Disability Employment Reforms

Dept of Social Services

Good afternoon, and it’s so great to be with you all today.

I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we meet – the Gadigal people – and pay my respects to elders past and present.

Thank you all for being here, both online and in-person.

It’s wonderful to see so many of you joining us today for this important discussion on the future of Disability Employment Services. More than 1000 attendees both in person and online.

Today you will be taken through the detail of our Government’s redesigned disability employment services and associated initiatives.

In the Budget our Government committed an additional $227.6 million to the new Disability Employment Services system, bringing our total committed over the next four years to $5.5 billion to help more people with disability prepare for and find suitable employment.

The Budget helps to advance our Government’s commitment to a more inclusive Australia where people with disability have equal opportunities to gain employment.

We believe that everyone should be able to enjoy the dignity of meaningful work in secure employment, including enjoying the economic, social and psychological benefits that work brings.

As Government we have an important role to facilitate this.

Which is why I made sure that breaking down barriers to employment for those excluded from the labour market was a key pillar of the Jobs and Skills Summit in September 2022 – where both the good and bad experiences of people with disability engaging with employment services, seeking employment and being discriminated against in the workplace was highlighted.

And through the Employment White Paper our Government articulated a clear vision to create a dynamic and inclusive labour market where everybody has the opportunity for secure, fairly paid work.

From day one in my role as Minister for Social Services, increasing the employment rate for people with disability has been a key priority of mine. But equally ensuring these are jobs that meet the aspirations of people with disability.

In fact, one of the first meetings I held with the Department upon becoming Minister two years ago was a briefing on disability employment services, where I indicated my intention to reform the program.

With the significant Government investment into Disability Employment Services, coupled with an unemployment rate for people with disability more than double that of working age people without disability that hasn’t shifted in decades – it was clear to me that we could, and should, do better.

On the ground feedback, national consultation processes, reference groups, inquiries and significant reports like the Disability Royal Commission have highlighted the need for a system of employment support that is more inclusive, effective, and better meets the needs of people with disability.

This includes the need to reduce barriers to participate in employment services.

I have consistently heard about the need to lift the quality and culture of services and for them to deliver more targeted supports. Supports that put the needs of the participant at the centre of their service delivery model – not the other way around.

Putting the needs of people at the centre means encouraging adaptive service delivery that meets the needs of each and every individual.

Personally, people with disability – and their families and carers – have told me about their experiences of Disability Employment Services.

Some are great, providing wrap-around and tailored supports so that people with disability can thrive in employment – and some not so.

I no longer want that to be the case.

We want all people with disability who interact with Disability Employment Services to experience high-quality services – and the new specialised disability employment program will incentivise this.

It should be no surprise to anyone in this room – but I have been very clear since becoming Minister – I don’t expect Disability Employment Service providers to only do the bare minimum for the people using their service.

All providers should be striving for excellence, providing quality services, adopting best practice approaches and focus on continuous improvement.

Quality Framework

As many of you would know, upon coming to this role I was shocked to learn that Disability Employment Service providers were not measured against quality – even through it was a Key Performance Indicator in their contracts.

As an immediate action, I initiated work to develop a new Quality Framework for Disability Employment Services, which was introduced in July last year.

The new quality framework places DES participants at the centre of defining what a quality service means to them, and ensuring providers are listening and responding to those needs.

Through clear quality service expectations for providers it will ensure the DES sector improves as a whole, to provide better outcomes for people living with disability.

Quality assessments against the Framework are underway and provider results will be published – outlining whether their services are exceeding expectations, meeting expectations or require further improvement.

The public release of provider ratings which will occur in the second half of this year promotes transparency and will ensure people with disability can have confidence in their providers.

A focus on quality will continue to be a key priority in the new program

Broader efforts to improve employment outcomes

As everyone here knows, a key element of successful employment outcomes is encouraging employers to create inclusive workplaces and hire more people with disability.

That’s why outside of the DES program, while working on reforms, we have also been trialling new approaches to increase employer confidence and equip employers to hire people with disability.

Our Government has established pilots to build employer confidence to hire more people with disability and create career pathways and development opportunities for those employees.

We have funded Australian Disability Network for the Career Pathways Pilot in partnership with the Business Council of Australia to boost meaningful employment and career opportunities for people with disability working with large employers.

Disability Employment Tourism Local Navigators are successfully connecting employers in the tourism industry with people with disability looking for work.

These pilots are aimed at building employer confidence and breaking down silos within organisations and across service systems and industries.

In the new program we will be encouraging you to play a role in employer confidence as well.

