APS employment of people with disability below target, royal commission hears

By Jackson Graham

Tuesday November 23, 2021

Kate Eastman
Kate Eastman SC (Supplied by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability)

The Australian Public Service is yet to meet a target of 7% of its workforce being people with disability but it is performing better than the private sector, a royal commission has heard. 

The information came as a former disability discrimination commissioner highlighted quotas were the only tool for addressing the issue. 

The Disability Royal Commission heard on Monday that workers with disabilities recorded in the APS HR system database made up 4% of the workforce despite a goal for this to reach 7% between 2020 and 2025. 

“There is a long way to go to reach that 7% target before 2025,” senior counsel assisting Kate Eastman told the hearing. 

Eastman highlighted that although there was commonwealth legislation dealing with the collection and publication of data of women in the workforce, an equivalent for workers with disabilities was lacking. 

“The absence of mandatory reporting requirements for disability means that there is limited, patchy and unreliable data,” she said. 

Other jurisdictions fared worse, with Victoria recording only 0.4% of its workforce were people with disabilty, while workers with disability made up 1.2% of the Northern Territory public service. 

But Eastman said the numbers needed some degree of caution, with the Victorian Public Service Commissioner preparing to explain this week the state’s figures were partly impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns and response rates to surveys. 

Meanwhile, the royal commission is set to hear from 12 of Australia’s leading companies — including Medibank, Kmart, Australia Post and RMIT — which together identified just 1.15% of their employees were people with disability. 

“The rate of employment among some of our large and iconic employers and brands in Australia is disturbingly low,” Eastman said. 

Graeme Innes, a disability discrimination commissioner from 2005 to 2014, told the royal commission on Monday he believed targets and quotas were the only mechanism available to increase employment of people with disability. 

Innes said he was initially resistant to quotas for reasons often cited by opposers, including making tokenistic appointments. 

“I don’t call them quotas because of the pejorative meaning that word has gained over the years,” Innes said. 

“The only way to get people with disabilities into employment is to set targets and then develop strategies to achieve those targets. 

“If we don’t develop strategies and develop on those targets, the situation will continue [like] the last few years, there will be a lot of talk but not much real action.” 

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report in 2020 said only 53.4% (or about one million people) of working-aged people with disability participate in the labour force.

A 2011 Australian Disability Network report compiled by Deloitte found if the participation rate increased and unemployment levels of people with disability reduced, the impact on GDP in Australia by 2021 would have been $43 billion. 

The public sector, unions, regulators, legal centres and businesses are due to appear before the royal commission at hearings scheduled for this week.


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