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A week in the life…Suzanne Colbert

3 min read


Meeting with the new Minister for Employment Participation, Senator Mark Arbib today. The main purpose of our visit is to encourage the Minister to really consider the supply/demand strategies for the employment of people with disability.

It’s amazing to think that if you want to hire a person with disability you may have to deal with more than 200 organisations. It makes no sense. It’s time for some new thinking and new technology solutions rather than the same unworkable systems.

Some promising discussions, with one outcome agreed on the spot – it was agreed that the Prime Minister’s Employer of the Year Awards for the employment of people with disability be reinstated.

These awards have been great recognition for outstanding employers of people with disability in the past, so it will be fantastic to have them start up again. George Mifsud, HR Director from Compass Group, and John Bennett, our Chairman, were convincing when speaking about the key role that employers play in recruiting and retaining people with disability – an angle that hasn’t been given much thought by the government thus far.

I always remain optimistic, but after many years of meeting with government ministers, at the end of a ‘warm and fuzzy’ meeting you always walk out the door wondering whether you have made an ounce of impact and if anything will change. On this occasion, I suspect the bureaucratic processes will win.


For the first time we have ‘licensed’ one of our training packages. The goal is to help employment service providers to effectively work with employers to demystify disability and make it easy for them to recruit and retain skilled and talented people with disability.

The National Disability Co-ordination Officer program, which is hosted by the University of SA, will provide training sessions to the Disability Employment Network providers in our new package ‘Engaging and Supporting Employer Partnerships’.

I’m really feeling confident that the service providers will get great benefit and it will make it so much easier for employers to say yes to a candidate with disability looking for employment. We know that when you can facilitate a win/win situation, i.e. finding the perfect employee for the business and a great job for the candidate, that confidence increases and barriers are broken down.


What we know is that in large organisations the most important way to bring about change is to have senior leadership commitment.

This morning several senior leaders from government departments, along with ANU, are getting together to discuss how their strategies are progressing and to share ideas and stimulate discussion. The breakfast is being hosted in Canberra by the Department of Defence in the Australia Room – a truly salubrious room.

Many of our champions report their successes and this encourages us to work harder. I talk to them about my attendance at the United States Business Leaders Network on Disability meeting in Washington later this year and I’m delighted that Keith from ANU is interested in attending.

The hour and a half is over all too soon, we agree on the date and time for our next meeting and I leave feeling inspired by the genuine enthusiasm and determination of some of our senior public servants to really make a difference.


Meeting with a potential new member today – a medium sized government department that has some goals to provide inclusion for people with disability. I’m confident we can assist. I’m reminded that when organisations know what they want to achieve and can see a way to do it effectively and efficiently it all becomes relatively straightforward. There’s no need for organisations to be re-inventing their own wheel when our recent member survey has told us that the wheel is well and truly invented in Australia and we are turning it successfully.


Speaking at the Disability & Age Discrimination Summit in Sydney this morning, on disclosure of disability. It’s great to be on the platform alongside great achievers such as Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes and certainly Bill Shorten, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, has for a long time been the strongest politician advocating for people with disability.

My message for today is to encourage organisations to develop the behaviours, attitudes, systems and knowledge on how to encourage people with disability to disclose their disability and ensure they can get any reasonable adjustments they may need to assist them to achieve their full potential.

I know from experience that even with the best attitudes, unless you have the right systems in place, people don’t have the opportunity to turn their attitude into actions.

The week ended a little early on Friday afternoon to meet with the team to have a drink to celebrate two anniversaries and a birthday, and to farewell an employee.

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