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The train wreck rolls on!

Martin Wren - CEO Nova Employment
Martin Wren - CEO
Nova Employment
Friday, 23 November 2012

Probably the single most destructive event in the history of disability employment services in our country is in progress and there’s not much you, I or anyone else can do about it – that doesn’t mean that as many people as possible shouldn’t know or that those that care about the folk most effected shouldn’t speak up.

So here goes:

Our major funding body, the Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations (DEEWR) decided that pretty much all - 85% of all business – should be put up for tender*.

It is important to note that an artificial construct that painted many programs as ‘poor performers’ was used as a rationale for the process. I have spoken repeatedly about the flawed rationale and methodology used in the assignment of the Star Ratings – the perverse incentive to cut corners to exploit job seekers/workers and to effectively devalue people with disability was (I hope) an unintended but nevertheless very real result.

So now the results are out and the number of specialist providers is reduced, the number of organisations participating is reduced and some first class organisations - some 60 - no longer operate in the marketplace.

I should say that NOVA’s own share has been significantly reduced. I hope that what I now write will be seen as being objective from that loss (to the extent that’s possible, I have tried) .

However, that’s not the real tragedy.

People with significant disability, particularly those with development al disability are having their choices made irrelevant as a ‘transition’ program comes into effect that, without their consultation and without the consultation of the folk that have chosen to employ them, replaces their service provider and their local contact with strangers.

That’s not cool – imagine coming home to find a stranger in your house and your stuff moved from one room to another, no option for input, no consultation, no right of reply just ‘that’s how it is’!

25+ years in disability services has taught me the importance of personal relationships in the development of effective career pathways for people with disability. Gaining trust is of major importance. Frankly, NOVA’s clients demand that staff earn their trust; it’s not given lightly and is dependent upon actions matching rhetoric.

34,000 very vulnerable Australians are about to have their world turned upside down. The service provider many of them volunteered to join and the remainder exercised choice in picking can no longer look after them – it doesn’t matter that some made their choices more than 20 years ago, it doesn’t matter that many have formed deep relationships with staff with each considering the other to be a friend.

The employers of these workers were not offered a choice, they had no say. Many have not yet been told that the choice they made has been overturned by our government – placed an order with Coles and Woolworths will now turn up with their version of your choice (this is truly outrageous).

By DEEWR’s own admission the tool used to measure performance was powerfully influenced by corrupt data: “Changes outlined in the DES General Deed Variation 4 took effect from 1 July 2012. This means that from 1 July 2012 DES Employment Outcomes can no longer be claimed where employment is contrived, not ongoing or not in open employment”. – DEEWR circular October 2012.

With the obvious conclusion that the best rewards were on offer to the biggest exploiter’s rorting was rife. In the context of a management system that fascinated on minutiae and essentially ignored morality programs centred on individual need and care were condemned by a politically savvy government propaganda machine as ‘poor performers’.

The big losers were and will be people with disability now condemned to service from players dependent upon offering them as free labour to employers who knowing no different will assume their wages are completely subsidised because they are of no real value.

Under the present regime Australians who have a disability have slipped from top ten to being ranked motherless last against their international peers when it comes to employment opportunities and social participation.

The actions of the Commonwealth in allowing this to occur are deplorable. Sadly there is nothing to suggest things are likely to get better any time soon.

* There was/is no logical reason for the process. A Senate committee recommended it not proceed. University studies showed there was no prospect of improving employment outcomes and that the transfer would be perilous and unlikely to deliver improvements in productivity – DEEWR’s own suggestion that staff transfer to new providers acknowledges their recognition the process is simply a drive to reduce their own administrative burden – you can’t sack 500 public servants and not reduce workload somehow.

What a disgrace.


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