Governments must include people with intellectual disability in debate about their own future

Australia’s largest and longest-serving social enterprises are raising key issues for all Australian governments, as they seek to reform employment services for people living with intellectual disability.

Disability Social Enterprises are calling on federal, state and territory Disability Ministers to begin a formal dialogue in order to hear the views of employees with disability, whose jobs may be impacted by reform.

“We recognise the efforts of the Commonwealth Government to include employees with intellectual disability, employers, and advocates in creating the Supported Employment Principles at the Disability Employment Roundtable last October,” said Endeavour Foundation CEO David Swain.

“We agree with the sentiment of the Supported Employment Principles and the human rights focus they embody, and we welcome them as a guide for reform,” Mr Swain said.

“All Australian governments, whether federal, state or territory, now have the task of bringing the Supported Employment Principles to life.

“That must firstly be through dialogue with employees who have intellectual disability, secondly by making concrete plans for action, and thirdly by taking practical action to employ more people with disability in public sector jobs.”

Tenny Tamou says working at Endeavour Foundation’s Disability Social Enterprise in Wacol, west of Brisbane, has helped him become the hardworking person he is today.

“I wouldn’t be who I am without the help here,” said Mr Tamou, “I’ve worked jobs [in mainstream employment], but I’d rather be here. I feel like I have a family here that I can turn to for help.” Maroochydore Social Enterprise Employee Gavin Salmon said he had gained qualifications through Supported Employment.

“I’ve been able to receive certification for equipment used on site and I’m supported no matter what by my team leaders, employment coaches and managers to develop my skills,” Mr Salmon said.

A 2019 report from BuyAbility, an initiative of peak body National Disability Services, found the net return on every dollar of government funding spent on supported employment is $2.22.

This includes savings from the Disability Support Pension and the cost to government of providing other more expensive supports to people if they didn’t have the option of supported employment.

“Boosting employment for people with an intellectual disability has been seen as too hard for too long. With sustained low unemployment and ongoing concern about the growth of the NDIS, there is no better time for Australia to face up to this long-term challenge, once and for all,” Mr Swain said.

“We need businesses to employ more talented people with disability, but we also need to provide quality supported employment options for people who require ongoing support to work,” he said.

Disability Social Enterprises have developed a new Consensus Statement to share their key priorities with Governments for consideration in the reform agenda.

The Consensus Statement and list of supporting organisations is attached.

Support for the consensus statement

“There is a tremendous gap between the lived experiences of people living with intellectual disability and the conversation taking place on supported employment.

“We join the call for our government to immediately elevate these voices and ensure its disability reform agenda reflects the diversity of the individuals it represents.

“Without dedicated, inclusive dialogue, Australia will inevitably follow the footsteps of New Zealand and the United Kingdom — enacting social policy which not only leaves behind the most vulnerable members of its labour force, but opposes a human rights framework underpinned by choice and control.”

– Our Voice Australia representative, Amy Clark (advocate)

“I am proud to stand alongside my fellow Disability Social Enterprise employers in reaffirming our commitment to the human rights of people living with disability in employment.

“We believe that every person has the right to meaningful, valued employment, and we will continue to advocate for this until it becomes a reality for all Australians.

“Together, we can create a society where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their abilities. Let us work towards a future where employment is a right, not a privilege.”

- CEO of WDEA Works, Tom Scarborough (co-signatory), Warrnambool, Victoria

“People without proper understanding of how modern Supported Employment works have been insinuating for far too long that the system is broken.

“The results of feedback from those who actually access the system would completely refute that.

The system can absolutely be optimised for even better results, but surely the voice of the actual participant must be heard.”

– Help Enterprises CEO Denver Fresser (co-signatory), South East Queensland “It is important for meaningful actions taken by government to validate supported employment as a genuine choice for thousands of Australians living with intellectual disability.”

– Flagstaff Group CEO Roy Rogers (co-signatory), Wollongong, Shoalhaven, NSW

Note to reporters: Endeavour Foundation’s CEO is available for interviews by appointment.

Media Contact: / 0472 809 503

Consensus Statement on Disability Social Enterprises

Disability Social Enterprise employers have participated in a second Futures Forum, reaffirming their commitment to the human rights of people living with disability, in employment.

We also considered the work of the Disability Employment Roundtable and the Disability Reform Council in developing and progressing the Supported Employment Principles.

We agree with the sentiment behind the Supported Employment Principles and welcome them as a guide for reform in the supported employment sector.

We remain concerned about a lack of broad and deep engagement with people who live with intellectual disability in creating the Principles. It is ill-conceived for governments to attempt sector reform without establishing broadly accessible communication channels, sharing information in accessible formats, and directly engaging with people who work or are considering work in supported employment.

