PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS: Disability Services
Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (11:33): I rise to speak on this motion put forward by the member for Blair. I encourage him not to politicise this debate. It is all well and good to say that people on his side of parliament support a National Disability Insurance Scheme and support people with disabilities in employment opportunities. Certainly those wonderful measures are also supported by those on this side of the House and, dare I say, on the crossbenches too, because people with disabilities need all the support they can get.
The chairman and life member of Kurrajong Waratah, a disability service organisation in Wagga Wagga, Michael Kennedy OAM, in his chairman's report delivered at the annual meeting on 17 October, said, 'It has been said that the measure of a civilised society is the way in which it looks after its most disadvantaged and vulnerable community members.' Certainly all of us in this parliament, in this place, should be well aware of that absolute necessity to look after those most vulnerable members of society.
All across Australians head to work every day. However, for some Australians their disability acts as a barrier to finding employment despite their desire to have a job. Disability Employment Australia states that of the one in five Australians of working age with a disability only 53 per cent participate in the workforce, compared with 81 per cent for people without a disability.
Disabilities are not always obvious and in many people you may not even be aware the person is disabled because the disability is not visible. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability, Ageing and Carers Australia: Summary of Findings, found that 86 per cent of people with a disability experience limitations in core activities, including mobility and communication; almost 84 per cent have a physical condition, which can range from being confined to a wheelchair to having epilepsy or to suffering from AIDS; 11.3 per cent have mental and behavioural disorders; and, 4.8 per cent have intellectual and developmental disorders.
The most significant barriers to work for people with disabilities still appear to be stereotypical attitudes about what people with a disability can or cannot do. It is these attitudes which organisations across Australia are helping to break down, to assist disabled people into the workforce and, in the process, helping to increase productivity throughout Australia. Contrary to what may be believed, people with disabilities take fewer days off, take fewer sick leave days and tend to stay in jobs longer than other workers. Furthermore, people with disabilities also have fewer compensation incidents and accidents at work compared to other employees.
The Australian Network on Disability outlines the principles of employment as being the same for people with a disability as for those without disability, with the main focus on the skills, talents and capabilities the person with a disability can bring to the workplace. Many disabled people hold qualifications and do not require assistance in seeking employment. Businesses are employing people with disabilities because they are the best person for the job based on their skill set, not because they are disabled.
For people who require assistance to gain employment, Australia is abundant with organisations willing and able to assist them to find a job which suits their needs. Australian Disability Employment Services currently assists approximately 140,000 individuals with a disability to gain and maintain employment in the labour market. This assistance is offered at almost 2,000 sites across Australia, with 224 providers operating the Disability Employment Services program.
Kurrajong Waratah, an organisation based in Wagga Wagga but which has operations right throughout the Riverina, provides services to children and adults with disabilities and support for their parents and carers in the Riverina-Murray region. Within the organisation, Work Solutions, a specialist recruitment and training agency, assists people with disabilities who find gaining employment and transition into the workplace difficult. There is a competitive labour market in the Riverina-Murray region and Work Solutions has broken into the market and found employment for people who have a disability. Kurrajong Waratah currently supports 268 people with a disability who have found employment in the region. Of these people, 37 per cent are employed in process work, 30 per cent in retail and 15 per in hospitality.
In addition to finding people employment, Work Solutions also assists those with a disability to gain the skills required to enter the workforce through vocational training and by employing 151 people with disabilities in business areas operated by Kurrajong Waratah, which includes Waratah Industries, Kurrajong Small Business Services and Kurrajong Recyclers. These businesses all provide professional services in the Riverina and I know the recyclers, particularly the e-waste recyclers, do a fantastic job around the region and are always prompt at collecting the recycling from every house in Wagga Wagga and certainly from my electorate office in Wagga Wagga.
Work Solutions also assists school leavers with a disability through the New South Wales government's Post School programs, which helps students transition from a school environment to the workplace. In the Kurrajong Waratah 2011-12 annual report, Crispin Lowe, the manager of Work Solutions, noted the great demand for the post school employment program. Schools leavers from Wagga Wagga, Leeton, Narrandera, Griffith, Temora and Deniliquin all started work placements in the community during the year.
Also based in Wagga Wagga is The Leisure Company, a not-for-profit organisation which provides recreation, work and life skill opportunities for people with disabilities in Wagga Wagga and the surrounding centres.
One of the programs run by The Leisure Company is the Transition to Work Program for school leavers which aims to develop living, educational, prevocational and recreational skills. These are all skills which can be carried over into the workplace. This is a fantastic program allowing young adults with a disability to develop practical skills to help them gain employment.
A PricewaterhouseCoopers report published in November last year found people with a disability are half as likely to be employed as people without a disability. Where the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average is 60 per cent, Australia ranks 21st out of 29 nations in the OECD. Whilst the National Disability Insurance Scheme would not be a magical fix for the problems in the system, it would assist in getting greater acceptance of disabled persons in the workplace. Rather poignantly, PricewaterhouseCoopers government sector leader Chris Bennett said:
It's clear the current system is broken big time. When you see Australia sitting last in OECD rankings on poverty for people with disabilities, it's just wrong. If we were sitting that low in the rankings in cricket or rugby Australians wouldn't countenance it.
The NDIS has the potential to support an additional 370,000 people with disabilities in the workforce by 2050. The coalition believes that the full implementation of an NDIS would be nothing short of a new deal for people with disabilities and their carers.
As the Productivity Commission recognised, this will require a high level of consultation and attention to detail which cannot be rushed into without risks to the scheme's subsequent success. We believe the commission's timetable is achievable with prudent government and good economic management. Launch sites are important, but the Labor government is yet to commit to the scheme over the long term. The only mention of the NDIS in the midyear economic and fiscal outlook is that it is a priority for the government over the medium term. The government must say whether it is committed to a full NDIS by the Productivity Commission's target date of 2018-19.
I am proud to say that I was the first federal parliamentarian in New South Wales to sign up to the NDIS: Every Australian Counts campaign. I stand by and support my comment that all Australians feel the need to have control of their own lives and it is incumbent upon the Commonwealth government to provide this freedom. I do not need any convincing this program needs my support. This comment extends to people with a disability who wish to have a job and contribute to the workforce, like every other Australian who wishes to have control over this aspect of their life. I commended the efforts taken so far by businesses which are employing people with disabilities and the work of advocates and organisations which assist people with a disability into the workforce on a daily basis.
Last Friday I attended a DisabiliTEA morning tea at Griffith which was arranged by Councillor Anne Napoli, whose son Patrick has a disability. She is a wonderful advocate for people with disabilities, certainly in the western Riverina. I look forward to continuing to work with Anne in the future to achieve better outcomes for people with disabilities in the region.
Finally, I will conclude with some remarks by Mr Kennedy of Kurrajong Waratah, who says:
It has been a remarkable achievement to reach this point from the release of the Productivity Commission's report and findings and recommendations for a NDIS in 2011.
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Kurrajong Waratah's supportive and flexible relationships with people with a disability and their parent/carers will, under an NDIS, need to become stronger as they become not our 'clients' but our 'customers'.
He said that the NDIS is fully supported by Kurrajong Waratah and it looks forward to working with government into the future to make sure it is achievable for the benefit of people with a disability.