Address to NESA National Conference

29 August 2012





 There continues to be an important debate around the country on the adequacy of Newstart.  This week and still today it’s a debate getting serious attention in our major newspapers and in lounge rooms and kitchens around the country.

 And it’s a debate that relates to getting people into work as much as doing the right thing by people who are experiencing welfare for extended periods.

 I want to say a few words on this important topic here today, because it’s a passionate topic and therefore one that needs to be carefully explained and debated.

 Some tabloid reports I’ve seen this week have focused on my own reflections upon balancing the family budget, so I want to be crystal clear.

 I certainly do not, would not and cannot compare myself with someone living on Newstart.

 Personal empathy and personal comparison are two very different things.

 As I said on Monday – I obviously have a job, so it is hard to imagine what it’s like raise the children you love without a job.

 But I do think it’s a good thing to at least attempt to see life’s pressures from the perspective of another.

 In my household I actually do the grocery shopping and I do it for a number of reasons. I am away on work a lot of the time so I like to help out and pull my weight at home and also do it to keep absolutely in touch with the dollar pressures at the checkout that hit every Australian family and none more critically than those folks on Newstart.

 So I see the prices on the shelf, I pay the water and gas, I see the childcare bills and the mortgage repayments.  I’m lucky, but I don’t live in a bubble.

 I get that making things add up isn’t always easy as you’d hope when you have a good job.  So making ends meet when you can’t get a job must be diabolically difficult.

 I should have chosen my words more carefully earlier this week.  I regret that it has distracted from what I was really trying to say.

 But my point at the time, and now, remains the same and will never change -- that it’s important in public life to identify a sense of financial stress and pressure, it manifests in many ways, and think about how much harder it must be for others who are far less fortunate and a lot worse off.

Because sometimes in Government the solutions don’t come easy, but it’s important to be clear that we care deeply.  And that those in Canberra who make decisions don’t have a tin ear to community concerns.

 It would be very, very tough living on $35 a day.  And anyone in my business that denies this must surely be either heartless or utterly out of touch with some people that they too represent.

 But it's also tough to live on $35 for every day for the rest of your life.

 Newstart was established before my time as a Minister as a transitional payment and I am told experience shows that around 60 percent of people come off it in a year because they find a job.  And finding a job is the key.

Long term unemployment, intergenerational joblessness and welfare dependency - this is not just tough, this is tragic and wasteful.

Labor is the party of work but we're also the party of the disempowered, the marginalised, the discriminated against and the disadvantaged.

 It's why our greatest milestones are the public policy achievements that have placed a strong safety net under Australian society while helping create the circumstances for as many citizens as possible across the community to rise to higher levels of comfort and security.

 It’s why we believe so ardently in the NDIS – in launching it, not just talking about it.  It’s why I am talking here today about employing people with a disability, and why I talk to employers about the huge value in employing mature age workers.

 It’s why our budget efforts are very conscious of cost of living pressures.

 We spent $1.1 billion on the Income Support Bonus in the last budget - $210 extra per year for singles with no children paid in two installments in March and September.  Couples will receive $350, also paid in two installments in March and September.

 These sorts of Supplementary Payments are central to how the actual every day, lived experience plays out.  Rather than being solely focused on passionately held policy views informed only by the base rate numbers.

 It probably isn’t widely enough known that of the 560,000 Newstart recipients around three quarters are eligible to receive one or more of Rent Assistance, Pharmaceutical Allowance, Family Tax Benefits and concessions in addition to base rate of Newstart.

 This does make a difference in terms of the gap between being on Newstart and the levels of the minimum wage.

 But I am very concerned in particular, but not exclusively, for long term unemployed, single people paying rent.

 We have also invested billions in the job services system and improved JSA's to more carefully link people to job opportunities.

 And of course we are compensating people on low incomes or on welfare payments for the expected moderate cost implications of the carbon price.

So we take the rate of Newstart – and how it intersects with priorities like getting into work and cost of living pressures for households more broadly – very, very seriously because we have to get the balance right between urging people to work and giving them (and their families) a measure of security if they just can't get a job.

 So be in no doubt I am up for hearing all and any views about this – including Newstart’s adequacy and the effect and distribution of the supplementary payments.

 The budget bottom line always has to be a central consideration, but I don't turn my back on any of this for a moment.   It's about people's lives, it's about those who are doing it the toughest in our community, and I am a Labor guy.


Economic management and creating jobs

 I stress that the best way to deal with cost of living pressures is to have a decent job.

 And getting the economic fundamentals right to ensure there are plenty of sustainable jobs and plenty of new jobs coming though – this isn’t an issue – it’s THE issue.

 So let me cite a few important numbers.

 Despite economic and financial market turbulence elsewhere, the Australian economy continues to display remarkable resilience, with GDP increasing by a stronger than expected 4.3 per cent over the year to the March quarter 2012.

 The Australian labour market has also held up well, relative to the rest of the world, with the unemployment rate standing at 5.2 per cent in July 2012—significantly below the 8.3 percent recorded in the United States and less than half that of the Euro area.

