Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14913

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (5:34 PM) —I rise to support the motion put forward by the member for Canberra because I think it is a critical motion. The member for Canberra has properly highlighted the policy failures of the government in this area. This motion properly seeks to recognise the extraordinary contribution made to this country by people with disabilities. In particular, I rise to acknowledge the critical role that the supported employment sector generally has historically played in assisting people with disabilities to achieve their goals. The member for Canberra highlighted earlier that there has, in fact, been a failure by this government to properly attend to this area. The trial undertaken by the government in case based funding—the so-called model—has certainly not succeeded. Indeed, it has failed, and I think the government really has to turn its mind now to what it will do to properly assist in this area.

A fair society seeks to be inclusive and to ensure that all of its citizens are in a position to contribute in a worthwhile and productive way. A fair society would ensure that people, wherever possible, are gainfully employed and, in particular, that those people with high-level disabilities are included in a way which enriches their lives. As the member for Canberra indicated, when we look at employment in this area we have to acknowledge it is very complex. There are people with varying degrees of disability and therefore there are many people with disabilities who can ensure that the quality of their work and their output is comparable to that of people without disabilities.

The fact is, however, that government has historically played a role in ensuring that people with disabilities are properly and gainfully employed wherever possible, whether or not that leads to a profitable outcome. I think we really need to start looking at this issue with respect to profit. If, indeed, it is accepted that there are profits arising from the work done by people with disabilities, then clearly we also need to start looking much more closely at whether, in fact, many of these employees are being exploited. That is a critical issue which clearly shows that there has to be a varied approach to the way in which the government deals with this area.

I know from first-hand experience that many people with disabilities have been exploited in the past with respect to their work. By that I mean that they have produced outcomes comparable to those produced by people without disabilities, yet they have not received wages and conditions commensurate with their outcomes. Many years ago I was involved in a dispute concerning the Blind Workers Union of Victoria, who picketed St Kilda Road because of the way they were treated. I learnt a lot from that dispute, which was led by people who were visually impaired and who were workers at that particular site. Their argument was that the way they produced their goods was comparable in many respects to the way people without any disability produced goods but, unfortunately for them and their families, their wages were so low as to be insulting to them.

As the member for Canberra said, this government has to start looking at the way it deals with people with high-level disabilities and, possibly, low productivity to ensure that there is a place for them that will enrich their lives and to ensure that they are included in society. At the same time, if there is going to be an argument based on profit, the government needs to ensure that there is recognition of the skills and responsibilities of those people with disabilities who produce work that is comparable to the work produced by those without disabilities. I think the government has failed to do that. The government has clearly failed to respond to the needs in this area. As a result, there is a lot to be done. This motion is one step forward in ensuring that the government attends to this failure. (Time expired)