A review of NSW Premier’s Disability Review


This report was commissioned by the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) earlier this year and was produced by Ernst and Young (EY). It is dated 8 July 2022.

The Premier’s Priority on Disability concerns employment of people with disability in the NSW public sector. The target rate by 2025 is 5.6%. The 2018 baseline rate was 2.5%. The figure was still at that level in 2021. The figure for 2022 is not yet available.

I read the EY review with mounting disappointment. It offered little more than a cold high-level analysis of a complex matter. It offered no useful insights in why there had been no progress. The recommendations are of little value because they perpetuate the problems with inclusion goals that are global – high level injunctions without practice guidance, and no clear guidance on accountability.

Here I want to reflect on those recommendations, and what could have been proposed.

The recommendations

  1. Implement a consistent definition of disability 
  2. Implement a sector-wide workplace adjustment passport
  3. Provide disability communications guidance 
  4. Improve recruitment guidance and practices 
  5. Implement sector-wide training to improve the capabilities of leaders and managers 
  6. Implement mechanisms to share best practice and maintain momentum across the sector 
  7. Incorporate accessibility into procurement and publishing processes 
  8. Co-design bespoke implementation planning for Health, Education and Stronger Communities Clusters to result in the largest impact 

They are not silly or pointless recommendations. But when one asks for a review on what hasn’t been happening, just coming up with a list of things one should do is hardly helpful. There is no apparent thought given to why there had been no progress on the Premier’s priority, or what had impeded progress.

To be fair, there are a few good observations, like the following ‘insights’ offered by staff interviewed, for example:

  • The workforce appears highly engaged and passionate about outcomes for people with disability, however a greater investment of time and resourcing could help them to be more effective. 
  • Embedding holistic change around diversity and inclusivity into organisational culture is variable and has been, at times, slow.

There was a corresponding set of findings against each ‘insight’. Here are 2:

  • Achieving transformation across the entire public sector will require cultural change that embeds inclusiveness into every level of all organisations across the sector, with visible leadership from senior executives through to recruitment managers. 
  • Although numerous examples of good practice exist across the sector, the system as a whole needs to develop stronger points of connection between organisations and clusters to identify, share, and adapt these examples to Cluster-specific contexts. 

There are, I think some pertinent questions to be answered:

  1. How should agencies provide more time and resources to make the work of DENs more effective?
  2. How do agencies act effectively to embed diversity and inclusion values and practices in their workforce cultures? 
  3. How do agencies ensure that leadership is visibly and demonstrably committed to disability inclusion?

In fact, one ‘finding’ strikes me as the most pertinent and potent and which could have been interpreted and crafted as the #1 recommendation. It is:

  • Achieving transformation across the entire public sector will require cultural change that embeds inclusiveness into every level of all organisations across the sector, with visible leadership from senior executives through to recruitment managers. 

And yet the best the report can come up with is Recommendation 5 – Implement sector-wide training to improve the capabilities of leaders and managers. I don’t flat out disagree with the recommendation, but its chance of success is low. This is because of several major concerns:

  1. It would take years to develop and implement at very considerable cost.
  2. Such training without cultural change being first embedded will not deliver the best value for money.
  3. Training must be voluntary and valued. To make that happen a lot of preparatory influencing must happen first.

The overall problem I have with the recommendations as a group is that they don’t form into an actionable strategy. For example, I agree a uniform definition of disability would be a good thing – but its not the #1 issue here. I would want to see a set of recommendations that identify the most pressing concerns that can be acted upon. This suggests to me that there are two sets of actions:

  • Procedural/administrative
  • Cultural/practice/experience

These must be considered separate and run concurrently, with clear guidance on intersection points.

The time problem

A report like this could have been written 3 years ago. In fact, it should have been. What it shows now is what it would have shown then. There would be a chance of hitting the target number by the target date if the sector had the report and acted upon it with intent and commitment. Even the recommendations, as they stand, and assuming they are accepted across the sector, can’t be implemented in a shorter timeframe.

For a variety of reasons, I have discussed at length in other essays, changing the workplace experience for people with disability is a complex affair. Time is only one of the resources needed. The others are commitment and attention. But neither are worth anything without time. 

The reality problem

Probably the reason there has been no sector-wide progress on the Premier’s priority on employing people with disability is that is hard. It takes time. Its takes resources. It takes caring. It takes leadership.

Globally it is recognised that inclusion – disability or otherwise – is dependent on effective, committed, and accountable leadership. It must be a priority. Resources must be provided. Organisational leadership must be held accountable.

This is an inescapable reality. It can lead people who do care to talk the talk, but cannot walk the walk because they are not able to, even though they want to – and cannot confess they can’t. It’s not a good place to be in, because it puts them in company with those unwilling to walk the walk. And we often can’t tell the difference.


I am disappointed that the NSW Premier’s Disability Review isn’t likely to be a useful tool for driving worthwhile action. I am, however, grateful that it exists as an official overview of the challenges and opportunities – though they must be reshuffled to reflect the practical priorities.

I sensed in the report a tension between administrators and practitioners. Seeing the target as numbers to be attained makes sense only if the human reality that underpins those numbers is genuinely inclusive and respectful. That tension is present in all aspects of public service. It is a natural dynamic that strives to balance compassion and means in ways that we can live with. 

This review struck me as giving a nod to the compassion side but coming down squarely on the means side. I suppose, given that it is a review of a failure to hit a target number, that risk was always there.

But let’s be very clear here. The failure to make any progress on the target number has not been a failing of compassion. Yes, the compassion side has been not very adept at times. But it has been having a go and succeeding at times. 

The means side has been the issue – a lack of resources and attention, and an unwillingness to make hitting a target an accountable matter. I am not suggesting that the means side is mean – just maybe it didn’t understand the amount of work needed to make the changes. If it had, it may have ensured that a target number about people didn’t forget the human character of that number.

I think, finally, while I appreciate the intent of the Premier’s Priority for growing the proportion of people with disability in the NSW public sector, it was poorly conceived as an idea. There was no clear strategic approach from the outset, and now we are all paying for that. The solution is hinted at in the EY review in Recommendation 6 – Implement mechanisms to share best practice and maintain momentum across the sector. But how? Would such an action be resourced properly, and practitioner led? Would there be accountability?

The frustrating thing about the Premier’s Priority from the outset has been a passive and general approach – as exemplified by the Age of Inclusion campaign from the PSC. A lot of resources were consumed developing a flawed product nobody seems to use. 

You can’t make this kind of change voluntary and optional. It must be well-led, adequately resourced, accountable, and part of core business.

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