We ask that governments recognise and seek out the unique perspectives of people living with intellectual disability. The experiences of people with physical, sensory and psycho-social disability are also valued, but cannot be used as an easy substitute for understanding the experiences of people living with intellectual disability.

We call on all Australian governments to develop co-designed, detailed, timely and measurable action plans, to show that their commitment to the Supported Employment Principles is more than words.

We are asking governments to commit to comprehensive dialogue, with people with disability, who work in social enterprises. Royal Commission recommendations are to be presented to supported employees and their employers for input, prior to the government agreeing to recommendations which could adversely affect their employment. They face the greatest barriers in obtaining accessible information about work options, expressing employment aspirations and being appointed to mainstream jobs.

For too long the employment of people living with disability has been ignored. While most members of Australian society have benefited from record low unemployment in recent years, the rate of unemployment for people living with disability remains stubbornly high and has improved by only 3% in the past 30 years.

In the context of national economic challenges and concerns about NDIS sustainability, there are strong economic reasons for governments and employers to support more people with disability to take up good jobs of their own choosing.

We call on Federal, State and Territory governments to translate the Supported Employment Principles into meaningful actions and understand the powerful role they can play in changing social attitudes.

Meaningful actions include:

  • Establishing co-design working groups in each jurisdiction, enabling governments to genuinely hear the views of people living with intellectual disability with regards to employment supports,
  • Investigating programs with a demonstrated record of success in delivering sustainable, positive and valued employment for people living with intellectual disability, in Australia and internationally,
  • Working with employment providers, carers, people living with intellectual disability, industry and small business groups to design sustainable and positive employment in the public service and the private sector, through recruitment, onboarding, training and ongoing supports,
  • Committing to identify public service roles which align with the interests, skills and support requirements of people living with disability,
  • Partnering with employment providers to pilot programs for the employment of people living with intellectual disability in public and private sector roles,
  • Establishing and publicising achievable, measurable targets for public and private sector workforce inclusion of people living with disability
  • Reporting progress on these actions after one, three, five and seven years.

We look forward to working with Australian governments, people who live with intellectual disability, and carers, to collectively improve supported employment outcomes.

For more information about the Consensus Statement or the Futures Forum contact the convener:

David Swain
Endeavour Foundation CEO


Updated 14 April 2023


Social Enterprise



Nicole Bruce, CEO

Hoxton Industries


Sydney, NSW

Ann-Maree Colborne,

Marriott Support Services


Cheltenham, Victoria

Phil Hayes-Brown, CEO

Wallara Australia


Dandenong, Victoria

Michael Merrylees,
General Manager -
Commercial Enterprises



Wagga Wagga – Riverina Region, NSW

Nadine Stephen, CEO



Launceston, ACT

Steven Johnston, CEO

Connecting 2 Australia


Frankston, Victoria

Tyrone McCuskey, CEO

McCallum Disability Services Inc,
Incorporating Ballarat Regional
Industries Inc


Western Victoria

Simon Rowberry, CEO



South Australia

Roy Rogers, CEO

The Flagstaff Group


Wollongong, Shoalhaven, NSW

Lachlan Hodgson,
General Manager
Business Enterprises




David Kazakoff,
General Manager,
Employment Services

The Bridge Inc


Dandenong, Victoria

Denver Fresser, CEO

Help Enterprises


South East Queensland

Chris Christodoulou, CEO

Greenacres Disability Services


North Wollongong, NSW

Glen Hodgkin, CEO



Nunawading, Victoria

Kevin McGuire, CEO

Wangarang Industries Ltd


Orange, NSW

Joanne Jessop, CEO

Multicap Group


South East Queensland, Victoria

Jon Adams,
General Manager
Customised Employment

Ability Works Australia


Kew, Victoria

Theresa Desmond, CEO

OC Connections Ltd


South Oakleigh, Victoria

Jacquie Thomson, CEO

Ability WA


Perth, WA

David Swain, CEO

Endeavour Foundation


Regional Queensland, Brisbane,
Sydney, Melbourne

Penny Poulton,
General Manager

Willing and Able Foundation


Port Macquarie, NSW

Tom Scarborough, CEO

WDEA Works


Warrnambool, Victoria

Myron Mann, CEO

Bedford Phoenix Inc


Panorama, South Australia

David Isbel, CEO

Valley Industries Ltd


Taree, NSW

Sonya White,
General Manager

Endeavour Industries Goulburn



Goulburn, NSW

Florence Davidson,
Executive Officer

Christie Centre Inc


Mildura, Victoria

Megan Walther,
Assistant Manager
Employment & Training



Broadmeadows, Victoria

Lee Broomhall, CEO



Western Australia