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Fixing the Australian Disability Employment Program

Martin Wren - CEO Nova Employment
Martin Wren - CEO
Nova Employment
Thursday, January 08, 2015

Fixing the Australian Disability Employment Program

I believe Australia’s DES program has a good Minister in Senator Mitch Fifield.

Having said that, the good Senator has an ineffective and misled program that focusses (despite denials) on unnecessary compliance, saddled with a crushing administrative burden.

Previous management errors have driven talent from the sector, stifled initiative and created a climate of uncooperative fear.

How do we know this?

The unpalatable truth is that the facts are common knowledge; despite a massive input of taxpayer funds Australia languishes motherless last against other OECD countries when it comes to relative poverty (27th out of 27) and 21st out of 29 for workforce participation of people with disability.

Simply stated: We suck!

We either aren’t doing enough, or our efforts are misplaced – it’s work harder or work smarter!

Personally, knowing the extraordinary effort undertaken by staff in this industry I am going with smarter – I truly don’t think that much more could be expected from workers.

What might smarter look like?

How would you feel if you worked twice as hard as me, or maybe 5 times as hard as me, and we both received the same pay and recognition?


And yet that is exactly the environment in which DES staff find themselves.

If NOVA finds a person who presently receives the Disability Support Pension an 8 hour a week job it is possible we get paid exactly the same money as if we found the same person a 40hr a week job.

However, we would possibly only receive 1/5th of the recognition in the ‘Star Ratings’ – a deeply flawed tool that is supposed to help participants recognise the best services.

Now, I know that not everybody can manage 40hrs, but the old self-imposed industry standard (15hrs a week) was abandoned not because it was impractical, unfair or impossible but rather because the need for improved ‘participation’ numbers.

Today, 5 people getting a little beats 1 person escaping poverty, achieving independence and fulfilling their personal goals. A process frequently supported by multiple wage subsidies.

This practice is repeated across all employment programs and people stand around scratching their heads wondering why there’s a rise in casual and part-time employment!

1st Step to improvement: Recognise quality in outcomes in relation to reduction in welfare dependence.

2nd Step to improvement: Throw away the present Star Ratings, they mislead and encourage inappropriate behaviour.

3rd Step to improvement: Reduce payment for registration and allow multiple agency registration

4th Step to improvement: publish performance data that is based upon improvement in participation (number of people placed) AND economic improvement.

5th Step to improvement: Set a stretch goal for all agencies (say 10% improvement on these indicators during 2015) with a non financial award for agencies that achieve same.

Finally; use the money saved in registration to incentivise the achievement of long term employment that makes a genuine difference in the economic position of the worker (bonus for economic independence).

Linking desired outcomes - improvement in Australia's standing against similar economies - to program process simply makes sense.

Simply use Centrelink data to identify 'performance' via reduction in benefits.

To my knowledge there is absolutely nothing that prevents these simple measures being introduced into the current contracts – such actions would galvanise activity and results while improving the position of people with disability - we are sliding backwards, we need leadership and action to progress..

Come on Senator and DSS (the mob that give us the money) - challenge us!

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