Australia’s Disability Strategy National Forum

Good morning and thank you for that warm welcome. 

I would like to thank Paul House for the Welcome to Country and Anja Christoffersen for her introduction. 

It’s wonderful to be here today at this important Forum. 

Improving the lives of Australians living with disability and their carers is critical if we want to make Australia a better place to live.

I’d Firstly like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we meet today – the Ngunnawal people. I’d also like to acknowledge the lands of all of those who are joining us remotely today. 

I pay my respect to their culture, and their elders past and present and I want to reiterate how proud I am of our Government’s commitment to a Voice to Parliament.  

I’d like to extend acknowledgement and respect to all First Nations peoples joining us today.

It feels a bit of a full circle moment, being here today to speak at this Forum. 

Under the former Gillard government I was appointed to the role of Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers back in 2013. 

Fast forward close to a decade and I’m now extremely proud to serve in the Albanese Cabinet, and have disability and carers be a part of my responsibilities as Minister for Social Services. 

The Albanese Labor Government is committed to building a better Australia and this includes people in Australia living with disability. 

One in six people in Australia are living with disability – that’s 4.4 million people. 

The work of Australia’s Disability Strategy and this Forum will be crucial to improving their lives.  

I would like to thank Australia’s Disability Strategy Advisory Council and the Disability Representative Organisation Reference Group for their input to help shape this first Forum. 

This Forum is the first over the ten-years of the Australian Disability Strategy and it will be a key part of helping governments around the nation to implement the strategy and ensure all people with a disability are included in all parts of Australian life 

It is an important step in our journey together. 

States, territories and the Commonwealth all need to be pulling in the same direction and I’m so encouraged by the constructive and committed way interactions have progressed so far. 

I encourage you to share your insights and raise questions. To deliver change – this is crucial. 

Inclusion for all people living with disability 

I want to start today with something that for many of us in this room is a basic concept – and that is that inclusion is a pathway to improving the lives of those living with disability, but it also makes our community and society stronger.

While all of us here today are on the same page with this – it is something we need to encourage and at times insist on.

Because the absence of inclusiveness is a barrier for those living with disability in Australia. 

Our government is committed shifting this dial and – importantly –developing policies with people living with disability. 

We’re already acting to make changes that will drive outcomes, both under Australia’s Disability Strategy and more broadly across government and industry.

In last week’s Budget we committed close to $100 million to initiatives to improve the lives of people living with disability. This is in addition to funding for NDIS participant supports.

The NDIS is a significant reform – is not the beginning and end of the discussion about ensuring people living with a disability are able to enjoy quality of life.

We must work towards a society that is inclusive of people with disability whether they ever access the NDIS or not.

Participants in the NDIS will not reach the goals that the scheme aspires to without ensuring that our systems, our services and our environment are inclusive to all those living with disability. 

This is what the Australian Disability Strategy is all about.

Ensuring people with disability get access to the same opportunities as people without disability.

We need to be embedding accessibility in our planning and built environment at the beginning, rather than as an afterthought – this starts with things as simple as wider door openings, and ramps. 

We need to ensure that our systems and services include options like ‘quiet time’ or dimmed lighting for people who need different environments or who experience the world in different ways. 

We need to provide varied ways of communication to ensure that information is as accessible as possible - whether that be braille, captioning and AUSLAN interpreting to name a few.

We need governments, community organisations and employers to be thinking about how to actively include people with disability. 

Because it doesn’t matter how much individual support someone receives if they can’t get through the door to attend a service or go to a job.

It doesn’t matter what services and supports someone needs if the information is not in a format that they can access.

It doesn’t matter if someone is assisted to attend and play with a local sporting club if there is no accessible toilet or change room for them to use. 

All people living with disability should be able to engage with the world on their own terms. Just like everyone else.

Getting these things right will ensure everyone in our community is included.

Embedding this thinking at the beginning of our conversations and planning work is something I want to work with my state and territory counterparts on. 

Dignity of work being a right for those living with disability 

I want to now turn to another key passion of mine in this space, and that is disability employment.

I firmly believe everyone deserves the opportunity and dignity of work.

One of the key points under Australia’s Disability Strategy is to increase rates of employment of people with disability. 

The Strategy’s Employment Targeted Action Plan sets out key actions to help achieve this.

Increasing employment opportunities for people living with disability has the power to positively change lives and reduce experiences of disadvantage and discrimination.

Almost 2.1 million people with disability are of working age in Australia. 

However, 93 per cent of unemployed people aged 15-64 with disability experience difficulties in finding employment.  

The unemployment rate for people with disability is more than double that of working age people without disability. 

The rates of disability employment have remained largely unchanged for over 20 years. 

Of course, we recognise not everyone with disability wants to work. 

But, it is vital the choice is there.  

Through the Disability Employment and Supported Employment Roundtables – as well as the Jobs and Skills Summit – our Government has elevated the barriers to those living with disability. 

