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Springboard responds to the #Australian Government call for feedback on the “Improving the #employment participation of people with #disability in Australia” discussion paper

Late in December the Australian Federal Government, through the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, called upon the community to respond to the recommendations outlined in its discussion paper, “Improving the employment participation of people with disability in Australia”. Through an invitation from the [i]#Diversity Council of Australia, #Springboard LLC made a [ii]submission to the government, on February 12, outlining our experience as an employer and consultant specializing in mainstreaming the employment of people with disability globally.

The [iii]discussion paper was released in response to Government recognition that a diverse workforce can increase productivity and creativity, enhance organizational responsiveness and increase the organization's ability to cope with change. In support the Minister, Bill #Shorten, notes that “More needs to be done to improve employer practices in regard to people with disability. This discussion paper explores options to do this. We need to be open-minded and find more solutions to help employers see the benefits of employing people with disability.”

Key elements of the discussion paper and request for community input focused on: statutory support and promotion; disability reporting; quotas and targets; defining disability; and privacy and disclosure in the workplace.

In its submission Springboard shared its experience on the focus areas and proposed responses, highlighting the need for privacy and dignity to be held sacrosanct in any form of policy to follow. Key to our experience, disclosure must be a personal and voluntary decision of the person with disability. The notion of disclosure, when partnered with recommendations for employer reporting, quotas and targets, builds a strong case for caution. Springboard’s experience in disclosure is extensive and we advised the government of the need for appropriate disclosure mechanisms, such as our own Disclosure tool.

Based upon our years of experience we counseled that quotas and targets, used elsewhere in the world had achieved little – in fact the countries with fines for non-compliance often experienced little uplift in the participation rate of people with disability. We also shared our reservations regards the ability of employers to report on disability, without first infringing the privacy of individuals and potentially coercing them to disclose their disability – many of which have no immediate bearing upon their ability to perform the job.

While at the heart of the government’s realization is that employing people with disability makes good commercial sense, there are some significant privacy, ethical and dignity issues to be confronted before the discussion document can generate genuine policy to support the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020. That said, it is clear from a recent study by #Deloitte Access Economics that a reduction in the gap between the participation rate and unemployment rate for people with and without disability, of just one third, phased in over the next decade, would have a cumulative impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the decade of $43 billion. The modeling also suggested that GDP would be around 0.85 per cent higher over the longer term, which is equivalent to an increase in GDP in 2011 of $12 billion. (ref: discussion paper, “Improving the employment participation of people with disability in Australia”)

While in 2009 Australia had over one million working-age people with disability in paid employment, people with disability still face a lower rate of labour force participation than people without disability, 54.3 per cent, compared to 82.8 per cent. According to Minister Shorten, “Additional steps are required to address this issue and we must continue to ensure that the most vulnerable Australians are able to find a job, earn a wage, enjoy the dignity of work and prosper from satisfying and rewarding careers. Increasing the employment of people with disability is not only important to ensure their full participation in the Australian community, it also has important benefits for employers and the economy broadly, including through helping to meet the future labour needs of employers and providing part of the solution to the ageing of the workforce and the shrinking pool of available labour supply.” In light of the intent Springboard is encouraged by the Australian Government’s attempts to raise the level of conversation and to demonstrate willingness to take the next step forward in acknowledging the positive economic impact and good sense of employing people with disability in mainstream labour forces. Our counsel in response to the discussion paper though erred on the side of caution to ensure that the dignity of people with disability was foremost in the framing of any policy to come. 

Andrew McGregor


[i] Diversity Council of Australia (http://www.dca.org.au )

[iii] PDF of the discussion paper (http://deewr.gov.au/increasing-employment-opportunities-people-disability )

This information should not be construed as “legal advice” for a particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended only to be a practical guide for participants familiar with this subject. Users should seek appropriate legal advice tailored to address their specific situation.