National Inquiry into Disability and Employment

Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM
Human Rights Commissioner and Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner

Presentation to the DEWR Employer Roundtable
Melbourne, 13 July 2005

Sev Ozdowski


On 4 March 2005, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission launched its National Inquiry into Employment and Disability.

While there were a range of factors that led the Commission to launch the Inquiry, the primary reason is that Australians with disability continue to be less likely to be employed than people without a disability.

People with disability have a comparatively lower labour force participation rate (53.2% compared to 80.1%) and a higher unemployment rate (8.6% compared to 5%) than those without a disability.

In 2003-2004, people with disabilities made up 3.8 per cent of ongoing Australian Public Service (APS) employees, down from 5.8 per cent ten years ago.

Australia faces a labour shortage. The time is ripe to encourage public and private sector employers to tap into the pool of people who can do the jobs that need to get done, despite the fact that they might have a disability.

This Inquiry is all about finding ways that make it easier for people with disability and employers to enter an employment relationship with each other.

What has been the Inquiry's methodology so far?

Issues Papers

Four issues papers were released on launch, one of which focussed on the issues facing employers. The other three papers focussed on (1) statistics, (2) issues facing people with disabilities, and (3) Commonwealth Govt Assistance. All of these paper were designed to elicit submissions about solutions to the well recognised barriers to employment.

A fifth issues paper released in June called 'Mapping of Government Services'. This paper is essentially a table of government services that was developed in response to questions we put to various Commonwealth agencies (DEWR, Centrelink, DEST, CRS and APSC). It represent the first step towards a clearer map of government service provision. As with the othe papers we asked for comment on this fifth issues paper. As at 24 June we have received approximately 10 responses which, in summary, ask for more specific information about outcomes of government programs.


The Inquiry made a call for submissions on its launch. The deadline for this initial round of submissions was 15 April. However, in line with our strategy of ongoing consultation we continue to accept submissions.

As at 13 July the Inquiry had received 129 written submissions. However, very few of those submissions have come from employers or employer bodies.

Consultations with employers

The Inquiry held two general consultations in March and April. These consultations had participants from all sectors. However, once again, employer participation was small.

As a result, the inquiry has held to employer-specific consultations. One was in Brisbane (hosted by EMAD and Qld Dept Empt and Training) and one in Sydney (hosted by CEOE and ABC). There are already plans for a third consultation, hosted by NEEOPA and ABC.

The Inquiry has also had a variety of one-on-one meetings with various private and public employers and employer groups.

What is the Inquiry's goal?

This Inquiry is about finding ways to make it easier for people with disabilities to participate in the open workplace; and for employers to hire people with disabilities.

We are acutely aware that there have been many government reviews about this issue already. And of course there is the current policy debate surrounding the DSP.

All of those reviews and discussions are relevant to our process. But we are not interested in replicating those conversations or reports.

We don't want to focus too much on the problems, because they have been documented in those numerous government reports already. We want to focus on practical solutions.

Amongst other things, that means we need to know what employers need so there is less fear, risk and cost regarding employees with disabilities.

So far there are three emerging issues:

  • Information needs of employers and people with disability
  • Cost concerns of employers and people with disability
  • Risk aversion of employers and people with disability

Where are we up to?

We are now in the final stages of drafting an interim report. We hope to publish that report (on our website) in late July or early August this year.

The purpose of the interim report is to:

  • summarise the information received from the submissions
  • provide a platform for action over the next few months
  • gather further input and cooperation from various sectors on developing solutions

The topics covered in the interim report include:

  • How to make it easier for employers to employ PWD. We look at information needs, costs and risks for employers.
  • How to make it easier for PWD to participate. We look at information needs, costs of participation and risks (eg safety nets) for employees with disability
  • Issues that arise for employers and employees with disability at the three stages of employment :
  • Job readiness
  • Job seeking (recruitment)
  • Job retention

The final chapters in the interim report will set out the Inquiry's recommendations and next steps. At this stage it is clear that the recommendations will include issues that seem to already be on the government's agenda including

  • The creation of a one-stop shop
  • A review of the employer incentives - including the Workplace Modification Scheme

What would we like from the Minister's Employer Roundtable?

  • Frank reaction to the draft recommendations in the chapter they have been provided.
  • Other areas of focus that they think are important (and which cannot be dealt with in the context of this roundtable).
  • Ideas as to how to engage other employers.
  • Commitment by members of the roundtable to assist the Inquiry by:
    • engaging with the inquiry in the development of practical solutions to ongoing problems
    • hosting events that will gather other constituents
    • encouraging employer engagement
  • Ideas about the role that HREOC can play in assisting this Roundtable to achieve its agenda.