Greens senator Jordon Steele-John says it is time for the Australian public service to commit to a target to increase the number of employees with a disability.
"I think whether it's a target or a quota, when you're looking at things like this you've got to put your money where your mouth is," he said.
Senator Steele-John was elected as a Greens senator for Western Australia after former senator Scott Ludlam was found to be ineligible due to his New Zealand dual citizenship.
In the job since November, the 23-year-old uses a wheelchair to get around due to cerebral palsy. His presence in parliament house has highlighted how ill-equppied the building is to cater for employees with accessibility requirements. A refurbished office was due to be finished at the start of February, but it is now set to be ready at the end of March.
Senator Steele-John is complimentary of staff at parliament house, where plans to refurbish a senate suite to make it accessible were started in August, highlighting just how much work needs to be done to retrofit the building.
Accessibility is about more than ramps, Senator Steele-John said, explaining how the thick underlay in the carpets means he needs a motorised accessory to get around, and that in the private areas of the building, accessible bathrooms are not as common as needed. Issues around accessibility would affect other employees at parliament, not just elected representatives, he said.
"Looking at the people working in the Hansard box, there's a three or four flight of stairs to get into the box at the committee room and just right there that means that nobody who uses a wheelchair could be employed to do that role."
"If you look more broadly at the public service, the employment levels within the federal public service are extremely low and there does not exist at the moment a target to have that increased," he said.
"That level has actually decreased in the last five years and it's no bloody surprise if people can't get around the place."
In 2017, just 3.6 per cent of the public service identified as having a disability, and while this is the same ratio as in 2007, the number of employees who identify as having a disability has dropped. In 2007, 5602 employees had a disability, while in 2017 that figure was 5486.
A policy to increase the number of public service employees with a disability was introduced first in 2012, and the updated As One: Making It Happen strategy was released in 2016. While the strategy committed to increase the number of employees in the public service with a disability, it didn't implement a target or quota.
The Department of Social Services has a target of 10 per cent of employees with a disability by December 2018. Last month the Victorian government set a target of six per cent of employment of people with a disability by 2020.
"It's time that we acknowledge that if we are to overcome the disparity in employment and remove some fo the discrimination we actually have to take this stuff seriously. And I think that a target and a quota as part of a broader regime would be a really important tool in doing that," Senator Steele-John said.
The senator said he had been in talks with disability commissioner Alastair McEwin about disability and employment issues already and that plans were underway to speak to senior figures in the public service about issues relating to employment in the public service for people with a disability.