HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.20 pm]: I rise tonight to make some comments about the issue of disability employment within Western Australia. It is a matter that I am taking a particularly keen interest in at the moment and I want to make sure that young people with disability and emerging disability can avail themselves of employment options into the future. We know that around four million Australians have disability, and that is about 18 per cent of the population. Over one-third of Australian households have a person with disability. Of course, the nature of disability is very diverse, but, overall, people with disability in Australia unfortunately experience lower rates of labour force participation and employment, higher rates of unemployment and a longer duration of unemployment. Those sorts of statistics are pretty dismal. Unfortunately, Australia is ranked 21 out of 29 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries for labour force participation by people with disability, so we are not doing well in this area. This unacceptably high unemployment rate for working age people with disability has increased in recent years, despite remaining relatively steady for working age people who do not have disability.

The figures provided by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that the current rate of employment of people with disability is 53 per cent compared with an employment rate of 83 per cent of people without disability. We also know that within those figures, there are particular cohorts who find it particularly difficult to get a job. Young people aged between 15 and 24 years with disability are more likely than those aged between 25 and 64 years to be unemployed, and working age males with disability are slightly more likely than their female counterparts to be employed. People with disability in Australia are 2.7 times more likely to be at risk of poverty than are those in other OECD countries. It follows that if people are unable to get employment, they are at greater risk of living in poverty. Employment is important not only for financial security, however. It is also important for a whole range of aspects of wellbeing. It gives us purpose, social connection, and learning and development opportunities. It is something that many of us take for granted, but it is certainly not something that people with disability should be denied.

There are many underlying issues associated with the high unemployment rate of people with disability. Again, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in the past year, an estimated one in 11 people aged 15 and over with disability living in households, or nine per cent, have experienced disability discrimination; one in three, or 32 per cent, have avoided situations because of their disability—again, I remind people that we are talking about one million Australians—one in three, or 29 per cent, who had difficulty accessing locations due to challenges with mobility or communication had difficulty accessing buildings or facilities; and one in six, or around 17 per cent, have had difficulty using public transport. The Australian Human Rights Commission receives more complaints about disability discrimination than about any other form of discrimination. Last month I spoke about the particularly low rate of participation by people with disability in vocational education and training. I noted at the time that the number of students with disability in WA is significantly below the national average and is behind only the Northern Territory, representing the lowest proportion of government-funded student participation.

I was pleased in December last year when the government announced a new target of five per cent representation for disability employment in the public sector by the end of 2025. Of course I applaud this initiative. I also note that significant work will have to be done to reach this target, because it is currently only 1.5 per cent. We are talking about an increase of 3.5 per cent, and this is in an environment in which the percentage of people with disability in the workforce is declining rather than increasing.

I am also concerned that some public sector agencies are not making this work an appropriate priority. I looked at the 2018–19 annual report of the Director of Equal Opportunity in Public Employment and it revealed that 88 per cent of public sector agency workforce and diversity plans were overdue. When I asked additional questions on notice about this last month, the answers I got revealed that in the intervening seven months, the figure had decreased to 75 per cent of agencies, so 86 agencies still have overdue plans. I am really concerned about that. We know that robust workforce diversity planning is essential to improving the employment rate of people with disability. If this planning is not being undertaken and prioritised, it is really difficult to see how this government will reach its new five per cent target for disability employment in the public sector. Planning is essential when we consider the barriers that people may experience when they are trying to seek employment. We know that there are issues with inaccessible infrastructure, transport and buildings. There is a problem with a lack of work flexibility. There is a lack of access to inclusive work education and training, such as inductions and professional learning. Of course, there is the ongoing problem of having to address discrimination and stigma. If workplaces are not proactive and prioritising looking into these issues and planning how to address them, how are we going to address the unacceptable rates of unemployment of people with disability?

I think the whole community benefits when our workforce is diverse. The research has found that people with disability tend to be more productive workers than their counterparts. They take less sick leave and they demonstrate greater organisation commitment. I think employing people with disability makes good business sense. It means that organisations have greater diversity, which inspires innovative thinking and better decision-making because people are exposed to a variety of perspectives. In fact, the research reveals that diversity in an organisation is good for all employees, not just those people with disability. Although I am pleased that the government is talking about this issue and has established a target, and it is a good target, I hope it is also putting in the planning and other groundwork needed for that target to be reached, because it is clear that at the moment not all government departments are prioritising this work, and it needs to be prioritised.


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