ABC Interview with Minister Fifield
CHRIS UHLMANN: The Assistant Minister for Social Services is Senator Mitch Fifield.
Welcome to AM.
MITCH FIFIELD: Good morning Chris.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Does this decision mean that there's a real threat that some severely disabled people could lose the only work they have?
MITCH FIFIELD: Look Chris I'm deeply concerned and disappointed about the decision of the Human Rights Commission. I appreciate that they have the best of intentions but if Australian Disability Enterprises were required to immediately move to a new wage assessment tool which would double the cost of providing employment, then ADEs - which most of them really struggle to break even as it is - a lot of ADEs would become unviable and cease to exist.
CHRIS UHLMANN: So is the right to what's been deemed a fair wage losing sight of the fact the sole reason these work places exist is to give work to people who wouldn't otherwise have it?
MITCH FIFIELD: That's right. We need a continuum of employment options for people with disability. We need open employment for those people who have that capacity.
But there are a lot of Australians with significant intellectual impairment who will never be able to work in the open workforce and that's why Australian Disability Enterprises are so important: because they provide the dignity of work, they provide a social life for these people. They also provide respite for the families.
So these are incredibly important organisations. They're not like the sheltered workshops of old. And the wage assessment tools which are currently used pay on a pro-rata basis, recognising that these people in the workplace have a different capacity.
But also I think it's really important not just to look at the hourly rate that an individual might get. You've really got to look at the package of supports that they receive. So it's the hourly rate, it's the disability support pension, it's the health benefits card that they receive, and it's the disability support workers on site.
So it's a package of supports that we're getting and it's wrong just to isolate the hourly rate of employment.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And yet Disability Enterprises has known that this decision has been coming since 2012 so does the fault lie with it?
MITCH FIFIELD: Well, I don't think so because the Australian Government and Disability Enterprises have been working together. We've- the Australian Government has announced that there's a payment scheme that we'll be putting into place later this year, that those people who feel that they've suffered an economic loss under the BSWAT (Business Services Wage Assessment Tool) can make application under.
And looking forward, the Australian Government during the caretaker period of the last election, with the support of both sides of politics, made an application to the Human Rights Commission for a three year exemption from the Disability Discrimination Act to give the opportunity to government and enterprises to work through in an orderly manner a new wage assessment tool and I think that's entirely reasonable.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Well now there are calls for the Government to bridge the gap in wages. Is that something you will consider?
MITCH FIFIELD: Well my priority is to make sure that Disability Enterprises continue. There are 20,000 Australians who receive employment through Disability Enterprises, many of whom if not for Disability Enterprises would not have that opportunity of work.
So we're going to study the Human Rights Commission decision carefully. We're going to look at our options. And I know that Australian Disability Enterprises are also reviewing their options. But my commitment is that these institutions- sorry, these organisations, these businesses are too important not to continue.
CHRIS UHLMANN: On another matter, the budget is coming up and the Commission of Audit has recommended that there be a slower roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Is that something you're considering?
MITCH FIFIELD: Well, Chris, the timeframe for the roll out of the NDIS is embedded in a series of inter-governmental agreements between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. Those can't be altered other than by agreement.
But alongside that, the independent board of the NDIS agency appointed under the previous government have commissioned KPMG to provide them with some advice as to what the optimal timetable for roll out is. And I think that's got to be our guiding principle with the NDIS is what will lead to the best and most successful roll out.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Mitch Fifield, thank you.
MITCH FIFIELD: Thanks, Chris.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And Mitch Fifield is the Assistant Minister for Social Services.