We’ve also taken action. 

We have committed to a Visitor Economy Disability Employment pilot to deliver place-based employment outcomes. 

And we’ve also partnered with the Business Council of Australia to develop a Disability Employment Initiative pilot aimed at increasing employment and improving career pathways of people with disability.

Employer confidence is key to achieving outcomes.

88 per cent of employed working-age people with disability do not actually require any specific arrangements from their employer to work. 

Of those who do: 50 per cent need equipment or modified fittings, or to be provided transport or parking; 25 per cent need a support person to assist or train them on the job, or to be provided training; and 26 per cent need to be allocated different duties. 

In other words – sometimes all people with disability need is an opportunity; and a society and workforce that reflect genuine inclusiveness 

Often, entrenched bias is the main barrier. 

That’s why in addition to the earlier actions I outlined, we’ve also committed $20 million to Building Employer Confidence grants to better equip businesses with the knowledge they need to support and hire people living with disability. 

Governments also need to look inwards too and assess how they can be better employers of people living with disability: 

The Australian Government is doing just that and over the next three years has committed to increasing the rates of people in the Australian Public Service who identify as having a disability from 4.7 per cent to 7 per cent. 

Changes to the Disability Employment Services model

I particularly want to thank Dr Ben Gauntlet, the Disability Discrimination Commissioner in his work on the program IncludeAbility which is also working with CEOs to support them to employ more people with disability.

Another key ingredient to successful employment outcomes for people with disability is high quality and high performing employment services. 

Many organisations and individuals, including current providers of the DES program, and disability representative groups, contributed to a consultation process, hosted on DSS Engage, that finished early in 2022.

The report from the public consultation process was released in August 2022. 

It has a wealth of good ideas.

However what is key is how we take these ideas forward and embed them into a policy response.

For me the most important part is ensuring that our Disability Employment Services are delivering high quality and great outcomes for those living with disability.

I would like to recognise many DES providers who do a great job, however I am also aware that for some people living with disability they have not always enjoyed a good quality services. 

There are some services that need to lift their game.

In my opinion some of the feedback to improve the Disability employment system can be done quickly while other parts will take some time. 

To ensure we have time to get the longer-term reform right, the most recent Budget extends the current DES program for two years, until 30 June 2025.

The two year extension will not mean that sensible changes will not be made to improve performance and quality, and deliver a better service for people living with disability as soon as practicable. 

That is why I am also working to ensure that the DES system works alongside the NDIS and other systems to provide stronger pathways to employment. 

Today I can announce that the Department of Social Services is working on a trial to better support NDIS participants who have an employment goal to engage with a DES provider as a step towards this. 

The trial will commence in early 2023 and will contribute to a stronger understanding of ‘what works’ in the context of DES reform.

Education as a platform to employment 

One of the ways to lift employment rates is to give people with disability the best start. 

This means, education. 

While there were improvements in education outcomes under the previous Strategy – there is no doubt, we have a long way to go. 

This is highlighted by the fact that the participation rate for children with disability aged 0-5 years in child care services only increased from 2.9 per cent in 2013 to 3.4 per cent in 2018. 

And, in 2018 only 64 per cent of students with disability completed secondary education, compared to 81 per cent of students without disability.

As the Minister responsible for the development of the Early Years Strategy, I understand the importance of getting a good start in life and recognising the role education plays in shaping people’s futures.

Children living with disability cannot be left out on this. 

We know the biggest period for brain development for children occurs between the ages 0-5. 

Early childhood experts around the world say quality early education and opportunity early in a child’s life can be more important to long-term success than their Tertiary education. 

It’s for these reasons The Early Years Strategy will have a focus on all children, including those with a with disability. 

Importantly, it will build on and amplify other strategies – including Australia’s Disability Strategy and the Autism Strategy. 

The Australian Government has been working with states and territories, non-government education authorities and disability stakeholders to implement the recommendations from the 2020 Review of the Disability Standards for Education 2005.

The initial focus of this work has been to lift the understanding of the Standards by educators, school leaders, students and their parents and carers alike. 

Further work is underway on additional resources for educators to help them support children and students with disability. 

This work will help see our schools become more inclusive of our students with disability. We are also driving this focus forward in early childhood.

And my colleague – the Minister for Early Childhood Education - Dr Anne Aly recently announced some positive steps forward in this space. 

Together, and along with the rest of our Ministerial colleagues, we will keep embedding education opportunities for children living with disability and all people living with disability. 


I want to turn now to talk briefly about housing.

Governments have heard from you that housing is a critical area where we need to make progress under this Strategy.

You have told us it is central to people’s ability to work, live independent lives and participate in the community.

Under the Strategy, governments have acknowledged that a lack of affordable and accessible housing can lead to reduced independence, poorer health and limits people’s participation.

Appropriate housing is key to facilitating economic and social participation.

