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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14914

Mr TICEHURST (5:39 PM) —I rise today to support the Howard government's ongoing reforms to the disability employment services sector. The member for Canberra's claim that Australia's disability employment sector is in crisis is pure nonsense. Under the coalition government, Australia is one of the few OECD countries to both recognise and promote the dual role of business services as a valuable contributor to the Australian economy and as providing a social haven for people with disabilities. This budget injects substantial funds to ensure this dual role is recognised and sustained.

As the federal member for Dobell, I have had the opportunity to meet with many people working in business services and their families, and I have visited the various disability employment facilities available on the Central Coast. One only has to look at the disability employment services available in my electorate to see that there are employment services there that are competitive, are driven by quality assurance measures and are at the same time providing an important support service for employees and their families. I will mention specific examples shortly.

In response to the member for Canberra's statement that she does not want to see even one person employed in a business service in this country lose their job because of legislative changes, the peak body for disability service providers in Australia, ACROD, commented on the reforms proposed in the Disability Services Amendment (Improved Quality Assurance) Bill 2001 and its likely impact on the provision of services to people with disabilities. This statement reflects the Howard government's vision for disability employment services—a vision, I might add, that is not based on the desire to reduce Commonwealth responsibility for this sector. The CEO of ACROD stated his belief when he said:

It (the bill) will make a very significant contribution to improving the quality of employment services provided to people with disabilities and will improve the consistency of those services across the country.

He also stated:

It may be that after that three-year period there are some that cannot reach the required standards. The bottom line as far as ACROD is concerned is not the survival of any one organisation but the survival of a service to people with disabilities.

Viable services are needed to deliver award based wages and quality services. The Commonwealth government is making a $25 million investment in business services to ensure a vibrant and sustainable sector. Voluntary assessments by expert consultants in business viability will be undertaken shortly, beginning with services identified at greatest risk, so that they have the maximum possible time to implement recommendations.

Fairhaven Business Services on the Central Coast is one example of a business service that is doing it right and providing a valuable service to many people with disabilities in the community. Fairhaven has recently expanded in my electorate of Dobell and is providing employment opportunities for up to 100 intellectually disabled people in the area. This organisation recently built a $1.7 million complex at Tuggerah Business Park, a burgeoning area for local businesses and manufacturers. Fairhaven is now a major supplier to local companies. Clients include international companies such as Krone, Masterfoods Australia, Murdoch Magazines, Wella, Decore and many more. Together with the facility at Point Clare in Robertson, Fairhaven Business Services now covers the entire Central Coast. This has made life a lot easier for people living in this area who previously had to travel further to work. Fairhaven is highly regarded for its quality assurance. According to Fairhaven's General Manager, Mr Craig Doyle:

We have a better success rate than most able-bodied companies. Certification provides a high level of assurance among our customers, the community and external providers of funding. Certification ensures resources are being effectively utilised, and every task is done right the first time. This ensures positive outcomes for people with disabilities.

Gaining certification may take a while and require hard work, but if the benefits we're already experiencing are any guide, it's definitely worth it.

In fact, 17 per cent of disability employment services have already been certified under the new QA system. Within that 17 per cent, almost 13 per cent are business services and a further 24 per cent operate some business services. The momentum is building to get on with quality assurance. This is not the time to turn back the clock. Delaying the legislative time frames will only serve to slow the momentum for change. At worst, we will see a return to an entrenched debate about the value of business services, particularly those that do not pay award based wages. Labor needs to realise that wages are paid from the profits of viable businesses. It is essential that businesses be viable and stand on their own two feet. (Time expired)