The new Federal minister for Social Services made a welcome visit to Wollongong on Wednesday to meet chief executives from the disability services sector.
Paul Fletcher’s arrival followed an invitation from Illawarra Business Chamber chief executive Adam Zarth to discuss the NDIS and other issues. “He is the incoming minister of the social services portfolio who has carriage of the NDIS. We wanted to familiarise him with the great work happening in our region. We definitely have the most diverse and effective disability sector. This is a chance for him to hear what they are doing”.
Mr Fletcher took part in an engaging discussion at CRAM Foundation before visiting Flagstaff Group operations at Unanderra. It’s chief executive Roy Rogers said there were two keys issues he wanted to raise. “One is around the lack of a strategy for employment in NDIS plans. We are not seeing people with disabilities get employment in their NDIS plan. That was a key plank of the NDIS from the Productivity Commission. We believe its really important for people’s dignity to have work, be learning skills and moving into meaningful employment.”
The other issue related to the Fair Work Commission and work being done around the wage assessment tool.
“We really haven’t got a commitment from the department yet on their position on whether they are prepared to accept what the Fair Work decision is,” Mr Rogers said.
“That decision is critical to the sustainability of Australian disability enterprises and employment of people with disabilities in supported employment”.
The tour of Flagstaff was about showing him what the social enterprise was doing to invest in jobs for people with disabilities.
“We are putting our money where our mouth is. But we have got 30 jobs at the moment for people with disabilities. We have recruitment campaign going at the moment because we are just finding that the pipeline out of NDIS into employment just isn’t happening,” Mr Rogers said.
Mr Zarth said the disability sector was a big deal in the region.
“We have 4000 participants in the NDIS in the Illawarra who are contributing $250 million into our economy in the form of their NDIS support,” he said.
Karen Burdett said it was great to host the face to face discussion with the minister at CRAM because it was such an important opportunity for all the disability service providers to show their support for NDIS.
But also identify some of the challenges around policy, planning, pricing and workforce challenges
CRAM Foundation provides accommodation for people with a disability whereas the Flagstaff Group provides employment so the minister was provided a broad picture of many different experiences and needs.
Mr Fletcher said he was aware of how proactive the sector was in the region and what a strong combined voice it had.
He accepted the invitation because he saw the visit as such a good opportunity to have a round table discussion to gether important feedback and gain valuable information.
“I want to hear their experiences under the NDIS, what is working well and any changes they would like to advocate for,” he said.
“I have been the minister for Families and Social Services since late August. Obviously the disability sector in Australia has undergoing enormous transformation with the NDIS.
“Right now about 280,000 Australians are supported by the NDIS and the estimate is there will be 460,000 by 2020.
“We are going through a very strong growth phase and some very significant changes in the way Australians with a disability are supported”.
“For example of the 280,000 who are now supported 60,000 of them are receiving support from government for the first time.
“There are a whole range of areas in which we need to maintain and improve services”.
In response to Mr Roger’s comments Mr Fletcher said one of the priorities for him as the minister is to “improve employment outcomes for Australians with a disability.
“We have recently set up a Disability Employment Taskforce. We will be having extensive consultation. Issues of employment of Australians with a disability is very important”.
In response to Mr Roger’s comments about the Fair Work decision Mr Fletcher said he looked forward to hearing the perspectives of those in the room about the arrangements that apply for the 20,000 people working in Australian disability enterprises. He said they were very important institutions.