It is pleasing to see progress in relation to this issue under the Strategy:

My colleague Ed Husic the Minister for Industry, along with state and territory building ministers, recently finalised the National Construction Code for 2022 that includes liveable housing requirements. 

The NCC 2022 will include a new liveability standard to increase the stock of homes with accessibility features and support Australians living with disability to transition through life stages in their own homes.

Six of the states and territories have committed themselves to make this change and see new homes built with accessibility features.

Safety for people living with disability

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has shown us there is a range of areas across Australian society that need to change.

The statistics are stark and deserve being repeated. 

Based on the Personal Safety Survey, statistics released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare tell us almost half (47 per cent) of adults with disability have experienced violence after the age of 15.

One in 5 – 20 per cent – of people with disability experienced abuse before the age of 15 

Further, Sixty-four per cent of people with disability report experiencing physical violence, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, emotional abuse or stalking from the age of 15, compared to 45 per cent of people without disability.

What we know is that these statistics don’t tell us about the stories and the lives of those experiencing abuse. 

Australia’s Disability Strategy has a focus on improving the safety and rights of people with disability. 

It also has a focus on governments around the nation adjusting their policies, programs and procedures to provide better responses to people with disability who have experienced violence, and to prevent violence for groups at heightened risk – like women and children.

Safe and Supported is a related national initiative and its purpose is reflected in its full title as ‘the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2021 to 2031’.  This National Framework is a landmark achievement for  improving the safety and wellbeing of those children and families experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage.  

This National Framework aims to make a significant and sustained reduction in child abuse and neglect and its intergenerational impacts. Notably, one of the four priority groups targeted by this new national approach are children, young people, parents and carers with disability who experience disadvantage or vulnerability.

Safe and Supported has two Action Plans with specific actions and activities which are currently being finalised. 

In addition to Safe and Supported, last month the Australian Government, together with state and territory governments, released the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032 (National Plan).

The National Plan is our national policy framework. It highlights how all areas of society need to work together for the next 10 years to make a real change to gender-based violence in Australia. 

The National Plan specifically references Australia’s Disability Strategy and highlights the importance of ensuring people with disability are safe. This is crucial, because we know that a joined-up, person-centred approach is the best way to achieve change.

The experiences, recovery and safety needs of women and children with disability are a key priority of the National Plan. 

The unique forms of violence that particularly women with disability can face are specifically recognised in the Plan, such as forced sterilisation, seclusion and restrictive practices, and violence in a range of institutional and service settings such as residential institutions and aged care facilities

Under the Safety Targeted Action Plan of the Disability Strategy, an immediate focus will be to develop a cross-government forward work plan to:

  • reduce the risk of harm for people with disability through improved information sharing, referrals processes; 
  • expand on and considering outreach models; 
  • And improve cross-system supports, including supported and substitute decision-making arrangements and independent individual advocacy.

Late next year, following the final Report of the Royal Commission, my department will be reviewing the Strategy. A key focus will be what the next set of Targeted Action Plans should focus on. 

I encourage you to participate in these consultations, and to reflect on what issues you think need an intensive focus through Targeted Action Plans in the future.

Implementation and Increased accountability 

The Albanese Labor Government has committed to implement the Strategy, to work with state, territory and local governments to make progress on delivering real outcomes and to be accountable for our actions.

This Strategy has a much stronger focus on accountability and transparency. It also includes an Engagement Plan with features that ensure people with disability and their representatives will be closely involved in the Strategy’s implementation, and will influence its direction and priorities. 

An initial investment of $250 million has been made to support implementation, but its success will be determined by more than just dollars. 

To deliver on the actions of the Strategy, governments nationally are consulting you, and the broader community, to inform the development of a guide on the Strategy’s Guiding Principles and on how to involve people with disability in evaluation.

These consultation processes close on 30 November and you can participate via the DSS Engage website.

We’re also progressing 417 actions under 5 Targeted Action Plans – to drive immediate action on employment, community attitudes, early childhood, safety and emergency management.

The first annual report on these will be released later this month; it shows good progress has been made on 84 per cent of outcomes tracked – or 350 activities. 

We are also negotiating with state and territory governments to determine how we can make sure that infrastructure and services funded under Commonwealth-State Agreements are inclusive and accessible for people with disability.


I want to end today by returning to the centre of importance in all of this – and that is people living with disability and those joining us today with expertise and lived experience. 

We need to hear from you, to understand what is working well and where further effort is required to deliver on the changes governments have agreed are needed.

I know the Commonwealth and all the states and territories are committed to partnering with people with disability, business and the community to make sure Australia is an inclusive and accessible nation.

Through all this work, we will continue to keep the voices of people with disability at the heart of what we do.

While it is early days into the life of this Strategy, a lot more is planned. This is why we need to engage regularly with you and continue to work together to make this Strategy a success.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment and focus to make this Strategy a success and make Australia a more inclusive and accessible society.

I look forward to hearing your ideas and views and taking them to all ministers to help drive forward the changes outlined in the Strategy.