Minister Rishworth interview on ABC News Radio with Thomas Oriti


THOMAS ORITI, HOST: The jobless rate of working age Australians with a disability, it's remained at a stubbornly low rate for decades. There are 4.4 million Australians living with disability. 2.1 million of them are of working age. But actually, getting a job is a very different story. Well, this morning, the Federal Government says it's trying to change that. It's announcing a plan to lift the quality of Disability Employment Service providers by releasing a new framework. And to find out more, the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, joins us now. Minister, good morning. Thank you for your time.


THOMAS ORITI: Before we delve into this, just briefly, what is a DES, as it’s often known in the sector, a Disability Employment Service.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: A Disability Employment Service provider is a provider, a bit like the employment job service providers, but is meant to specialise in providing support for people with disability. I talk with a number of people with disability and some get a really good experience with a Disability Employment Service provider, others, their experience is not so good. And so we are looking at what we can do to improve disability employment services in this country to make sure that everyone gets a good experience and it actually leads to a job.

THOMAS ORITI: And I want to look at the framework in just a minute, but how does it work. So, a provider is given money per individual with the aim of finding them a job, and is that funding dependent on whether they get a job? Is that how it sort of works?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There is funding on a range of different things, but effectively they're funded to get outcomes and that's what typically they've been measured on, just on effectiveness of getting jobs. But we know a lot of people have gone into these services and some have, like I said, got the right support. Someone's really supported them in what their career goals are, et cetera. Others haven't had that type of experience.

THOMAS ORITI: And are we…Sorry, continue. Sorry to interrupt.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: So we want to see that start to improve.

THOMAS ORITI: Indeed. Are we talking about jobs in the open market or do we have a situation where they might be placed in something like a day programme where they're not paid award wage? I mean, will there be guidelines around what jobs might be on the table?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: These Disability Employment Service providers have typically provided jobs in the open jobs market, so that's their aim, to support people with disability into the open jobs market. And that's been where they've focused on. Some of the feedback, as I said, have been that not all participants get the same experience, but also not all employers feel that their sort of requirements are being understood by a Disability Employment Service. And once again, it's a mixed bag. Some providers have a very close connection with local employers, others it is not been as successful.

THOMAS ORITI: As you say, it depends on the case, I guess. Now, when we look at these guidelines, you're releasing them today. I've got to say, some of the information we've received jumped out at me a little bit. This is from your department. So, a couple of quotes, ‘a new emphasis on the views and experiences of people with disability and ensuring that providing a high quality service for people with disability is placed at the forefront of the programme’. I mean, I must admit, respectfully, this all seems very self-explanatory and the rights of the participant is one of the four new pillars of your framework, I'll note. But seriously, what's happened up until now, if that hasn't already been at the forefront, what's been at the forefront?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I was incredibly worried when I saw what went into the assessment process, that these services are actually not rated at all on the participants experience. So, there's no other market, I understand, or sort of service provision that quantifies the participant's experience. And so services up until now have not been rated or assessed on the participants experience, on how they're responding to complaints and feedback, how they're actually working to improve best practice. That hasn't been actually assessed. It's been something that governments have asked of providers, but it's never been actually formally assessed.

THOMAS ORITI: Are you saying it's as simple as a provider saying, hey, we got you a job, our job ends there?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That's correct. And the actual process or experience of the participant, and indeed the experience of the employer, has not been quantified and assessed. And so our proposal we are releasing today is saying that there's a new framework that will actually assess providers based on quality.

THOMAS ORITI: Measuring the success is obviously key here. I mean, how do you plan to do that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We will be measuring four elements. One is particularly participants rights and ensuring that participants know their rights. And that will involve discussions with participants, interviews with participants, understanding, making sure that these services understand the supports that are needed for a participant, and also making sure that their providers are demonstrating how they're putting in best practice. New ideas, innovation rather than a kind of set and forget mentality. And then really, how they respond to feedback. That could be good feedback, that could be complaints, it could be other information they get that shows them how to improve. Providers will have to demonstrate that they're taking that on board.

THOMAS ORITI: I'm just trying to get my head around how widespread this issue is. Has that been an issue where we've seen providers entrusted and funded to employ people living with disability, but there hasn't really been enough transparency in terms of their success? I mean, clearly something has not worked here. The unemployment rate for people with disability, it hasn't shifted in more than two decades. Is this a widespread issue or is it a few bad eggs?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think there is real variability across the sector and when I talk with participants, they sort of say that it's a bit of a random exercise of whether they get a good provider or not such a good provider., I think what this is about is driving the whole sector into a better practice. There's sort of been a framework where it's just been compliance. Have I ticked the boxes? And not really a focus on continuous improvement, getting better, getting new ideas, getting innovation, because we're always learning better ways to support people with disability and that's what services have to demonstrate they're incorporating.

THOMAS ORITI: Minister, respectfully, what would you say to someone who might ask, is this going to work? It's another policy, another set of guidelines, another document. I mean, if the unemployment rate hasn't shifted for people with disability in decades, why would it now?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: That’s a really valid question and I would not suggest that this particular element is the only part of our response to improving things for people with disability. Of course, we are working long term on redesigning this employment service, but in the short term, we want to drive improvements immediately. That's part of what this is about. But there's a number of elements in this. There is also the confidence of employers. This is a really important piece. We've been piloting a number of programmes because a lot of people with disability are saying that it's sometimes attitudinal of employers not having the confidence, not knowing how to develop an inclusive workplace. Some of our work has to be with employers as well. That's a big piece of the work as well.

THOMAS ORITI: Can I also put this to you in terms of why this is important? I mean, obviously it's important to find people living with a disability a job and change what seems to be an abysmal record when it comes to unemployment. But there's a broader economic rationale for doing this, isn't there? Because the Royal Commission has pointed that out.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely, it is much better for society to be inclusive. If a workplace works out how to include a full range of people, it's a better workplace. But particularly looking at the skills and strengths of someone that may have a disability, workplaces are missing out on those skills and abilities. There's a real benefit in terms of the economy, but there's a real benefit in terms of society. Now, I have to say, not everyone with a disability has an aim or wants to actually take up work, but a lot of people do. And they tell me that on a pretty regular basis, and not just any old work, they want a career as well. So, it's not just about getting a foot in the door in a workplace, but it's about workplaces supporting them with their career aspirations as well.

THOMAS ORITI: Just about out of time, Minister. But I just want to ask costs of living front and centre at the moment. A temporary reprieve, rather, from the Reserve Bank this week when it comes to interest rates, of course, but that might not be lasting long, as we keep being told, given what we've been discussing and your portfolio, I imagine times are very tough for many Australians living with disability at the moment. Remembering, and just for people who don't know, the majority of them are not on the NDIS at all.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It is a really tough time for people with cost of living and there will be, once the legislation goes through the Parliament, relief in the form of increased rental assistance, for example, for those that get rent assistance, and that includes people on government payments. Also increases and improvements to JobSeeker as well as energy relief through energy bills. We are looking at what we can do, but it is a tough time and as a Government, we'll always be looking at what we can support people with.

THOMAS ORITI: Minister, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.