Release type: Speech

Date:

ACE Conference

National Convention Centre, 31 Constitution Avenue, Canberra, 10.00 am Wednesday, 4 June 2008

AcknowledgementsI’d like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the Ngunnawal people as the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today. I acknowledge and respect their affinity with this land and I pay my respects to their elders and their laws.

  • ACE Chair, Keryl Neville (pronounced like Cheryl)
  • ACE Deputy Chair, Donna Faulkner,
  • ACE CEO, Lucy Macali,
  • And other distinguished guests here today

WelcomeThank you ladies and gentleman. It is a great pleasure for me to open the ACE conference for 2008. I have already had the opportunity to meet with quite a few of your members, but this is a great opportunity to address the sector as a whole.

Today I would like to talk to you about our plans for the future of disability employment services. I am here to let you know about some recent developments that will assist you in your very important work helping people with disability find and keep a job.

Social inclusion and participationSince the election of the Rudd Government the phrase ‘social inclusion’ has made its way into the mainstream.

A central tenet of social inclusion is having a job. At its heart, social inclusion is about that Aussie tradition of giving everyone ‘a fair go’.

And essentially that means giving people a fair go by helping them find a job that suits their needs.

And yet, when it comes to employing people with disability, Australia is ranked 13th out of 19 countries by the OECD, and we are at the bottom of the list of 16 countries when it comes to employing people who receive disability benefits.

So, clearly there is a lot of work for us to do.

I also see my portfolio of Employment Participation as a junction where the Government’s social and economic agenda meet.

As many of you here today will already know the fact is that in order to preserve as well as grow our nation’s prosperity, we need to boost our productivity – and that means among other things increasing the number of people employed in our workforce.

Employment participation has been identified as a key element of the Government’s war on inflation and addressing our labour shortages.

Australia has nearly 2 million people in receipt of income support payments – including more than 700,000 people receiving the Disability Support Pension.

This is a human resource the country can ill afford to ignore particularly given the:skills crisis we face today; andimpact that the population ageing is expected to have upon labour and skill shortages

Situation TodayYet at the same time we also know the previous government’s employment services to help people into employment is not working effectively.

When Job Network was introduced in May 1998, the unemployment rate was 7.7 per cent and 716 800 persons were classified by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as unemployed.

After sixteen years of economic growth the unemployment rate has fallen to around 4.2 percent, while the number of unemployed people stands at 453 200.

Despite this, the proportion of long-term benefit recipients has in fact increased. In 1999 one in 10 job seekers was unemployed for five years or more; but by 2007 it had grown to a one in four job seekers.

The absolute number increased, from 74 050 to 111 286 (a 50% increase).

So the case for reform of employment services has been made clear. Following an extensive consultation process – which many of you provided input, either directly or through the ACE disability Blue Print Project – I last month unveiled a more efficient and effective employment services system.

This new system will provide more effective services to those who need it the most when they need it the most.

It will also have stronger emphasis on training with an extra 238,000 Vocational Education and Training places for Jobseekers also announced.

Budget outcome As you will know at the same time I unveiled the new employment services system I announced Disability Employment Network and Vocational Rehabilitation Services would be extended for an additional eight months up to February 2010.

We made the decision to extend contracts to allow Government more time to talk with people with disability and/or mental illness, their families and you, the service providers about how services could be delivered better.

National Mental Health and Disability Employment StrategyAs well as the reforming our universal employment services, it is also apparent that, to date, there has been no overarching Government strategy that identifies why people with a disability are not faring well in Australia’s labour market.

That’s why I announced a National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy as well as delivering on our election commitment to review DEN.

As part of the Strategy, I along with Parliamentary Secretary Shorten have released a discussion paper and holding consultation sessions around the country.

Obviously there were a multitude of issues raised at the consultations including:Better support services for employers – particularly small businesses;Dispelling employer misconceptions about employing people with disability;Maintaining a safety net for people with disability that will encourage them in to the workforce;Stronger links to training for people with a disability; andOngoing support after people find a job.

The strategy will be released later this year and I look forward to continuing dialogue with the sector in developing it.

Key figures for Disability Employment NetworkThe Disability Employment Network program—both Capped and Uncapped—continues to do great work in helping people with disability find and keep jobs.

Last financial year more than 28 000 job seekers started in the Disability Employment Network program with a further 24 000 entering the program this year.

Thirty-six per cent of Capped clients have achieved employment outcomes of 26 weeks of at least eight hours work a week.

While around 11 per cent of Uncapped clients achieved employment outcomes of 26 weeks of at least 10 hours a week.

ConclusionAnd while these outcomes are encouraging, there is more work to be done in the area of disability employment services.

The Government recognises the unique characteristics of Disability Employment Network but at the same time believes disability and Indigenous employment services need to be aligned with our universal employment system.

But, like any good process of reform, this has to be done in consultation with the people involved.

It’s been great to speak to you today. I won’t be able to stay for the conference, but look forward to hearing about the outcomes through Lucy and her team at ACE. Thank you.