Senator Mitch Fifield
Shadow Parliamentary Secretary
for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector
FiveAA Radio Adelaide
Interview with Senator Mitch Fifield, the Hon Stephen Wade MLC with Leon Byner
28 August 2009
E & OE
Subjects: impact of award modernisation on disability services, individualised disability funding
Now coming up in a moment, the Shadow Disability Minister from South Australia, Stephen Wade, who is with me, and Mitch Fifield, who is his Federal Shadow colleague. I just want to preface why I’ve got them here, and you can probably guess. We’ve had some very interesting discussions over the last couple of weeks about the disability sector. And it’s taken on quite a few different forms. We’ve talked a lot about the inability of parents of disabled children to get the services that they require. We’ve talked about the people who can’t get shower time from carers. We’ve talked about the fact that some of the contracts with some of the people that provide these services weren’t properly organised and so they were virtually working for nothing. But we were having this semantic discussion about the fact that they’re being paid, and how dare you suggest they’re not, yes but they were working out of the goodness of their heart, let’s not forget that. But there is a major unmet need of disability in South Australia.
And of course we had a discussion recently with Bill Shorten, who is the Federal Disability Minister, and I asked him, you know, you guys have sent money through which compensates for inflation, and he said yes. And we also send money through, he said, for reform. Now of course this is an interesting thing, this reform, because I did tell you and I stick by this, that a non-government agency with volunteers and an army of good will out there, are just so much better than a bureaucracy. That doesn’t mean that a bureaucracy, I’ve got to say there are some wonderful people who are in the bureaucracy in this state who are in the disability area. But they are encumbered by the fact that there is one reality. They don’t have volunteers, and the network, the army of people, of goodwill and care that exist out in the community. They do their best, but in terms of bang for your buck, non-government agencies beat the so-and-so out of what government can deliver.
So let’s talk this morning to first of all with Stephen Wade. Stephen, why have you brought your Federal colleague into the studio?
Well as you say Leon, we have been looking at a number of issues recently which have been whacking non-government organisations and Mitch and I have become concerned about another one. This is the impact of the Rudd Government’s Fair Work act. It’s due to come in on the first of January next year, and what it actually means for South Australian people with a disability is that their workers will have their award increased, expected to be between 8 and 15 per cent, so that it compares with other states. They want, the Labor Party wants one national disability award. That means that people with disability will have to pay more for their workers, and therefore unless the Government increases the funding, they will have to do with less hours. Now Disability SA is saying we haven’t any more money for funding.
Alright so Mitch Fifield, what are you asking the Feds to do? Surely the Federal Government, and Bill Shorten and Bill is a good man surely Bill would understand this reality and be compensating for this. Because if you’re asking an organisation that serves a sector that’s already got a huge unmet need, to say to that sector, we’re going to increase the amount of money we pay to our workers, and there is nothing wrong with that, but they haven’t got the funding. That’s going to mean less hours. So what has Bill Shorten said to you Mitch Fifield?
Well Leon you’re exactly right. And Bill Shorten is a good guy, and I think he would probably be concerned about this. But this really is an issue that falls at the feet of Julia Gillard. She introduced this award modernisation process and we foresaw problems like this across a range of sectors retail, pharmacy, the aged care sector, carers for people with disabilities. We saw that this was going to happen, so what we did in the Parliament was we sought to move amendments, firstly to give the Industrial Relations Commission the capacity to intervene in particular circumstances where it was clear there would be a problem. And the second amendment we sought to introduce which also was defeated was to allow the maximum possible time for implementation and transition. I mean the guts of it is that Federal awards are going to be taking over from state awards, which will be pricing people out of the market. What we think the solution is, is that the Government should put a stop to this award modernisation process and go back to the drawing board, go back to scratch. Recognise it’s not working.
Well Mitch, why, cause I think that people that work in the disability sector are very deserving and good workers, and they do work of very fine quality and we’ve seen that in the past. Why should we say, let’s not give them the same advantages in the workplace as their colleagues, because they are disabled, because the organisations that fund the disability sector don’t have the money, surely the better argument is that we ask the Federal Government to please, you’ve just made this policy fine, social, just, fine. Let’s have the funding so these organisations can do what you’ve asked them to do. Why not that one?
That’s a solution. The reason I go back to what’s causing this in the first place is because it’s not just in this sector where there is this issue. It’s across Australia, in retail, the cost of employing people in retail under the new award is going to go up by 22 per cent so it’s an issue across Australia, across sectors. This award modernisation is making it too expensive for organisations both private and public to keep their staff.
Ok. Well surely the Federal Government have got to take stock of the fact that a business can only employ, proportionally, because you know at the end of the day they’ve got to pay payroll tax. If they’ve got 100 employees on a wage and that wage has got to go up by 15 per cent or more, then what is the most likely scenario is the account will sit down and say to that boss of that business, hey, listen George, we are going to have to lose x percent of your workers because you’re wage bill is going to go to here, and if you just try to absorb it your margins are going to drop, so you can’t afford that.
On the State Government funding point of view, because, if you like there are two places this money can come from, it can either come from the Feds or the State. I’d remind listeners that the Rann Government in the last Budget had a $750 million slush fund. Perhaps that could be available to avoid impacting people with a disability. You are quite right about the unmet need. We’ve had reports from the southern suburbs of people being forced to eat their breakfast on their toilet, they are laying in bed until 11 o’clock in the morning, often in their faeces because their personal support worker isn’t able to get there on time. We are already in crisis in disability, and something needs to be done.
Paul good morning.
Good morning Leon, Mitch and Stephen, how are you?
Good, good thanks Paul.
That’s the way. I’m an advocate for disability and we represent several families across metropolitan Adelaide and it is an industrial matter, but we would urge governments to not disadvantage these groups because administration fees and costs and all the rest of it will bite into service delivery and the result of that will be poor quality of life for consumers, carers, who devote about $2 billion in South Australia in a year in service that’s not paid, increased waiting lists for people with care and respite equipment needs are crucial, and transport. So we just urge governments of all persuasions to really get behind these people with disability and their carers to provide adequate services and for it not to get lost in the cost of bureaucracy along the way.
Do you think we’re spending, when you say not get lost in the cost of bureaucracy, are you telling us that the Government is spending more on administering their provision of services, than your sector?
Well the Government needs to outsource services and part of that will be in the private contracting area. There are fees, there are charges. That money there is used in the main to provide services, but a lot of that gets caught up in the bureaucracy.
Ok so are you asking for funding?
What I’m asking for is yeah, probably a focus, more funding and just probably more service delivery and I note that there is some speculation about self-managed disability funding where a family would be given a lump of money and they can reduce costs that way by organising their own care and service delivery for their loved ones.
Well that’s an interesting one. Now Mitch Fifield where is that going, is Bill Shorten in favour of this, of people administering their own money?
Well from the National Disability Agreement that this Government has put in place, it would appear not.
The future is clearly in empowering the individual. Giving them the money, giving them the means to purchase the services. Because they are in the best position to know what they need.
Steven Wade what is your call?
We’ve already released a policy on this, in April 2009 we released a detailed policy which committed a future Liberal Government to individualised funding and I completely agree with Paul and Mitch. This is the best way to get the best value out of every dollar. Put it in the hands of families, put it in the hands of clients, people who actually need the services.
And they can then go to whoever they want to get the service?
Mitch and Steve, thank you for joining us today. That’s Mitch Fifield, Federal Shadow Disability Minister, and his state counterpart Stephen Wade.