- Parliamentary Business
- Senators & Members
- News & Events
- About Parliament
- Visit Parliament
DISABILITY SERVICES (DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AND REHABILITATION PROGRAM) STANDARDS 2002
Motion for Disallowance
- Parl No.
- Question No.
Allison, Sen Lyn
Motion for Disallowance
- System Id
Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Table Of ContentsDownload Current Hansard View/Save XML
Previous Fragment Next Fragment
- Start of Business
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Brandis, Sen George, Minchin, Sen Nick)
Information Technology: Security
(Lundy, Sen Kate, Alston, Sen Richard)
Law Enforcement: Firearms Control
(Bartlett, Sen Andrew, Ellison, Sen Chris)
Taxation: OECD Survey
(Webber, Sen Ruth, Coonan, Sen Helen)
Defence: Military Techniques
(Nettle, Sen Kerry, Hill, Sen Robert)
Agriculture: Agricultural Development Partnership Program
(Buckland, Sen Geoffrey, Macdonald, Sen Ian)
Small Business: Government Support
(Tierney, Sen John, Abetz, Sen Eric)
Economy: Household Debt
(Kirk, Sen Linda, Minchin, Sen Nick)
International Criminal Court
(Greig, Sen Brian, Ellison, Sen Chris)
Business: Executive Remuneration
(Conroy, Sen Stephen, Coonan, Sen Helen)
Family and Community Services: Centrelink
(Knowles, Sen Susan, Vanstone, Sen Amanda)
Science: Nuclear Waste Storage Facility
(Carr, Sen Kim, Alston, Sen Richard)
- Economy: Performance
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL ANSWERS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS
- FOREIGN AFFAIRS: IRAQ
- DISABILITY SERVICES (DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AND REHABILITATION PROGRAM) STANDARDS 2002
EXCISE TARIFF AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 1) 2002
CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 2) 2002
- VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING FUNDING AMENDMENT BILL 2002
- Australian Breast Cancer Day
- Grocery Industry: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Report
- Telstra: Communications Infrastructure
- Insurance: Public and Professional Liability
- Science: Nuclear Waste Storage Facility
- Battle of El Alamein
Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Senator ALLISON (4:00 PM) —The Democrats will not be supporting the disallowance motion. The primary goal of the Disability Services Act 1986 is its recognition that people with a disability are entitled to the same rights as other Australians, and that includes the right to participate economically. Earlier this year the Disability Services Amendment (Improved Quality Assurance) Bill 2002 passed with the support of the Australian Democrats. Quality assurance is an integral measurement tool of the degree to which the right of people with a disability to participate economically is being met, and the standards that we are dealing with here today are the means by which that measurement is made. At the time, the Democrats expressed concern that the key performance indicators did not accompany the original bill and we heralded our intention to closely consider these. The issue of key performance indicators as part of the standards has dominated industry debate in recent months. There has been dissatisfaction expressed within the sector over the past year with the way the KPIs were progressing. It has certainly been a long and arduous road that has led to their tabling.
At the time the quality assurance bill was passed, we clearly said that whatever performance indicator is set by the standards, whether it is a one-size-fits-all model or a multilevel model, it must be specific, not one which by its lack of transparency fails to protect the rights of Australians with a disability. Standard 9, the subject of this disallowance motion, is integral and critical to the original intent of the quality assurance bill— that is, each individual within the business service has access to wages and conditions comparable to those of the Australian work force. It provides that a pro rata wage must be paid based on an award order or an industrial agreement and that the pro rata wage must be determined through a transparent assessment tool or processes which meet the relevant criteria.
In recent times the employment options for people with disabilities have been enhanced, with many people with disabilities seeking and retaining employment in the open market in addition to the traditional so-called sheltered workshop model of employment. Sheltered workshops themselves have changed significantly in the past decade or two, whereby now they are seen as a competitive industry and are appropriately known as business services.
When the Disability Services Amendment (Improved Quality Assurance) Bill came before the Senate in May this year, it was alarming to note that, for many people with a disability, employment in business services was actually to their disadvantage. Many employers did not have a legal workplace agreement. Some employers paid wages well below the federal award safety net enjoyed by others in the Australian work force by using pro rata wage assessments which did not take into account the capacity of the individual compared to the productivity and conditions of employees without a disability. Some even sought to take advantage of the intellectual impairment of employees by negotiating workplace agreements that they could neither understand nor bargain for with any power. The bad news reports and lack of compliance served to undermine the principles and objectives of the Disability Services Act.
