Private Members Business - Disability Services
1949, at the Australian Labor Party National Conference, then Prime Minister Ben Chifley said:
The success of the Labor Party at the next election depends, entirely, as it always has done, on the people who work.
His words still resonate decades later. Ben Chifley put into words what those on this side of politics have always believed in: the value of work. He verbalised our core values in that wonderful speech about 'the light on the hill', the great objective, and he talked about the Labor Party and the labour movement giving people a helping hand. Our strength on this side of politics comes from those people who have worked, who do work and who want to work. Now, more than ever, this nation needs a healthy, highly educated, creative workforce. We need to encourage men and women to work, for we believe that everyone has a right to work, regardless of their gender, race, postcode or disability. As a nation we have gone a long way, but there is much more to be done.
Among the OECD countries, Australia is ranked 13th out of 19 in employment rates for people with a disability. A study conducted by Deloitte Access Economics in 2011 on the economic benefits of employing people with disabilities suggests that closing the gap between the labour-market participation rates and unemployment rates of people with and without disability by even just one third would result in a cumulative $43-billion increase in Australia's GDP over the next decade in real dollar terms. The Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers conducted by the ABS in 2009 showed the labour participation rate for people with disability aged 15 to 64 was 54.3 per cent, compared to 82.8 per cent for people without disability, and that rate largely remained unchanged from 1993 to 2006. In my home state of Queensland, the participation rate for people with disability in the workforce is even lower: it is 48.3 per cent. We are, as a nation, wrestling with the challenges of skill shortages, and we have a vastly untapped potential group of employees here.
We are passionate on this side of politics about getting people into jobs—maximising the capacity of those with disability who are willing and able to work—and I commend organisations like Centrelink, Disability Employment Services and Job Services Australia; Disability Employment Services are doing a good job in that regard. And we are supporting those on disability support pensions to work up to 30 hours a week without their payments being suspended or cancelled, subject to an income test.
In my electorate, the electorate of Blair, based on Ipswich in the Somerset region, we have about 4,000 people on a disability support pension. Recently, at a carers event, I advised Carers Queensland and those who were there that we have 4,313 carers who do wonderful work and contribute to part of the $40 billion nationally of unfunded assistance and care that is given each year—great people in our community who are great advocates for people with a disability, like Peter and Linda Tully, associated with Queenslanders with Disability Network; the Endeavour Foundation; MACH 1; Uniting Church care; WorkVentures; CODI; Focal Extended and others in my electorate.
But we need to tap the potential of those job seekers who have not been targeted so far. We are putting lots of effort in, and we are determined to take action to address workforce shortages and increase the employment of people with disability. The $2,000 Supported Wage System employer payment is available to employers who employed someone with disability for a minimum of 15 hours a week for over six months. But we recognise there are unconscious, systematic biases in the labour market against those people with disability. Even well-intentioned people can succumb to stereotypes. I commend the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations who has been a passionate advocate for disability employment along with the National Disability Insurance Scheme. As a government, we care that people with impairment are not getting first-class outcomes often, experiencing what Minister Shorten described as a 'jobs apartheid' in an otherwise great country.
Last Friday I held a DisabiliTEA outside my office in the Brassall Shopping Centre. Australians are generous by nature, and I was really chuffed and really touched by the support from local small businesses, who donated prizes and other sorts of assistance for people there with disability. It is often the small business people who really care and show their concern and communitarian spirit in what they do. But I believe we can all do better, and I believe large corporations ought to set the standard.
One of the options we need to discuss in this country is having Australian companies who employ more than 100 people report on how many employees with disability are on their payrolls. It is a simple, practical and relatively easy step towards equality in the workforce.
We need to engage with the Australian stock exchange to tackle a range of corporate biases. For instance, about 90 per cent of the boards of the ASX top 200 companies are full of men. We have relatively little ethnic diversity in our boards, and I would not hazard a guess about how many people with disability are on those boards either. Hiring people with disability is good for corporate Australia and it is good for the national bottom line. People with disability represent a massive untapped talent, particularly as the labour force shrinks with an ageing population.
I urge Minister Shorten to take further steps in relation to this. I know that he, along with Minister Ellis, has written to the ASX governing council seeking support in amending its Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations to require reporting on employment of people with disability. Members in this chamber will no doubt be aware of the inclusion of recommendations about diversity, particularly gender diversity, in the Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations and the positive effect that has had in promoting gender equity in key business and governance issues—but not enough yet, as the figures clearly show, with too few women on those boards. Extending the ASX Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations would assist, as it has done and will continue to do in relation to gender diversity, and I think it would represent an important step towards promoting cultural change and improving employment outcomes for people with disability.
But we also need direct action from government. I know that Labor governments undertake the tough task with respect to this, and we are setting up a National Disability Insurance Scheme. We put a billion dollars in the last budget towards launch sites in five states and territories but sadly, tragically and shamefully, not one in Queensland, my home state, because of the attitude taken by the LNP state government in Queensland.
On 3 December this year, I will hold my annual Blair Disability Links, an event that brings together disability service providers, including employers and those people who assist people who are suffering from disability—mental challenges, physical challenges and the like—to get jobs, into one place in a mini expo. We will launch again our Blair Disability Links booklet, which is like a one-stop shop, a little white pages or yellow pages for people. We give out literally hundreds and hundreds of those booklets all the time. They are probably the thing that gets picked up most at the mobile offices I have around Ipswich and the Somerset region. We will launch a fresh copy of that. I urge all those people who might be listening to contact my office—particularly Kylie Stoneman, who is doing a terrific job in my office organising that. We provide information in our community to help those people to get jobs, particularly in the many small businesses, because 96 per cent of people in the Ipswich and West Moreton region are employed in small businesses.
But corporate Australia have to make some tough decisions. They need to get on board in relation to this issue. It is no good just mouthing the words; they have to put them into action on disability. I know that privately and personally some of those company boards and directors are supportive of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and they have said so, but there is a difficult road ahead. The Labor Party is the party of reform, particularly in social and economic spheres. We are building the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but it is time for the big end of town, corporate Australia, the multinationals and the banks, to also get on board. This motion brings it to their attention because they need to consult broadly. I commend to the government to work on this, because people with disability and their carers and representatives are asking for this. I think this motion will bring to national attention this issue, important as it is.