Minister Rishworth interview on ABC Afternoon Briefing with Matthew Doran


MATTHEW DORAN, HOST: Amanda Rishworth. Minister, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. Let's pick up on that statistic because it is quite startling, no significant improvement in the unemployment rate for Australians living with a disability. Talk us through some of the figures there. What are we talking about? How many Australians with a disability are struggling?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: We have 2.1 million Australians living with disability of working age and a significant proportion of them are saying that they are being cut out of working opportunities and there are also a number of people living with disability that can't or don't want to work. But there are plenty that are telling me that as a result of a range of barriers, including sometimes community attitudes or employer attitudes, they're not getting the opportunities that they want. It's not just about a job, in and of itself, it is actually career opportunities. So, we need to make sure all parts of the support that are available for people with disability are working. Well, of course we need to work with employers to demonstrate the significant benefits that employing a person with disability brings to an organisation, especially when many employers are crying out for workers. But we also need to make sure that Disability Employment Services that the Federal Government funds are working and delivering high quality service right across the board. We know that many do a very good job, but others could do a lot better. And so that's what today's announcement is all about.

MATTHEW DORAN: Given the figure, or that figure that you said, there 2.1 million Australians with a disability who are unemployed and the situation not having changed for some two decades, is a shift in guidelines or refresh guidelines really going to go far enough to improve that situation?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: The 2.1 million are of working age living with disabilities, some are working, but we need to look at this from all angles. We need to improve our Disability Employment Services, we also need to work with employers and that's what we've done. We've funded a number of partnerships with the BCA and with the tourism sector to get them to build capacity in their workplaces, to have the confidence to take on someone with a disability. A lot of people with a disability don't need significant workplace adjustments. What they need is an inclusive attitude and inclusive workplaces, perhaps some flexibility. So, that is what we are working towards with employers. And of course, supporting people who have an employment goal within the NDIS and their NDIS plan is also how we ensure they get the right support funding. Funding adjustments such as Auslan interpreters, which we've just doubled the funding for, are part of that solution to support employees in workplaces. There’s no one silver bullet, but I have to say we spend a significant amount of Commonwealth money on our Disability Employment Service providers. And as I said, some do a great job but others can do a lot better. So, actually measuring and reporting on quality is really important. That has not been in the assessment tools in the past. The participant’s experience has never been included in the assessments and ratings of these DES providers and we want to change that.

MATTHEW DORAN: Saying that some of these employment providers can do a lot better seems like a pretty diplomatic comment to be making when we know that your colleague Bill Shorten, the NDIS Minister, frequently talks about rorting. That can happen in the system, people not stumping up and actually supporting their clients. Does that extend to disability employment providers? That sort of criticism?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We do assess Disability Employment Service providers and we assess them on outcomes and some are removed from the system already if they're not providing good outcomes for people. But so far the measure has been very narrow. It has not included, for example, does the participant get information and knowledge about their rights? Are these DES providers providing best practice and innovation? Are they effectively responding to feedback and complaints? And so what we want to see is a drive towards not just tick the box and do the bare minimum, but a drive to good outcomes and good quality. This framework is now in place and providers will be assessed against that framework and that will feed into their overall assessment process. This is the first time it's happened and this framework has been co-designed with people with disability and puts their voice at the centre, which it hasn't done before.

MATTHEW DORAN: So, when you go through that assessment process for these providers, what happens if they're not meeting the grade? Do they get cut off from funding? Do they get struck off a register or something like that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: They will be put on notice and there will be consequences as a result. In the past, providers have lost contracts as a result. We will be continuing to ensure that there is high quality from these providers which receive government money. It’s very important that what we have is high quality performance, best practice, innovation, not just tick and flick.

MATTHEW DORAN: Very briefly, Amanda Rishworth before we lose you, I take it you may well have seen this advertisement that's in the Australian Financial Review today from the no campaign. What's your view of the depiction there?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think this debate has to be done in a civil way, in a respectful way, and the no campaign is just not conducting itself like this. This ad is offensive, it's inappropriate and quite frankly, Peter Dutton and other leaders should come out and condemn it. But I don't want to focus too much on the no campaign. I want to talk about the thousands of people that are coming out wanting to start a respectful conversation about what an Indigenous Voice to Parliament means, and we've had hundreds of thousands of people look at wanting to join campaigns to talk about this issue. I know on the weekend there was about 25,000 people who came out and wanted to participate, so we need to do it in a respectful way. And my focus will be on those respectful conversations. But it is incumbent, I think, on people to condemn that sort of offensive, inappropriate depictions and start calling for some respect.

MATTHEW DORAN: Amanda Rishworth. Thank you.