We have an obligation to prevent people who are least able to stand up for their own rights from being exploited by being employed under appalling employment terms and conditions. It follows that we have a real need to develop wage assessment processes for people in business services that are fair and appropriate to the worker, the industry and the employer; that use valid assessment techniques; and that comply with relevant legislation and standards. It is untrue, however, to state that all employers have been seeking to pay their employees unfairly. Currently there are four broad categories of wage determination processes operating within the business services sector, including historical wage payments, generally without formal assessment; productivity based assessments, including the supported wage assessment tool; competency based assessments; and hybrid models. Research conducted by Health Outcomes International last year reported that there were advantages and disadvantages to all four models. While it is easy to talk about people with a disability as a whole group, the reality is that true integration does not rely on the belief that all people with disabilities are the same. Levels of disability range from low to very high, and support needs and relative productivity in employment have the same variable range.
At the time we passed the quality assurance bill we paid special notice to the fact that, in developing the standards, consideration should be given to the viability of enterprises that employ people with a disability. To have people with a disability in non-viable businesses provides neither decent wages nor decent employment. As much as we are in the business of ensuring the rights of people with a disability, we cannot disregard the viability issues that organisations will face as a consequence of this disallowance. We certainly do not want to see people with a disability pushed out onto the street because too narrow a standard has been attached to an act that purports to assist them.
The Democrats recognise that employers who take on employees with a disability, or indeed whose business is comprised wholly or mainly of people with a disability, do so with the best of intentions. Employers should be given encouragement to provide practical, workable strategies to help them improve the quality of the services that they provide. Business services employing limited systems—such as historical flat wages or, even worse, those based on an ability to pay— have for some time been encouraged to explore alternative options and to plan for the implementation of a valid assessment tool that complies with relevant standards and the concept of fairness. We supported the quality assurance bill earlier this year to compel business services to operate out of the single assessment model. For this reason we do not believe that it is appropriate for the standards to limit a wage determination system to one model only.
The quality assurance standards must provide the framework for fair wages for people with a disability. It is essential, therefore, that the wage assessment performance indicator set by the standards must not fail to protect the rights of Australians with a disability. The Democrats recognise that a genuine effort has been made to gain consensus from the sector. This has been demonstrated by including the key performance indicators in the disallowable instruments. We support the bill, as I said, in the belief that it will make a very significant contribution to improving the quality of employment services provided to people with disabilities and it will improve the consistency of those services across the country.
By nature, a period of testing of the standards must now follow. It is premature, and I think unfair, to throw out a critical standard that provides an element of safety for people with a disadvantage. To do so would set this process back by many months. There are numerous reasons in favour of the application of the supported wage assessment tool across the business services sector. Similarly, however, many limitations or disincentives were also identified during the consultation process.
The supported wage assessment tool is a valid, reliable and acceptable form of wage assessment that has already been implemented by some business services. The SWAT, as it is known, is considered a productivity based assessment tool, as it monitors the output of workers against an established benchmark. The SWAT is deemed to comply with relevant legislation and standards but it also has its failings. It does not formally link to structured training and professional development strategies, and it is recognised that the initial target of the SWAT was the open employment environment.
A number of alternative productivity assessment tools have also been identified with a similar objective—that is, to determine the output of a worker in a particular job that they occupy. Research reports that a hybrid model represents the most appropriate method of wage determination in business standards. Standard 9 is the linchpin in these standards, stating:
Each person with a disability enjoys comparable working conditions to those expected and enjoyed by the general workforce.
It provides for a tool that includes, but is not limited to, the supported wage system and importantly it is one that will be measurable according to its validity, reliability, wage outcome, practical application and compliance with the legislation.
The Democrats have not taken lightly our decision not to support the disallowance motion. We are not convinced that the supported wage system model is the only way to go. The standards in their present form allow for some flexibility, and we believe that this flexibility will work to the advantage of people with disabilities. We do not want to see people with disabilities deprived of employment because a standard is unnecessarily prescriptive or, conversely, does not provide sufficient operational parameters. Disallowing standard 9 will see people with a disability denied their rights to participate in the economy with access to wages and conditions comparable to those of the general Australian work force.
Change in the sector of disability employment does not have to be at the expense of employment. In not supporting the disallowance of standard 9, we reiterate the call we made at the time the Disability Services Amendment (Improved Quality Assurance) Bill 2002 was passed earlier this year: we strongly encourage the government to dedicate sufficient assistance to those organisations who early in the process reflect symptoms of an inability to comply, and to maximise early and full compliance of other organisations well within the three-year period.
The Democrats support these standards and will continue to monitor them very closely. The government have advised that they are developing a pro rata wage model which provides for greater fairness in business services. We are keen to see that model and hope it is not too far away. We also think it should be available as soon as possible for public sector scrutiny. Again, we see no reason to disallow standard 9 before that happens. The Democrats look forward to the improvements in economic participation and wage fairness that these standards will bring to people with disabilities.