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Friday, 25 November 2011
Page: 9710

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (16:37): On behalf of the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee, I present the report on the administration and purchasing of disability employment services in Australia together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator BACK: I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator BACK: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

Senator BACK: I seek leave to table and incorporate a speech which has been prepared on my behalf by the secretariat.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Inquiry into the administration and reporting purchasing of Disability Employment Services

Friday, 25 November 2011

I present the report of the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee on its inquiry into the administration and purchasing of Disability Employment Services.

This inquiry was initiated in order to investigate the purchasing of Disability Employment Services by a proposed open tender process that would have sent around 80 per cent of providers to the market. The report highlighted the concerns in the sector that the proposed purchasing process would cause significant disruption to service providers at a time when the performance of the program was increasing.

Disability Employment Services — Employ¬≠ment Support Services provide employment support for people with disabilities that will require on-going support in the workplace. We all agree that it is important to include people with disabilities in the labour force as the best way to ensure their social inclusion and improved quality of life. Jobs provide people with independence, new skills and closer ties to the community.

The committee received 90 submissions from service providers, clients of providers, and peak bodies. It became clear to the committee that concerns over the way in which the proposed tender process was being administered by the Government did not adequately take into account the concerns of the industry or clients. In particular concerns about the quality framework that didn't assess the quality of outcomes achieved were raised with the committee.

Although the committee recognises the importance of ensuring high quality services are available to clients, and that the taxpayer receives value for money. The committee does not consider that the proposed tender process is the best way to achieve either of these objectives at this time.

Submissions were almost universal in calling for long-term contracts to provide clients and service providers with the necessary security to invest in programs that will deliver sustainable outcomes in the long-term. The Government is proposing a three-year contract term. It is the opinion of the committee, along with the vast majority of stakeholders, that a five-year term would better serve the aims of the program. It would also free the sector from the fear that before they have got up and running after one purchasing process, they'll be called to engage in another process.

The committee also heard evidence that other competitive methods of purchasing were available but had not been adequately explored by the Government such as a licensing model. These models would allow gaps in the market to be filled and improve competition by allowing new providers to enter the market at any time provided that they met the service standards imposed on the sector.

Submissions to the inquiry revealed that staff working in the sector and clients would both be heavily affected during the purchasing process, and that a number of providers were already experiencing a loss of staff.

The committee has welcomed the opportunity to be part of the effort to address concerns voiced by members of the wider community and hopes that the recommendations in this report can ensure that those people in the community with disabilities will get the best help in entering the workforce.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.