As a national network of organisations, employment service providers are in a unique position to build relationships with employers and support them to employ people with disability – and it is my expectation that under the new specialised disability employment program providers will be addressing employer needs.

We will incentivise this through the performance framework, to help achieve the best outcomes.

We also continue to support employers through the JobAccess service, which provides advice and information for employers, as well as workplace modifications.

And through our National Disability Insurance Scheme and Disability Employment Services pathways pilot, and programs and projects announced in April that deliver on our 2023-24 Supported Employment Budget Package, we are breaking down silos between open employment and supported employment.

Because it is important that people with disability, including those with complex need have diverse pathways to employment.

These pilots and projects will be a key source of information on what works to increase employment and careers for people with a disability, including those with a work capacity of 0-8 hours who will become eligible for the program under the Government’s reforms.

My vision

It’s no surprise to those of us in this room that people with disability can and often do face many, and sometimes overlapping, barriers to employment.

The new specialised disability employment program to come into effect from 1 July next year, is built on the eight key principles of the Government’s Employment White Paper released last year.

This includes the principle that services should unlock individual potential and address employer needs. Because employment services play a critical role in creating pathways to decent jobs and delivering outcomes to ensure that individuals are not left behind.

My vision for the new program is one that puts the needs of people with disability at the centre of disability employment service and employers as key partners.

The new program will seek to shift the culture in employment services for people with disability and set an expectation of high-quality services that develops and amplifies their clients strengths and meets their unique needs to ensure they are successfully matched with employers.

This includes more active engagement with employers.

I want to see a focus on innovation and continuous improvement. In fact, I expect it.

And importantly, I want results that will see people with disability achieving better employment outcomes – including meaningful jobs and career progression as a result of the reforms we put in place.

Program design

The new program has been designed to help shift the narrative around disability employment.

It isn’t just about getting people with disability into any job and forgetting about them.

It’s about working closely with each individual, building trusted relationships, and supporting them regardless of where they are in their employment journey.

We know that people with disability have a wide range of needs and some people may require more support than others.

We also recognise that there are different pathways to employment, and a one-size fits all approach is not going to work.

That’s why my disability employment reform priorities are to:

  • improve the quality of services,
  • increase flexibility and individualised supports, while reducing complexity and administration, and
  • offer a diverse network of high-quality specialised providers.

Improve the Quality of Services

A critical element of the new program will be a doubling down on improving the quality of services employment providers deliver.

We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect to shift the dial on improving employment opportunities for people with disability.

Under our new specialist disability employment program providers will be expected to engage participants and employers to design their service, and to listen and incorporate their feedback to make improvements.

Providers will be expected to have staff and leadership with a variety of skills and experience that is representative of the communities they are working with.

We need providers to be leaders in employing people with disability – as consultants, administrative staff and leaders – so they can bring this expertise to the table when they engage with other employers.

At the same time, we also want to ensure employers have the right skills and supports to hire and support people with disability.

We have known for a long time that many businesses want to hire more people with disability but are not sure how to do so.

With a strengthened focus on quality servicing, providers will need to work in partnership with employers.

Evidence-based strategies – teamed with more generous and consistent wage subsidies of up to $10,000 – will support employers to build inclusive workplaces where a job seeker with disability can thrive and be a highly valued team member.

Providers will not just support their clients through the recruitment process, but will be expected to continue to provide support for that client and the employer once they are in the workplace.

Increase Flexibility

Our changes to the Disability Employment Services program focuses on providing tailored yet flexible supports to suit each person’s circumstances through the introduction of a flexible and intensive service offer.

We have consistently heard that the rigid nature of the program and the application of the Mutual Obligations framework limits providers ability to really focus on supporting the individual.

The application of the new service offers will cater to individual circumstances by adopting a simpler approach to engagement and meeting mutual obligations, with the ability to step up to more formalised requirements if participants aren’t engaging.

The flexible service offer will focus on maintaining connections between participants and providers to meet mutual obligation requirements, while accounting for their life circumstances that make it hard to intensively participate.

For example, people may be engaging in education and training, have suddenly taken on caring responsibilities or had a decline in their ability to participate due to the nature of their disability or other barriers they are experiencing – but will remain connected so providers can adjust their approach to support when circumstances change.

The intensive service offer will be for those in a position to more actively and intensively seek employment, as well as those who are motivated to find employment.

Providers will be expected to customise supports and services to the individual to meet their employment goals – and mutual obligation requirements will be tailored to the individual and based on engagement in activities to reach their employment goals.

And with the increased flexibility being offered to providers to take a person-centred approach – administrative burden will be reduced.

