Inquiry seeks to increase ACT employment rate of people with a disability
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Inquiry seeks to increase ACT employment rate of people with a disability

Efforts to increase the the employment of people with a disability in the ACT public sector will be the focus of a new inquiry.

The Legislative Assembly's health, ageing and community services committee has invited submissions ahead of a public hearing in May.

An ACT Legislative Assembly committee inquiry will look at increasing the employment of people with a disability.

An ACT Legislative Assembly committee inquiry will look at increasing the employment of people with a disability.Credit:demaerre

Human Rights Commission data shows the ACT disability employment rate of 2.2 per cent [458 people] is lower than all other jurisdictions except South Australia at 1.3 per cent.

The federal public sector had 3.3 per cent of its workforce identified as disabled in 2015 and the ACT government's own target was 3.4 per cent [655 employees].

An ABS survey in 2015 recorded that 15.8 per cent of people in the ACT had a disability. Across Australia, only 53.4 per cent of working-age people with disability were in the labour force compared with 83.2 per cent of people with no disability.

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The ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service has welcomed the inquiry.

Chief executive Fiona May said employment rates for people with disability should be in line with the general population.

"People with disability face a bias, essentially that people see they have a physical disability and become less interested in them as a candidate," she said.

Ms May welcomed recent initiatives in the ACT public sector to lift disability employment, but expressed concern they were pilot measures and called for long-term sustainable strategies.

Labor MLA for Murrumbidgee Chris Steel moved late last year to refer disability employment to the committee.

He told the assembly there was "a significant barrier" for those with a disability when accessing the workforce.

Mr Steel said this was often based on misconceptions about perceived cost and effort, lack of awareness and confidence.

"Studies have shown that there are no differences in performance and productivity from people with a disability," he said.

"Initiatives such as this will seek to eliminate this stigma and create a better and more diverse workforce in the ACT."

Mr Steel is chair of the committee, and speaking in that capacity he told The Canberra Times that members would like the current level of disability employment to increase and a suitable target might be considered through the inquiry.

"The committee is interested in looking at the attraction and retention programs in the ACT public service and the private sector around the employment of people with a disability," he said.

"We'll be looking at what other jurisdictions like the Commonwealth are doing."

Liberal MLA on the committee, Elizabeth Kikkert, said she hoped the inquiry would help the ACT government reach its employment target.

"Everyone has the right to participate and be included. People with disability often do not feel this way, and we want to make it possible for them to feel they are important, valued members of the community," she said.

"That the ACT government outpaced other jurisdictions in employing people with disability over the 2013-15 period is a very good thing, but more needs to be done."

Chief Minister's directorate deputy director general, Bronwen Overton-Clarke, said introducing greater flexibility into employment arrangements was a key to diversifying the workforce.

Ms Overton-Clarke said it was a realistic goal for workforce demographics to reflect the general population.

She said a Productivity Commission report had found that increasing disability employment rates would help offset the cost of the NDIS.

"A lot of people think it's going to be too hard [employing someone with a disability] so they go for the easy option," she said.

"There's often not a great deal of thought that goes into the recruitment process.

"We decided that we could influence change at the graduate level, so people with a disability are given exactly the same chance as someone else.

"We need to change from doing business as usual to taking more care upfront to change the culture."

In 2016, nine people with disability were part of the 45-graduate cohort.

The committee's terms of reference are online and submissions close April 26.