August 26, 2018
Disability advocates have welcomed the new appointments to the social services portfolio.
Matthew Bowden, Co-CEO of People with Disability Australia (PWDA), told Pro Bono News these portfolios were important to people with disability and said PWDA looked forward “to briefing these new ministers on the key issues”.
“[Fletcher] has a great background in the issues to do with cities and urban infrastructure, so we will be raising the need for more accessible transport, as well as accessible and affordable housing for people with disability,” Bowden said.
“Minister Fletcher’s leadership will be needed to focus the whole federal government on the upcoming renewal of the next decade’s National Disability Strategy.”
Bowden said many people with disability had been removed from the Disability Support Pension and were now trying to survive on the much lower rate of Newstart.
“Minister Fletcher has an opportunity to reset the government’s approach to income support, and make sure that people with disability have access to a fair and adequate income, including raising the rate of Newstart.
“We [also] look forward to working with Minister Henderson on the continued need to make sure that people with disability can get access to work.
“Recent reforms to the Disability Employment Services fall far short of what is needed to overcome the barriers people with disability face in trying to get a job.”
— PWD Australia (PWDA) (@PWDAustralia) August 26, 2018
As part of the reshuffle, Dan Tehan was announced as the new minister for education, after serving as social services minister since December last year.
Every Australian Counts campaign director Kirsten Deane told Pro Bono News it was important to acknowledge the work of Tehan and also Jane Prentice, who was assistant minister for social services and disability services but lost her spot in cabinet.
“Minister Prentice was in the position for a number of years, so I want to thank her. And we also hope Mr Tehan takes his experience in disability into his new portfolio,” Deane said.
“There are a lot of issues for students with disabilities and we hope that he doesn’t forget his experience with disability and he brings that to bear on his new position.”
Every Australian Counts will this week launch a series of forums offering National Disability Insurance Scheme participants the chance to talk about ongoing issues with the NDIS, and also to call on political leaders for urgent reform.
Deane said these forums were an example of why listening to people with disability should be the initial priority for the new ministers.
“I think the ministers should prioritise listening to people with disabilities, listening to family members, and listening to people who work in the sector, because these are the people who know what the problems are and what solutions are going to work best,” she said.
Sending congrats to new Minister for Social Services Paul Fletcher and Assistant Minister Sarah Henderson – and letting both know we are ready to roll up our sleeves and help get #NDIS back on track https://t.co/RY2q3b2CuW
— Every Australian Counts (@EveryAustralian) August 26, 2018
Dr Ken Baker, CEO of National Disability Services, also congratulated the new appointments and said he was “keen to work constructively” with Minister Fletcher and Assistant Minister Henderson.
“By doing so, we’ll continue to seek resolution on key issues that could result in market failure for disability services, which concern: capped pricing limitations, workforce shortages and the much-needed improvement of operational systems to be working smoothly to support the delivery of NDIS services,” Baker said.
The latest reshuffle marks the fifth appointment of a social services minister in five years.
Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, said this instability concerned her.
“We are concerned about the lack of continuity in social services leadership alongside the reduction of funding, and the crippling cost of child care for parents,” Tsorbaris said.
Government instability has also affected the charity sector, which faces its sixth minister in five years.
Michael Sukkar – the minister responsible for the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission – resigned last week, and the new responsible minister has not yet been announced.