Because we want providers to be spending more time supporting people with disability rather than undertaking endless administration. We want you doing what you do best.

These changes to the service offer are key enablers of driving a culture shift within the program and providers will be key players in enabling this.

With the program changes that increase flexibility, it will be up to providers to apply this in a way that shift relationships between providers and participants from administrative and compliance based to one that is built on mutual respect and trust.

The new program recognises that people with disability may be at different stages of their employment journey – and that a one size fits all approach doesn’t work.

It doesn’t matter whether someone wants to build their skills and confidence before they start looking for work, if they need help completing a resume or job application or are ready to connect with prospective employers and start working – the new program will support this.

It will support people with disability to enter employment that highlights their skills and experiences with the aim of building meaningful careers.

Importantly – the program will be expanded to include around 15,000 people who were not eligible for support previously. Such as volunteers who may have been excluded because of their personal savings, or family or partner income.

As well as volunteers, people with disability with a work capacity of less than 8 hours a week can also receive support. It removes the service time limit, meaning more people will be able to access support for as long as they need it.

This has been a key piece of feedback received through consultation and is a recommendation of the Disability Royal Commission.

Because if we are going to have a high-performing system, why should people be excluded?

Our government believes that if a person with disability needs help to find employment – support should be available.

Diverse Network of high-quality specialised providers

I have also heard clearly that people with disability want more options to access specialised providers, who have historical experience and deep expertise working with specific groups.

Since the introduction of the current program in 2018, we have seen a drift to a more homogeneous service that lacks differentiation from mainstream programs and significant provider consolidation, which limits participant choice in some regions.

More active market stewardship will be introduced under the new program, but participant choice will always take precedence. Improved information on performance will support competition and choice for participants.

There will be greater controls around provider entry and market share that are designed to support the viability of smaller and more specialist providers while ensuring there is still diversity of providers for participants to choose from.

Centre of Excellence

As I said at the beginning, the expectation is not do the bare minimum it is about driving best practice and adopting innovation and that’s what the new Disability Employment Centre of Excellence will do.

The Centre of Excellence will be a partner for our new disability employment service providers.

The Centre of Excellence involves an investment of $23.3 million over four years and will play a critical role in driving improved quality employment service delivery in the Government’s reforms of disability employment.

It will do this by establishing an evidence-informed, best-practice hub that will provide resources, tools and training to help providers deliver quality employment services and supports to both participants with disability and employers.

The evidence base for disability employment will include building the capacity of supported employment services so that they can better assist employees to develop their skills and move into open employment.

Most importantly, the Centre of Excellence will contribute to improving the quality of services offered by providers in the new specialist disability employment program, Workforce Australia, the Community Development Program, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

It will also build the skills and capacity of providers of supported employment – including Australian Disability Enterprises.

This will build on our existing $52.7 million investment in supported employment, which is focussed on increasing the range of employment opportunities and pathways for people with disability with high support needs.

Our investment in supported employment has included the establishment of a new Structural Adjustment Fund, which is providing grants to enable supported employment services and social enterprises to evolve their business models and create genuine employment opportunities and pathways for people with disability.

Learning what works from these grants will form part of the evidence base in the Centre of Excellence to be shared across all providers.


More than one in six people in Australia live with disability, and we need to see that reflected in our workforce.

Now is the time to make real change.

Our Albanese Labor Government understands that people want, and have a right, to dignified work.

We pledged in the election that we would tackle job insecurity, wages and the skills shortage head-on.

With record levels of unemployment, why shouldn’t people with disability get a real opportunity not just for any old job but meaningful, secure work that they are trained for.

Meaningful employment can be a positive part of life and that doesn’t change if you live with disability.

Our new specialist disability employment program will put people with disability and their experiences at the centre of achieving the shared goal of people with disability and our Government to increase employment opportunities.

The new program is about striving for excellence and delivering for people with disability.

It’s also about encouraging providers to work in partnership with employers.

We want providers to have the rights skills, the ability to innovate, adopt best practices and embed continuous improvement within their organisations to ensure they are providing high-quality service that meets the needs of participants and employers.

In the later parts of this forum, my Department will take you through the new model in even further detail.

We will continue to work with you to further refine the implementation of our new program design.

We will also be directly seeking the views people with disability. They should be at the heart of this.

Thank you again for your contributions to the important discussions we’ve had so far, and I encourage your continued engagement.

I am really excited and encouraged about the changes we are making.

The positive impact of these long overdue reforms have the potential to achieve will impact not just the lives of Australians with disability now, but generations into the future.

Thank you.

/Public Release. View in full here.