National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy

Release of the National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy

As part of the Social Inclusion Agenda, the Australian Government has developed a National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy (the Strategy). The Strategy’s development involved consultation with consumers, peak bodies, employers, state and territory governments and experts.

The Strategy aims to address the barriers that are faced by people with a disability and/or mental illness that make it harder for them to gain and keep work.

The Strategy was released by The Hon Bill Shorten MP, former Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services and Senator the Hon Mark Arbib, Minister for Employment Participation, on September 14, 2009.

What is in the NMHDES?

The Australian Government has developed initiatives to ensure Australians with disability and mental illness have improved opportunities to search, find and maintain employment.

Strategy elements include:

  • $1.2b in employment services for people with disability. These new Disability Employment Services will provide more personalised services for job seekers and more support to employers;
  • The 2009/10 Budget committed $6.8m for a pilot program to assist 1000 people with disability in receipt of the Disability Support Pension to demonstrate their skills;
  • The Australian Public Service Commission has been tasked with developing appropriate training and best practice for Australian Public Service agencies and managers;
  • A new Employment Assistance Fund brings together resources from the Workplace Modifications Scheme and the Auslan for Employment program, making it easier for employers, people with disability, and employment providers to access assistance;
  • An Innovation fund will help more people with disability into jobs by funding innovative projects that remove barriers to employment; and
  • The Australian Government continues to develop a National Disability Strategy to increase the social, economic and cultural participation of people with disability.

Why is a strategy needed?

Having a job is an essential part of social inclusion for people with disability. However, the rate of employment of people with disability and mental illness is still well below that of people without disability. For example, in 2003 the labour force participation rate for people with disability aged 15 to 64 years was about 53% and the unemployment rate was 8.6%. This is compared to over 80% and 5% respectively for people without disability. People with disability have lower participation rates in education, and the number of people with disability in receipt of Disability Support Pension has increased by over 36% in the past 10 years.

Strategy Development

The Terms of Reference for the Strategy were released on 15 February 2008.

Setting the direction

On 22 December 2008, Hon Bill Shorten MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services and the Hon Brendan O'Connor MP, the former Minister for Employment Participation, released a discussion paper that sets the direction for the National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy.

Public consultation and submission process

To ensure the Strategy is practical and effective, the Government conducted a public consultation and submission process. A discussion paper was released to facilitate input to the Strategy from stakeholders. The submission process closed on 30 June 2008.

The response to the process was strong with 13 face to face consultations held around Australia facilitated by the Hon Bill Shorten MP and the Hon Brendan O'Connor MP to hear first hand what barriers exist for people with disability and/or mental illness and what needs to be done to address them.

A total of around 740 individuals, covering some 380 organisations, attended the sessions. Over 300 submissions were also received.

Both the written submissions and the public consultations identified positive and practical ways to help address barriers to gaining and retaining employment.


Job Access provides information for job seekers, employees, co-workers and employers. It can provide advice and handy tools for every stage of the employment process - preparing to look for work, how to look for jobs, recruitment, and support in the workplace.

Workplace adjustment tool provides advice and ideas on how to make appropriate modifications and adjustments in the workplace.

Australian Human Rights Commission
Advice on the operation of discrimination law and complaints. A Disability Action Plan is a strategy to help your organisation change business practices which might result in discrimination against people with disabilities. An Action Plan will help your business to identify these practices and offer a blueprint for change and showcase your commitment.

Opportunity - the business case for including people with disability as customers and employees


The Australian Network on Disability is a not-for-profit organisation, resourced by its members, to advance employment opportunities for people with disability.

Content Updated: 1 May 2013