Coalition promises 7% APS disability target — but has it already been met?

By David Donaldson

May 6, 2019

Defocused shot of a group of businesspeople having a discussion in an office

The Coalition is promising to introduce an Australian Public Service-wide disability employment target. The only problem is the APS may have passed that number several years ago.

On Thursday, Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher announced a re-elected Morrison government would introduce a new employment target for people with disability to comprise 7% of the APS by 2025.

“If people with disability want to work, we will support them to find and keep a job,” Fletcher said in a statement.

There is currently no APS-wide disability employment target, though there is an APS disability employment strategySome states have a target in place, including NSW (5.6% by 2027), Victoria (6% by 2020), and Queensland (8% by 2022).

Last year, Vision Australia called on the federal government to implement a disability employment target of 7% by 2023.

Such targets are still below estimates of the number of people with a disability in the community: the Australian Public Service Commission says one in five Australians identifies this way.

But depending on which data set you look at, the APS may have already passed the 7% mark.

According to APS agencies’ human resources records, around 3.7% of their staff identify as having a disability, painting a picture of a workforce struggling at inclusion.

But the figure in the 2018 APS employee census — an anonymous staff survey rather than administrative data — is more than double: it indicates the proportion instead sits at around 8.7%.

Graph source: State of the service report 2017-18.

The Australian Public Sector Commission noted this discrepancy in its 2017-18 State of the Service report:

“This difference in rates has been consistently reported over many years and could be the result of a number of issues. Disability is not necessarily static. Employees who acquire disability during their career may not update their HR record.

“In some cases, employees may be concerned about including their disability in their agency’s HR system but may be comfortable including that information in a confidential survey.”

This would suggest the employee census number is more reliable.

On the other hand, the employee census is voluntary, which may skew the numbers. Differences in the definition of disability may also play a role.

Given the divergent data sets, it’s hardly surprising there’s some confusion on the issue. But the good news is the target may have already been met.

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