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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12583

Ms KATE ELLIS (AdelaideMinister for Employment Participation and Minister for Early Childhood and Childcare) (17:26): by leave—The Gillard government believes that no matter what your circumstances everybody who has the capacity to work should be able to enjoy the dignity of work. We believe Australians with disability deserve access to the very best employment services that we can deliver. We have made it clear that we are a government that is prepared to make the big reforms to ensure that Australians with a disability get a fair go and get better services—like introducing the country's first national disability insurance scheme. And, consistent with our commitment to better services and more choice, today I announce the results of the Australian government's tender for the support services to assist people with disability to get work.

This follows big changes to disability employment services in 2010, when we removed caps on services so that every eligible jobseeker with a disability could benefit from assistance in finding and keeping work and not be forced to sit on waiting lists. In 2012-13 we also allocated a record $3.2 billion over four years to meet demand for disability employment services.

Today's tender announcements are the next step in ensuring that our record $3.2 billion investment is squarely focused on delivering the best possible employment outcomes for jobseekers. Some organisations have been receiving grants for employment services for over 20 years running, never having to demonstrate that they are the best possible provider and never having to ensure that local jobseekers are getting the most effective support.

In that time, government has never undertaken an comprehensive, competitive process to ensure that the best available providers are delivering services. Jobseekers with a disability deserve better than that. When we took the decision to open these services to tender it was a decision made with a focus on people with a disability and a determination to work with the best available providers to deliver improved outcomes. We know a competitive tender process is necessary, because we could be doing better. The OECD currently ranks Australia 21 out of 29 countries for employment participation for people with a disability.

Falling behind worlds'-best-practice not only has a significant personal cost, but is also a missed opportunity for Australian business and our economy. If we catch-up to the average of the eight best performing countries, it will add $50 billion to our economy by 2050. In fact, the transition to an open and transparent tender is arguably the biggest reform in the disability employment sector for decades. It means that Australians with disability will now have access to a higher standard of employment support services in a more locations across Australia. It took a Labor government to take on this ambitious reform.

This tender has been conducted in an open, fair and transparent manner. The selection criteria were set after comprehensive consultation and input from the sector and then judged in a fair and appropriate manner, including external probity oversight and a twelve-stage check. It was vitally important that this process was handled by-the-book and was independent. Through the tender process, we provided training to assist organisations, along with a practice tender facility which provided organisations with the opportunity to ask questions about the process.

We want to make sure our disability services system is a robust system that offers the best possible results for people with a disability. We want to reward providers which are getting Australians good jobs, and helping them keep them.

The results announced today include:

Expanding services to more locations than ever before, with the number of sites increasing by almost 50 per cent, from 1,145 to 1,654.

Funding 419 generalist services and 95 specialist services nationally.

Expanding 26 four and five-star providers to provide better quality services to more people with a disability.

Providing jobseekers with a disability with greater choice, better services and options in more locations than ever before.

Establishing new types of specialist services that focus not only on disability type, but on the needs of youth, homeless people and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, for example.

We are doing this because our government has a proven commitment to supporting Australians with a disability. We are also doing it because there is growing evidence that having a job not only provides financial independence and a better standard of living, but also improved physical and mental health.

Since introducing the Disability Employment Services program on 1 March 2010, the Australian government has worked with industry to help place almost 136,000 participants with a disability into employment. It is a program that is now geared to get even better results. I can assure people that we will work with the sector and jobseekers to phase in the new arrangements. Each participant that will need to change provider will be contacted, and a personalised plan put in place for their transition. Throughout this process, links with employers, trainers and other services will be maintained. We know this is important, and we know that for many people this is not simple. That is why the transition process will commence in November this year and continue until 4 March 2013. Wherever possible, jobseekers moving provider will be given a choice. And those with higher needs will meet face-to-face with their existing provider and new provider before the transfer occurs.

I recognise that this is a challenging time for some in the sector. While some organisations chose not to tender because their focus does not lie in employment services or because they have chosen to be part of a group of organisations providing these services, there will be others who no longer deliver this program. Through our transition support package, we will work closely with individual organisations to ensure that they focus on their strengths and can build on the excellent work many of these community organisations deliver both in the employment space, and in many other important areas. We will be having further discussions with these organisations about how we can support their transition, particularly those in the community and not-for-profit sector.

We are also working closely with peak industry groups in the employment services sector to put in place a business adjustment tool, developed by KPMG. This is focused on positioning organisations for the future, and helping them to build on their strengths. We have worked to establish a disability employment jobs board to link new providers with skilled and experienced staff in their area. It is also why we have provided a range of training services to staff in disability employment services—to ensure people have the opportunity to ensure their skills and knowledge are up-to-date. We have learnt from similar tender processes in the past, and I am very confident that there will be many jobs and opportunities as we open more services in more locations than ever before.

Putting the Employment Support Service out to tender was the most open and transparent way to ensure the government and the public can have confidence that the best possible providers are delivering the most effective services to people with disability and their employers. It was a change that aligned with what disability advocates have been saying. For instance, the Australian Rehabilitation Providers Association lent their support, stating that:

The Federal Government should be congratulated for making the right call on this important policy issue. Australians with a disability and Australia as a whole will be far better off in the long-term as a result of this decision.

It was a bold decision, and one that was backed by organisations representing people with a disability. Because ultimately, this will also mean better quality services and more choice for jobseekers with a disability. This change is about aiming high. And it is about backing Australians with a disability to participate in the workforce and enjoy the rewards, the dignity and the challenges of work.

I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Farrer to speak for 8½ minutes.

Leave granted

I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent Ms Ley speaking for a period not exceeding eight and a half minutes.

Question agreed to.