It's really wonderful to see you again and also wonderful to join you here today.
I would also like to thank him his essence uncle Mickey, for that Welcome to Country and I acknowledge that we are meeting on the lands of the Kaurna people. I pay my respects to elder's past and present.
I'd also like to extend that acknowledgement to all First Nations people joining us here today.
I'm really pleased to be here to speak with you about what some of the real opportunities are, that will be advantageous for both employers and businesses – but also society more broadly.
And that is exactly what happens when we create more inclusive workplaces.
Shifting the dial on disability employment has been one of the key areas of prioritisation that I've made since becoming a Minister for Social Services and in Government 17 months ago.
Now many of you would have heard the statistic before that the employment rate for people with disability hasn't really shifted in the past three decades.
It is more than double the rate of people without disability, and it's something that our Government really has been determined to try and shift the dial on by putting the right investments and policies in place – because everyone should be able to enjoy the dignity of meaningful work and secure employment.
It's not just about the economic independence that that brings, but it's often how people make connections. Relationships that are so essential to maintain and meaningful employment can be a positive part of life. That doesn’t if you live with disability.
But beyond the benefit to the individual, it makes sense for our economy as a whole, reducing the gap between participation and unemployment rates of people with disability, by one third would deliver a $43 billion economic dividend to the nation over the next decade, according to Deloitte economics modelling.
That’s a competitive advantage to the nation and the employers who leverage the potential of the over one-million Australians with disability who are seeking employment.
And there has never been a better time to do this.
There are people with disability willing to take on the challenge and businesses across the nation struggling with workforce shortages.
So it is a tremendous opportunity and why I am so pleased to be here today with forward thinking employers who are ready to take steps to addressing this divide in our society.
Or perhaps your employers are already taking steps and are ready to share that best practice.
It’s seminars like this one that will create more opportunities and make a difference.
I know from talking to business and industry that many employers are open to employing people with disability, but not always sure about where to start.
A recent Business Council of Australia survey revealed an overwhelming 92 per cent of members want to recruit more people with disability to their workforce.
But many employers believed they did not have the skills or resources.
Now in reality, and this is always an interesting statistic, 88 per cent of Australians with disability do not require specific arrangements from their employer to work.
Or if they do require adjustments, they are often small adjustments or straightforward accommodations with that require just a bit of understanding and flexibility.
And that is why Employ My Ability – the Disability Employment Strategy of the Commonwealth has a priority area focused on building employer capability and capacity to employ people with disability.
However, I do understand that employers are looking to government for help in building their skills and capacity to hire people with disability.
I’m pleased to tell you today that there are avenues of support and programs funded by the Australian Government that are there to support you.
Of course, many are offered by our hosts today – JobAccess.
The role of JobAccess our hosts today are one of those very important resources in increasing participation cannot be underestimated.
As a free Government service, JobAccess is a one-stop-shop that offers information and supports, including with workplace modifications, to drive disability employment outcomes.
Since 2006, JobAccess has supported more than 440,000 Australians living with disability.
Within the last 15 months, 54 large employers have also benefited from the expertise of JobAccess to improve their hiring practices and disability inclusion, bringing the total numbers of employers to 400.
But of course we want to see more, and that is what today is all about.
I don't want to steal their thunder but I'm the Minister, JobAccess has today released an employer guide called 'Career Progression for People with Disability'. This guide will assist employers in understanding and navigating the topic.
Because for me, and I mention this very deliberately, it’s about meaningful employment for people with disability, just like anyone else.
People with disability do want meaningful employment but just like most of us they want to have career progression as well.
We want the ongoing challenges in the workplace. We want to know that we're accomplishing at a level in a job and then move to the next level. And so career progression is also something that I've been talking a lot about in how we ensure that we don't have people with disability just in the same job for a long time, but actually have the opportunity to progress their careers if they wish to do so.
The guide offers tips on creating practical, barrier-free career development programs, with good practice examples that employers can adapt and implement to support their employees.
This resource is one of many programs and avenues of support that offer practical solutions which remove barriers to employment for people with disability, while also maintaining benefits to the employer.
As I said earlier, most people with disability don’t need expensive modifications. But for the small people that do they are usually very easy and there is financial support available.
One of the other great services to employers under JobAccess is the Employment Assistance Fund (EAF), which provides financial assistance for work-related modifications, equipment, disability awareness training and Auslan interpreting.
