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Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Page: 9009

Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (15:34): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services (Senator Fifield) to a question without notice asked by Senator Steele-John today relating to people with disability.

I must say I wasn't incredibly surprised by Minister Fifield's response to my questions, although I had given his office due warning that they were coming, so I had hoped for something more substantive than reference to two programs which are not related to employment in the disability space, and another which is simply a trial program. I find it deeply concerning that after being given that information—and once again I'll restate it for the record: Australia ranks 21st out of the 29 countries of the OECD in relation to employment of people with a disability, and 27th when it comes to the correlation between unemployment and poverty—there seems to be no proactive solution championed by Minister Fifield or the government in this area. There has been no attempt, for instance, to even put in place data arrangements such as are used in the US in order to properly track employment for people with disability on a monthly basis; there has been no suggestion, as has been advocated for, that the government take up proactive public sector targets for people with a disability; and there has been no suggestion from the government of an innovation fund to enable the employment of people with a disability.

I find this so concerning because, of course, our own Human Rights Commission make it very clear to the government on a regular basis that discrimination in relation to disability is one of the main complaints they receive. Indeed, it comprises 37 per cent, the largest total of all complaints received by the commission. Of those complaints in relation to disability discrimination, 35 per cent relate to discrimination at work. This had fallen from a staggering 60 per cent in 2005-06, but I am now sad to say that, since 2010-11, it has been increasing to its current level.

So there really is a need for urgent action in this area, and yet there seems to be no urgent action forthcoming, which I find incredibly disappointing and which I know is incredibly frustrating to the disability community and those that speak to me on a regular basis, because, of course, discrimination at work in relation to disability is so often connected to a fundamental misunderstanding of things such as the Disability Discrimination Act, the costs involved in employing people with disabilities in the workplace, and the ways in which volunteering opportunities can be used to develop soft skills. I really sit here thoroughly disappointed with the minister's answer, and I hope that in future we may have some rather more substantive exchanges across this chamber on such important—and, I have to say, rather uncontroversial—issues of the day. I thank the chamber for its time.

Question agreed to.