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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1710

Ms OWENS (11:46 AM) —I thank the member for Pearce for introducing this motion on disability employment participation and acknowledge the other speakers who have shown their support for something I know the member for Pearce has been committed to for many years, and that is improving the lives of people with disabilities.

Perhaps one of the only times you can really make a difference in this area is in the good times. Prior to the global financial crisis we had 20 years of substantial boom, and it appears that we may be entering a boom period again, when workers will be short and growth will be high and the amount of money flowing through the economy will be quite reasonable. This is the time when you have a short window to mainstream the very ideas and the very position of people with disabilities in our society and in our workforce. If we do not do that in the good times, and if we do not work on this as a mainstream issue, we risk a situation, when things slow down again and the workforce starts to soften, that people with disabilities will be last in, first out. That would be a great tragedy.

I have employed over a number of years people with disabilities—people who had incredible difficulty getting into the workforce. I know firsthand how many changes you sometimes have to make in your workplace to make this work, but I also know absolutely that these people have been some of the best workers I have ever had. They have contributed in extraordinary ways to my office. They can change the very character of an office. I would recommend to any business that they seriously look at how they can provide opportunity for some people who are absolutely desperate to work and have the skills to work and want to contribute greatly if they have the chance.

We are doing things in government for people with disabilities; in fact, we have made quite a few changes in the last few years. There is of course the National Disability Strategy, which is the 10-year plan, beginning in 2010 and going through to 2020, which aims to put support for people with disability into the centre of the agenda for workforce participation, housing and all mainstream services. This is a very good start, and I would expect there to be genuine bipartisan support for this work over the next 10 years.

We are very much at the beginning of this. There are people who in other fields you would call low-hanging fruit, people who are absolutely ready, willing and able to work now. One would hope that when we get through this 10-year period those people will be in the mainstream, but we will still have further to go. We will always have further to go on this. It is not something that is ever going to finish; there will always be another range of people who for various reasons are excluded from mainstream participation in society.

We have also introduced the National Disability Agreement which provides more than $6 billion over 5.5 years—it has effectively doubled federal funding to states and territories for disability services—but I should say that the report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that the number of people receiving disability services has also doubled in five years. So the money might be doubled but so has the number of people accessing the services. The compassionate reasons—that a person should live a life with dignity—should be enough. But I am going to raise some of the economic arguments for people who are not persuaded by that argument. Having said that, I know that everyone in this room today is persuaded by the compassion and dignity arguments.

The number of people with severe or profound disability is predicted to increase over the next 40 years from 1.4 million to 2.9 million Australians. The projected growth rate in the population with severe or profound disability will outstrip the general population growth rate by two to three times over the next 70 years. At the same time, the ratio of formal carers will decrease by more than half over the next 50 years. We should all recognise that wherever there is a person with a disability there is quite often a family that surrounds them who also, unless we can do much better than we are doing, will carry an overly large burden in many ways. Families and other carers play a significant role in supporting people with disability. In 2003, there were approximately 2.5 million people providing informal care to people with disability or old age. This is a phenomenal number. I commend the motion to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.