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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1709


Mrs GASH (11:42 AM) —I rise to support the comments of my colleague the member for Pearce and some of the comments from the member for Cunningham encouraging the need for innovations to improve the participation rate of people with a disability. Regardless of what has been delivered by successive governments in previous years, there is no denying that there remain significant obstacles to the employment of a person with disabilities. My admiration goes to all those working in the field who have to deal with the frustrations of battling mistruth, prejudice and ignorance when advocating the cause of people with disabilities. Their effort is made more difficult as they first have to negate those perceptions before they can move into meaningful negotiations for encouraging the placement of persons in the workforce.

My colleague the member for Pearce has succinctly described the circumstances under which this is occurring, the effect of which has resulted in a decrease in the uptake of people with a disability into the workforce. While there has been an increase in the participation rate of able-bodied persons of something like 80 per cent since 1993, the participation rate of those with a disability has only increased by 53 per cent. This is a glaring gap that needs to be addressed urgently, and it is the government’s role to show leadership and to give direction on the issue.

My colleague has itemised the ways this can be done. In the context of addressing the issue of increasing the rates of workforce participation, the Business Council of Australia, in its 2011-12 budget submission, argues:

Improving incentives for participation through the reduction of high effective marginal tax rates for the worst-impacted groups must also be a fundamental feature of strategies to boost participation. In addition, the ongoing growth of transfers such as the Disability Support Pension (which represents the government’s fifth largest spending program) has been widely acknowledged as unsustainable both fiscally and in terms of its impact on the incentives for workforce participation.

In the context of arguing for the establishment of an independent agency responsible for evaluating government programs with a view to better value for money, the submission suggests the disability support pension is an obvious target as a cost offset. While I am sure their intentions were misinterpreted, such imprudent comments do send out the wrong signals by stigmatising those with disabilities. But, at least in principle, the submission of the Business Council of Australia backs the thrust of this motion and the benchmarks my colleague has suggested are worthy of serious consideration.

People with a disability are doing it tough—socially, economically and emotionally. They need our support and suggesting that they are somehow unworthy of such support by cutting income and other services is oppressive and inhumane. This is not how I perceive our society to be. Certainly have a go at those who rort the system and, if it is proved, take away their benefits—but do not condemn the genuine cases on the basis of a few bad apples. The fact is that something can be done and should be done but the government must lead the way. Each individual has something to contribute and allowing them to participate on a level playing field adds to their sense of worth and wellbeing. The results in adopting a proactive regime will bring tangible benefits both to the individual and to the society within which they reside.

Clearly, this is a subject that is complex in approach but the aim of the motion is to encourage government to take the lead. We do not want to encourage a level of second class citizenship. Neither do we want to encourage welfare dependency. We want to encourage dignity and pride, with inclusion and the satisfaction of having contributed as part of the team. To this end the findings of the National Disability Strategy Consultation Report titled Shut out is illuminating. A case has been put that more needs to be done in the workplace by engendering tolerance towards those with disabilities, with specific policies to improve access. We need to view things differently to the way we have in the past and we need to approach this challenge with greater flexibility and a preparedness to entertain new concepts with an open mind.

I would also like to acknowledge the work in the Gilmore electorate of Flagstaff, Essential Personnel, Northcott, the Spastic Centre, Interchange Shoalhaven, Life without Barriers, Independence Ulladulla, CareSouth, House with No Steps, Mullala Nursery, Slice of Life, Community Options and myriad other associated entities helping the disabled.

To all those involved in disability services and especially their caring and dedicated staff, I salute you. I would just like to see their work made a little easier by a government prepared to introduce new initiatives like those outlined in the motion. I commend the motion to the House.