In a democracy such as ours, community consultation is an important part of government policy making and can be a catalyst for change. Community consultation can take many forms, advisory groups, in-face meetings with community leaders at forums, calls for submissions to inquiries to establish the depth and range of issues confronting community members and how to legislate to solve the problems.
Lately, there seems to have been a rash of consultation with the community on the employment of people with a disability. Two rounds of consultation by the Department of Social Services into the reform of the Disability Employment Framework, and now a Reference Group to whom you can make further submissions. Then there’s the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination against Older Australians and Australians with Disability – the ‘Willing to Work’ Inquiry, which is now being followed up with a round of consultations by the Human Rights Commissioner on ‘Shaping our Future: discussions on disability rights’. A separate Inquiry is being held by the ACT Government on the ‘Employment of People with a Disability’
We’ve made submissions into as many of these inquiries as we can, and I am appreciative of being on the Ministerial Advisory Council on Disability and Carers.
Many submissions by the community have been made, and raising the issues confronting people with a disability for the formation of effective public policy for social change is essential. It is fantastic to see that consultation on such a wide scale is finally acknowledging there’s a problem we need to address.
What are the outcomes?
As a former public servant, I know these things take time. The formation of a New Policy Proposal can take a while. Validating proposals and testing policy outcomes prior to enacting them – such as the NDIS for example – can be a long process. Submissions for funding have to be made to the Federal Treasury for consideration in forming the Federal Budget.
It depends on whether or not governments decide to make new policy proposals in an era where the budget deficit is ballooning. Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step, but actionable outcomes are what bring change, and in forming social policy, making the right decisions by all concerned is often difficult. How do you reconcile differing opinions in the community about the right way forward, and how do you find best practice in any industry or field?
Without speculating on the federal budget, I doubt there has been sufficient time for any initiatives to be funded in this year’s budget.
Given that, what can be done to address the issues now, and whose responsibility is it?
Employment issues aren’t confined to people with a disability, as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has found. Employment discrimination is experienced by many groups in the community, including ex Australian Defence Force personnel and their family members, senior Australians, carers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
As the mandarins ponder these questions, in the light of the budget deficit, Australia has an OECD statistic that is part of the answer for people with a disability and others, to access work. The imperative to act comes not only from the community but the international community of policy makers, who wonder why in Australia, when 82.6 % of households have internet access (9th highest from 27 countries), we rank 22nd out of 27 countries reporting to the OECD in employing people with a disability.
If we had the 9th highest level of internet access in 2010 in the OECD, and were 22nd out of 27 in employment for people with a disability, why are we continuing, as a society, to stubbornly refuse to allow working from home as part of the answer to employment barriers?
Are we prepared to wait?
Employment discrimination is not a government only issue. All employers can take the initiative immediately, in the private, community and public sectors without waiting for new policy proposals or budget funding from the Australian government.
Recently, an article in the mainstream media highlighted the reluctance of some federal government to use teleworking for work/life balance for currently employed public servants. Federal Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd was quoted as saying there are some management culture, organisational culture in the public sector that presented to be a barrier for the practise of telework, and cited managers wanting to see their staff from 9-5 every day as an example.
If telework opportunities were to be made available for people with a disability, carers and seniors, and the families of those who have served, we could immediately begin to address the unemployment and non-participation rates of people with a disability in the labour market, enable carers to balance their work and their caring responsibilities, senior Australians to access work opportunities with acquired disability or illness, ensure work opportunities for people in regional and remote areas, support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to go home to country, and support the families of our Australian Defence Force personnel with access to a career path via teleworking and the possibility of not having to change employers when accompanying a partner or family on posting.
It’s time to open up the reasons that employers will consider telework. Work/life balance is not the only reason for organisations (whether public, private or community) to consider to enable people to telework. Teleworking solves access issues for many reasons, for many people. It keeps office overheads down, ensures people are safe in their home environment, and able to work while managing a disability, an illness, caring responsibilities or because they are living in a regional or remote area, or have accompanied a spouse on posting.
In a digital age, where video conferencing is as simple as using Skype, and the NBN rollout continues there really is no reason other than cultural and organisational attitude stopping us.
Time to log on, Australia.