 Importantly, the Labor Government has created more than 810,000 jobs since coming to office in November 2007, while millions of jobs have disappeared in the rest of the world.

 The recent strength of our overall economic and labour market performance has not been uniform across Australia and variations in growth across sectors, groups of job seekers and regions have resulted in a patchwork economy.

 In response, we are committed to working with communities and employers to build capacity, capitalise on emerging opportunities and support the transition from traditional industries and jobs to newer, cleaner approaches.

 The nature of the economy is changing.

 So the nature of jobs is changing of course.

 The notion of a traditional career in a single field is changing.  And the source of new jobs flowing into the economy isn’t the same as it was 15 or 20 years ago.

 While employment growth was strong in the industries of Health Care and Social Assistance (up by 54,000) and Mining (up by 53,000) over the last year, employment levels declined in Construction (down by 47,000) and Transport, Postal and Warehousing (down by 41,000), in particular.

 We expect employment to grow by almost 830,000 over the next five years, with more than 50 percent of this growth likely to be concentrated in the industries of Health Care and Social Assistance, Construction and Professional, Scientific and Technical Services.

 The future of Australian jobs is becoming increasingly focused on higher skilled jobs, with more than 90 percent of the projected increase in employment over the forecast period expected to be at skill levels commensurate with a Certificate II or higher qualification.

 This is why it is essential for the Government to continue to prioritise education and training as the sensible pathway to better employment outcomes for all Australians.

 Quite simply, the Government wants to see Australian jobs go to Australian workers.

 This is why the Gillard Government is passionate about implementing policies to support Australians to up-skill and we constantly encourage employers to maximise the potential of those Australians who are willing to and able to work.

 And of course, this is where the Government relies on you as providers of our employment services to help deliver those policies.


Getting people into work – JSA’s and the new worker cohorts

 Job Services Australia and Disability Employment Services are there to give job seekers a fair go and to give employers new workers to help their businesses grow.

 According to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 35 percent of the Australian population are not in the workforce.

 This includes many people who may not fit an employer’s preconceived stereotype of what a worker should look like.   This is where I started my remarks today, but I’m not just talking about people with a disability.

 I am also talking about mature-age people, stay-at-home parents, very long-term unemployed people, the homeless and new migrant groups and refugees.

 The Government has introduced measures – there are in fact 39 individual components of the $3 billion Building Australia’s Future Workforce package – and this is to encourage people in these demographic groups to participate in the workforce and to provide an incentive to employers to take them on.

 Again, the Government relies on you as providers of our employment services to deliver these supports and opportunities.

 Working with job seekers though is only half of the equation.

 The Government also relies on you to engage with employers. To help employers to:

      recognise the benefits to their business of a diverse workforce

     encourage employers to tap the potential of job seekers that they haven’t previously targeted for jobs

     understand the many services and supports that the Government provides to encourage them to expand their talent pool and boost productivity.

 We are providing tools to assist you to engage—things like new wage subsidies to encourage the employment of very long-term unemployed people, those with disability and mature-age workers.

 Use those tools.

 We know that the patchy nature of our economy means that in some areas there are employers who are crying out for skilled staff.

 You have a role in encouraging job seekers to think about the benefits of relocating to these areas to take up a job. 

 To aid you in these efforts, the Gillard Government has provided you with the Connecting People with Jobs program to encourage the relocation of suitable job seekers.

 I know that there may be good reasons for individual job seekers to choose not to relocate but the Government, through you, is providing options.

 In order to maximise access by Australian workers to the opportunities offered by the resources sector, the Government has established the Resources Sector Jobs Board.

 The Jobs Board was launched on 10 June as part of the Australian JobSearch website through the establishment of a Special Vacancy Type that I know your organisations have been using.

 I ask you to continue to do so to ensure that every Australian has the opportunity to share in the benefits of the resources boom.

 Remember that it’s not just trades or construction jobs that you can identify under the Special Vacancy Type, but supporting jobs like child care, human resources, accounting and so on.

 The Jobs Board also assists employers to search for people to fill their jobs and to find particular skills or licences or those who may be interested in ‘fly-in, fly-out’ arrangements.

 I encourage you to make job seekers aware of this and to register their details on the Jobs Board.

Employers who have entered into an EMA with the Government are required to demonstrate that they have sought suitably qualified Australians before they will be able to look at overseas worker options.

 We should never discount the contribution that overseas workers can make to Australia—whether they have come to our country through a skilled migration program or whether they have come as a humanitarian refugee.

 Refugee job seekers, like the homeless and the mature-aged and those with disability deserve our compassion and our acknowledgement of their potential as employees.

 They deserve the very best support that we are able to provide and you have a key role in ensuring that occurs.

 Barriers to employing people with a disability

 I’d also like to focus my remarks today on the barriers to employing people with a disability.

 When I was the Parliament Secretary for Disabilities, NESA was an early supporter of my push for the NDIS. I am grateful for that support to this day.

 So let me begin with a couple of case studies – because we’re ultimately not talking about policy here, we need to talk about people.

