Skip to main content

Panel - Big Ideas to change the employment of people with disability

Disability Disability Rights

Australian Network on Disability Annual Conference

Panel - Big Ideas to change the employment of people with disability: Moving Australia from 21 out of 29 OECD countries, to the top ten

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today.

Craig in his very well sourced and argued presentation has detailed why we need some new big ideas. And he and I have also come up with a few.

So here's my list. Sadly, not many are new. You can decide whether they are big.

Firstly, to quote from "my kitchen rules" or others of that genre, here's one I prepared earlier. Or rather, one the US prepared earlier- 40 years ago I think. Accessible procurement. Statute 508 provides that any purchase made by Federal money, or by a State using money for a Federal programme, must be accessible or inter-operable for people with disability. So from desks to IT systems everything must be accessible. The European community has similar regulations. I have been lobbying the federal government to do it since I became Commissioner more than seven years ago, without success - They continue to bow down to the one god of cost. But your organisations could lead the way on this.

Why do it? Well firstly it makes your work place accessible - a better deal for everyone.  Secondly, if enough organisations do it drives the market towards accessible equipment.

Secondly, accessible tendering. Any tender your organisations issues should have an accessibility requirement. This could be anything from asking your contractors how many people with disability they employ, to requiring your recruitment contractors to send you a set number or percentage of candidates with disability. You're helping to drive the market again.

Thirdly, set up a network of employees with disability in your organisation, and celebrate it. Not only will those with disability benefit from the peer support, but they will give you more ideas on how your organisation can become even more disability confident. And publicly recognising this network, and its activities, improves the place of disability in your organisation.

Fourthly, you cannot be what you cannot see. Craig's idea regarding politician’s offices is a great one. But this could be extended to anywhere in an organisation. You will get more people with disability into jobs if we're seen in jobs. So take some action in a few high profile places in your organisation. A job servicing the Board, in the office of the CEO, or the HR Manager might be a good place to start. Or even the job on the Board, or as the CEO or HR manager itself. Now there's an idea for my career plan when my term ends at the Australian Human Rights Commission next year!

Finally, we need to talk about targets. The T word. Now if you’re Ford or Holden making cars, you don't just tool up, run a few off the production line and see how they go. If you're a big bank or financial institution you don't just hope you'll sell a lot of your mortgage products.

And if you're a major company looking to represent the diversity of our population in your workforce you set targets - women, people who are culturally and linguistically diverse, and - yes - people with disability. Because - just like mum and dad with the kids in the back on the family road trip - you'll never get there if you don't know where you're going.

I used to be an opponent of targets or quotas. I ran out all the arguments about tokenism, and wanting to be employed only on my merits. Well, it's nice to be principled and philosophical but - to quote Homer Simpson - "it doesn't put cookies in the jar".

The reality is, most of the other approaches don't work. And Craig's presentation sets out the consequences, as well as the importance of continuing to try something - if we can draw again on US history and culture.

So where should the targets start? They should start at government. Government can't keep telling you - private employers - to employ more people with disability if there not doing it themselves. Do as I say, not do as I do, might work for kids under five, but not for savvy Aussie employers. And federal government’s record of employing people with disability is nothing short of shameful - it dropped to 2.9% in the last reporting period.  Some Departments - who are probably members of AND - are well above this. But that's the overall figure. So I strongly support Bill Shorten's call for reporting employment levels, and for nuanced targeting in the Australian public service.

And next I'm looking at all of you well, figuratively that is. Marks and Spencer are doing it in the UK, as are a number of others. So why aren't you?

You need to be committed to targets, and working out your strategies for meeting those targets. Again, they need to be nuanced taking into account where you are now, and where you want to be. But I have challenged six to eight large employers to commit to employing 10% of people with disability in their workforce by the end of 2015. I've issued these challenges in the last couple of years.

Some of you may have noticed that - following offensive comments by Bernie Brookes about the National Disability Insurance Scheme several weeks ago - I issued this challenge to Myer. The only difference was the medium I used - a Change.org   petition. And my point hit home- so far 37,000 Australians have supported that petition.

I'm very pleased that Myer are negotiating a date to meet with the Australian Human Rights Commission, and that the employment of people with disability at Myer will be on the agenda. I look forward to sharing my thoughts, and the thoughts from this conference, with them on that occasion. Hopefully Bernie Brookes and Myer can become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
There are probably far more big ideas out there than there are up here. So I'm really interested to hear your questions and thoughts, either formally here or at the drinks and dinner tonight.

I get that to change the nature of a workforce doesn't happen over - night, and doesn't just happen. Strategies have to be developed and then implemented.

But above all that we need to just do it - commit that tomorrow, or next week, or next month you'll employ a person with a disability. And then another and another. After all, it's just getting on with the job, a job for all of us, not just those of you without disability.

Thanks for the chance to speak with you today.

Graeme Innes AM, Disability Discrimination Commissioner