The great debate – Disability Employment and turning good policy into best practice

This panel will debate policy and best practice in disability employment.
In 2018, the DES program was reformed to align with Australia’s obligations as a signatory to the UNCRPD and NDIS principles. These reforms, for better and not-so-better, saw a 35% growth in participant numbers. A remarkable increase!
Yet, here we are in 2022, considering DES reforms again, begging the questions:
• What is the role of a specialist disability employment service in comparison to supports that could be provided in a mainstream employment assistance program like Workforce Australia?
• Why does the DES program not attract or engage significantly higher numbers of people with intellectual disability or those on the autism spectrum?
• What is the role of a digital employment assistance platform for people with disability seeking work? What is best practice? Where is the rigour of data and evidence-based research when considering good policy informing best practice?
• How can the Strategy and reform thinking inform the improvement of DES, the NDIS and mainstream employment assistance initiatives?
This debate will also explore the challenges of turning policy into programs, practice and supports, using the role of the Employ My Ability, Employment Strategy and the DES program reform project as a starting point.
Critically, it will look at how government budgets and bureaucratic oversight intersect with policy development while reflecting on the role of data and evidence-based research in continuous improvement.
The debate will allow delegates to engage in ideas, strategies and pragmatic actions to close the 30-point workforce participation gap for people with disability — reminding us that we can all be leaders and ambassadors in reforming attitudes and improving access, accessibility and employment outcomes.


MC Brett de Hoedt Mayor, Hootville Communications

Upon learning of the impending pandemic via his sources in Wuhan, Brett decamped to a secret bunker underneath the Four Seasons Hotel to refine his emceeing skills with guidance from a Master Master of Ceremonies.

Now he has emerged into the spotlight, able to introduce guests in semaphore, facilitate underwater panel discussions and forcibly induct strangers into the Disability Employment Australia Hall of Fame.

To stay ‘match fit’ our erstwhile host has been staging mock-conferences in pathology laboratories, vaccination hubs and various Chemist Warehouses. In his personal life Brett devotes himself to anti-vax conspiracy theorising, empathy training and door-to-door Ivermectin marketing.

He is triple vaxed and 13-times our emcee.

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Jo Collins Senior Executive, National Disability Insurance Agency

Jo is a Senior Executive with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA).

She has been with the NDIA since 2014 and has over 25 years’ experience in private and public sectors with expertise in disability, injury management, employment and vocational rehabilitation.

Jo has qualifications in social science, rehabilitation counselling and public sector management. She is also an experienced leader who has been involved in designing, leading and implementing government policy largely focused on supporting people with injuries, disability and complex social barriers.

Now leading the Market Innovation and Employment Branch within the NDIA, Jo is responsible for delivering on the Participant Employment Strategy and is committed to supporting people with disability in their employment journey.

Catherine McAlpine CEO, Inclusion Australia

Catherine McAlpine is the Chief Executive Officer of Inclusion Australia, the national representative organisation for people with an intellectual disability and their families.
Catherine is a respected leader in the disability community, with senior roles in state and national advocacy and not-for-profit disability organisations. Her focus is on supporting the rights and empowerment of people with intellectual disability and their families. She has spoken as a witness at several Disability Royal Commission hearings on employment and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Catherine has a track record of collaboration and innovation to increase the inclusion of people with a disability. This is informed by her previous roles in the corporate sector, and running a small business, which gave insight into the need to base reform around sustainable business models.

Michael Dobbie Strategic Adviser - Disability, APM

Michael has recently begun a strategic adviser role with APM. He was previously at PwC where he was responsible for improving disability employment outcomes internally as well as with clients. Michael first experienced DES in his role as Chief of Staff to The Hon. Jane Prentice, but his passion for disability employment more generally stems from his own personal lived experience with disability and seeing firsthand the positive impact that employment has on the lives of people with a disability.
Prior to working in professional services and politics, Michael represented Australia in wheelchair tennis and was a member of our 2008 Beijing Paralympic team.

Prof Byron Keating Professor of Services Marketing, QUT Business School

Byron is a Capacity Building Professor of Marketing and Technology in the QUT Business School. He is also the Managing Director of the Service Innovation Lab, a service-focused management and research consultancy based in Canberra and Brisbane. His research is focused on the transformation of complex service systems for vulnerable consumers. Funded by large competitive grants, this research has helped to reduce suicide on the rail network in NSW, improve mental health recovery across the NT, and support responsible gambling in Victoria. Byron also has an interest in how the design of contracted employment services in Australia continues to impact jobseekers and service providers. Prior to entering academia on a full-time basis in 2007, Byron spent a number of years in a middle management position with one of the largest employment service providers under the Job Network.

Rick Kane CEO, Disability Employment Australia

Rick Kane has 25 years of experience in disability employment — 15 years with the peak body, Disability Employment Australia (DEA) as a board member and CEO.

Rick began working in disability employment as an employment consultant. Since then, he has managed a disability employment organisation and worked as a Policy Advisor for ten years.

DEA represents, supports and resources disability employment services across the country. The organisation works with government and policy development as it relates to increasing employment outcomes for people with disability in Australia. This includes engaging international perspectives.

Professor Simon Darcy Social Inclusion, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Simon Darcy believes passionately in the rights of all people to fully participate in community life. A Professor in Management at UTS Business School, he specialises in developing inclusive organisational approaches for diversity groups, including people with disability.