When coming into this role, I heard the calls that funding caps for workplace modifications and Auslan services provided through the EAF, had not changed in 13 years – and I was determined to change this.
On Auslan Day in April I announced the first changes to be made to these funding caps, which had been in place since 2010, with no increase.
Under the changes, the funding cap for Auslan interpreting services for work-related activities – including remote interpreting, captioning and note taking is now doubled.
I also doubled the building modifications cap from $30,000 to $60,000 to assist in funding lifts, wheelchair accessible toilets, access ramps and automatic doors.
And importantly, these funding caps under the EAF will now be indexed each year.
We also scrapped the requirement for funding applications to be made ahead of time for Auslan interpreters to be available at job interviews and related activities such as site visits, tests and information sessions. Applications will now be able to be made up to five business days post-interview.
Because no one should miss out on a job interview, test or information session because they could not access Auslan interpreting services.
Now previously, employers sometimes chose not to proceed with a modification if they couldn’t afford to cover the gap once they hit the $30,000 limit. Of course, that now is up to $60,000. And in addition the Government also funds a huge network of disability employment services, whose actual job is to work with people with disability to get them job ready and link them with employers.
I have started a process of reform in our Disability Employment Services. My focus has been ensuring that people with disability get a high quality service that it is not luck of the draw, but they do get a high quality service that meets their need.
As employers, they should be also meeting your needs finding people for you that fit the jobs you're looking for. And so I would encourage you as we're on this process of reform, to reach out to a disability employment service provider, particularly if you're a smaller business in a geographical area, having those personal relationships with a disability employment service provider can be very fruitful. And of course, they have people willing and ready to work and have resources to ensure that they get training and support as well.
There is no shortage of success stories of people with disability who have engaged with JobAccess services.
Many of these stories perfectly encompasses JobAccess’ role in the disability employment sector and how it is forging the path for a more inclusive workforce.
One of my first actions after taking this portfolio was meeting with people with disability.
I heard about the impact that discrimination does have on people, many people want to just be given a chance. But of course some of this is about challenging community attitudes, but also it is about challenging self-limiting belief.
I heard from one gentleman very early on that he saw many job advertisements, but did not feel he would be given a shot so he didn't apply.
And so a small thing, that changed that for him was when the job advertisement encouraged people with disability to apply. That that one sentence in the job advert gave him the confidence and actually dismantle his self-limiting beliefs.
So it is really important that together, we work on challenging those community attitudes and look at simple ways that we can ensure that inclusion is really at the heart.
That’s what Australia’s Disability Strategy aims to do. This has been one of my focuses to lift the Strategy off the page, into reality and build a more inclusive society.
It is important to remember while the NDIS is such a critically important part of our disability support landscape, it is not the only part of our disability employment landscape and creating a more inclusive society means that we will get more out of our NDIS but will also include many more people who don't access the NDIS but also live with disability.
We are working with the Business Council of Australia on a pilot program with large employers that will connect people with disability with jobs. And not just entry level jobs as we've talked about, it is jobs at all levels and making sure that there is the opportunity for advancement.
Now with 4.4 million people with disability it's inevitable that businesses here today have customers and also clients with disability. And of course, hiring people with disability means that you are reflecting your customer and client base and you will have an improvement for the customer and the customer experience and potentially expand your customer base.
Of course diverse teams are more innovative, but by widening your talent poll to include people with disability, you can benefit from that different perspective.
If I’m not convincing enough, research shows that profits for inclusive businesses are also higher.
A study by Accenture of 140 businesses found that those businesses with leading-edge disability inclusive programs and initiatives had 28 percent higher revenue.
And double the net income and 30 percent higher economic profit margins over a four-year period.
As well as bringing talent, people with disability generally take less sick leave, and stay in jobs for longer.
So as well as bringing talented people with disability and making a more inclusive society, you also get a dividend on your bottom line.
But to conclude improving disability inclusiveness of business is not just good for employers and employees. It is of course, also good for the Australian economy, as I said, but also good for society as a whole.
And we are very keen at the Commonwealth level to keep listening and working with employers and people in the industry, along with people with lived experience, to break down the barriers to open employment.
Of course ultimately the efforts towards achieving an inclusive society – that sits with all of us and it does take forward thinking community organisations, employers and other groups in our community to also partner with us.
So I hope that today is very much an interesting day. I hope that you get some practical information steps out of this. And ultimately, I look forward to working with Job Access and all of you in creating those opportunities for people with disabilities.
Thank you for having me here.