Pathways to Possibilities Conference


Good morning and thank you to Settlement Services International Limited for the opportunity to speak to you about the ways the Albanese Government is driving change in disability employment.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but Parliament is sitting so I have to be in Canberra.

I’d like to start by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land from which I am recording this – the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

Pathways to possibilities is such a great name for a conference on disability employment.

All employment – and importantly all careers – are about possibilities. And disability employment should be no different.

We all know the statistics around disability employment and that the unemployment rate for people with disability has been stubbornly high for decades.

In elevating this issue, it’s important our conversations don’t simply focus on the barriers to employment for people with disability, but that we also look to the solutions and of course with a focus on opportunity.

There are many areas we can find solutions in tackling low employment for people with disability, which can include boosting employers understanding, confidence, educate about the skills and benefits someone with a disability can bring and have a focus on boosting career progression and supporting people with disability achieve their career aspirations.

Together if we focus on the strengths of people with disability, it’s not just people with disability that benefit, businesses and society more broadly benefit.

When people with disabilities are valued, the knowledge and skills that they bring to their workplace is elevated – as it should be business are more successful.

We know that there is a strong appetite from employers to employ people with disabilities.

93 per cent of large businesses and 89 per cent of medium sized businesses are open to hiring people with disability. But only around a third of all businesses surveyed actually do so.

So while the desire is there, it’s just not happening.

The message I want to get through today is that hiring someone with disability makes good commercial sense.

Research shows that people with disability generally take less sick leave, and stay in jobs for longer.

I have heard that employers can be discouraged from hiring someone with disability if their workplaces need modifications.

But for 88 per cent of Australians with disability they do not require any specific arrangements from their employer to work.

There are often just small adjustments employers can make that are straightforward to accommodate, along with a bit of understanding and flexibility.

But for those that do there is a great federal government scheme in place to fund workplaces to remove disability-specific barriers.

It provides funds for Auslan interpreting services including remote interpreting, captioning and note taking.

It funds building modifications to assist in funding lifts, wheelchair accessible toilets access ramps and automatic doors, as well as disability confidence training and workplace equipment.

But, the funding caps had not increased for the past thirteen years which left employers with a bigger gap to fund and discouraged them from applying.

Not only did I, as Minister, decide to double this funding to encourage employers to take it up, but these funding caps will now be indexed each year to ensure the rates continue to increase.

Our Government also removed the red tape for Auslan interpreters so that funding applications for job interviews and workplace related visits could be made five days later rather than on the day.

Because no one should miss out on a job interview, test or information session because they could not access Auslan interpreting services.

We published a review of the impact of this funding on Monday which proves this is a solid investment.

96 percent of people surveyed have stayed employed two years after receiving funding for a workplace modification.

One participant who was surveyed said:

“If it did not exist I would not be employable. Dragon voice recognition software is fantastic and enables me to stay in the workforce…now I can contribute to superannuation and I can retire comfortably”

It’s a great example of the often, just small adjustments, that are straightforward to accommodate along with a bit of understanding and flexibility.

And, of course, we have JobAccess, Australia’s national hub for free workplace and employment information and supports for people with disability, employers, and service providers to drive disability employment – with over 400 employers taking part in the National Disability Recruitment Coordinator scheme. And I would encourage other employers to take this opportunity – it will pay dividends.

From my conversations with people with disability, I know there is a strong desire for opportunities for career pathways, not just entry level jobs.

Often the low expectations of people with disability from employers, means they are missing out on promotions.

One way we are looking to address this is through our work with the Business Council of Australia to not only build employer confidence across the board, but to trial pilot programs with four large employers including Woolworths, Compass Group, Coles, Target and KMART.

This pilot is co-designed with people with disability and sets to challenge any pre-existing biases that exist within management that people with disability are only suited to entry level jobs.

It is just one of several pilots that we are running to test how we can do things differently and increase possibilities for people with disability.

One of the other key ingredients to boosting disability employment, is the role of Disability Employment Services.

As many of you will know Disability Employment Services is one of the central programs through which we support people with disability to find and maintain sustainable employment.

And it’s something I’ve been committed to reforming – to ultimately put people with disability and their experience of quality at the centre.

Last year I launched a new Quality Framework and in the coming weeks we will be publishing data on the number of providers meeting this Quality Framework or requiring improvement.

This is all about increased accountability and delivering a person-centred focus in our efforts to increase disability employment.

I have been very clear – I don’t expect Disability Employment Service providers to only do the bare minimum for the people using their service. I want all providers to strive for excellence and provide quality services.

Our new Quality Framework places participants at the centre of defining what a quality service means and makes sure that providers are listening and responding to those needs.

To further lift the capacity of employment services and complement our other work, we are also in the final stages of designing the Disability Employment Centre of Excellence.

This is all about addressing barriers and finding a better approach to disability employment through collaboration, cooperation and information sharing.

There are 4.4 million people with disabilities.

That’s one in six people.

Every business will have customers with disabilities, everyone will know someone with disabilities.

We will continue to drive change to support reform to disability employment because we all benefit when people with disability can fully participate in society, both socially and economically.

Conferences, like this one, where the voices of people with disability are central to the decisions, are a great way of making that happen.

I hope you will all be challenged and inspired today and I look forward to hearing the outcomes of the conference.