 Take the case of Hayden. Hayden is 32 years old, has autism and is not only job ready but very active in his job search. In fact, Hayden is so engaging and enthusiastic over the phone that he almost always gets himself an interview. The problem comes with prospective employers see Hayden’s difficulty with expression and sometimes inability to smile, even if he feels like doing so. Hayden is also over 6 feet tall and with a commanding voice he can often appear intimidating. More often than not, and despite the extensive support of his employment provider, Hayden is passed over for someone whose responses and appearances are more familiar to them.

 Another example is Sarah who told her boss that she had asthma and as it could get really bad on winter mornings she needed to take medication. When Sarah asked whether she could come into work a little later on those bad days, she was told that if she was going to be unreliable she should think about resigning. Soon afterwards, and without her consent, Sarah’s employment was changed from permanent to casual and his hours cut back to one shift per week.

 And these two stories are only the beginning -- when I scratched the surface I heard of Betty and Rachel -- both diagnosed with diabetes, and both discriminated in the workplace as a direct consequence of their illness. I heard of Doug with mental illness, Simone with breast cancer and Jarrod who is wheelchair bound. All outstanding individuals with a massive ability to contribute to the workforce. All faced with one employer after another who has imposed disincentives and barriers to people with disabilities who want to work.

 So if we agree this is a problem we need to get about fixing, what are my thoughts as Employment Minister...

 In informing my recent thinking I want to acknowledge the writings of Dr Audrey Lee, from Harvard University (and her work in the Harvard University Civil Rights Law Review).

 I hold the belief that the nature of discrimination today is significantly different from the diabolical, explicit discrimination that existed prior to the swag of Australian civil rights for people with a disability.

 I believe there is community consensus on the need to protect people with a disability from deliberate treatment that limits employment opportunities.

 But I also believe people with a disability need more empowerment and more support to overcome the more subtle discrimination they face every day in obtaining jobs today in Australia.

 In other words, I believe people with a disability face real and systemic unconscious bias in the Australian labour market.

 Australians are generous and caring people.  But it is perfectly human, that we categorise like objects together and this perpetuates individuals implicit reliance on stereotypes.

 As Dr Lee has observed “stereotypes may operate largely independent of the intent of an individual”.

 Or to put it another way, stereotypes may trigger unintended discrimination by influencing how individuals process and recall information about people.

 Experts have identified antecedent conditions that encourage job stereotyping.

 1)     Stereotyping is likely to occur when the target has solo or near solo status (ie the only person with a disability among all colleagues) among an otherwise homogenous group.

 2)     In the jobs space, stereotyping is likely to occur when a previously omitted group assumes a job considered non-traditional for their group

 3)     Stereotyping is enabled when there is a perceived lack of fit between the target’s category (ie people with a disability) and the occupation

 4)     Stereotyping can also arise where evaluation criteria are ambiguous such as subjective judgement.

 Stereotyping in these cases can give rise to unconscious bias in contrast to an individual or enterprise’s stated intended values.

 I believe that the prevalence of unconscious bias against people with a disability is prevalent and demonstrated in hiring practices in Australia.

 Indeed labour force statistics amply confirm the problem in Australia. *see attachment

 I am curious that if resumes sent into job advertisements, including photos and other information about an applicant’s impairment, how many people with a disability would receive a call back interview?

 I am also curious how often people with a disability advance beyond the preliminary selection rounds.

 Despite the case studies, the data and the questions, I do remain positive we can all do better.

 I believe firmly that:

 a)      When people are encouraged to form more accurate impressions, they will take effort to empathise, investigate, focus and listen and therefore overcome “automatic reliance” on stereotypes.

b)     When people have individual motivation and lived experience of counter-stereotypes, bias evaporates.

c)      Involving people with a disability in measuring opportunities in enterprises for people with disabilities will tackle unconscious bias.  In other words, people with disabilities possessing authority improves outcomes.

 I might not be able to prove overt discrimination in Australian workplaces.  But what is the practical difference between factually neutral hiring policies, adopted without discriminatory intent, which has effects that are indistinguishable from intentionally discriminatory practices.

 We need to identify, recognise and speak up about hiring and promotion procedures which depend upon subjective evaluation and internal networks that are a inadvertent and unthinking mechanism for discrimination against people with a disability.

 These are practices which can be concealed, ignored and not really known  to senior enterprise leaders.

 I am interested in solutions to tackle the poor impact on people with a disability in the labour market, the disproportionate harm, the unegalitarian, the un-Australian denial of opportunity to people with a disability seeking work that cannot be justified by job readiness, job function and business necessity.

 To paraphrase again from learned American commentators talking about racial discrimination but what I believe applies to people with a disability:

 I don’t care whether the cause of adverse effects on people with a disability  is hiring practices, is intentional discrimination of the traditional type or is more subtle discrimination of stereotyping or the absolutely non-intentional one of natural practice that just happens to exclude people with a disability.

 I care that people with impairment are getting a second class outcome.

 I care that people with impairment are living their lives experiencing unintended jobs apartheid in our otherwise great country.

 Well you can see where my passion lies so now I’d like to learn a bit more about yours.

 You had an opportunity to submit questions for me to respond to.

 We don’t have a lot of time remaining, but let’s get to those.

 And thanks for listening to my initial remarks.