Disability Services Amendment (Linking Upper Age Limits for Disability Employment Services to Pension Age) Bill 2017

Bills Digest no. 83, 2016–17

PDF version [481KB]

Anna Dunkley
Social Policy Section
29 March 2017



Purpose of the Bill


Disability Employment Services
Age Pension changes

Key issues and provisions

Committee consideration

Policy position of non-government parties/independents

Position of major interest groups

Financial implications

Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights


Date introduced: 16 February 2017
House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Social Services
Commencement: The later of the day after Royal Assent is granted and 1 July 2017.

Links: The links to the Bill, its Explanatory Memorandum and second reading speech can be found on the Bill’s home page, or through the Australian Parliament website.

When Bills have been passed and have received Royal Assent, they become Acts, which can be found at the Federal Register of Legislation website.

All hyperlinks in this Bills Digest are correct as at March 2017.


Purpose of the Bill

The purpose of the Disability Services Amendment (Linking Upper Age Limits for Disability Employment Services to Pension Age) Bill 2017 (the Bill) is to amend the Disability Services Act 1986 (the DS Act) to change the upper age limit for people receiving rehabilitation services provided by the Commonwealth to the ‘pension age’ as defined in the Social Security Act 1991 (the SS Act).


The DS Act is the legislative basis for the Commonwealth to fund services for people with disabilities. Part III of the DS Act outlines a range of rehabilitation services that may be provided if the Secretary of the Department of Social Services (DSS) considers them necessary or desirable, including:

(a) employment and vocational training, educational courses and programs, and mobility and other independent living training;

(b) diagnostic and assessment services, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and counselling and social work services;

(c) accommodation, transportation and personal support services;

(d) prostheses and aids, including:

(i) home and work‑place modifications; and

(ii) modifications to vehicles, appliances and equipment;

(e) the maintenance and repair of prostheses and aids;

(f) books, tools of trade and other equipment and appliances;

(g) any other goods and services the Secretary considers necessary or desirable.[1]

The proposed amendments will ensure that rehabilitation services can continue to be provided to individuals under the Disability Employment Services (DES) program up to the Age Pension qualifying age as it increases incrementally from July 2017. This is a technical amendment that is unlikely to prove controversial.

Disability Employment Services

The Disability Employment Services (DES) program ‘provides support and assistance to people with disability, injury or health conditions to help them prepare for, find and keep a job’.[2] DES are delivered by a range of for-profit and not-for-profit organisations.[3] A discussion paper published by DSS in November 2016 stated there were more than 180,000 people currently registered to receive support through DES.[4]

The DES program consists of two types of services which support eligible people to secure and maintain employment in the open labour market. Employment Support Services (ESS) provides ongoing support at High, Moderate and Flexible levels to people with a disability that is likely to be permanent.[5] The level of service provided is dependent on the needs of the individual and their employer. The target group for these services does not have an upper age limit under Part II of the DS Act.[6]

The other service type under the DES program, Disability Management Services (DMS), provides occasional or non-ongoing support to people with a temporary or permanent disability.[7] The target group for these services under Part III of the DS Act only includes people less than 65 years of age.[8]

Age Pension changes

One of the objects of the DS Act is ‘to assist in achieving positive outcomes, such as increased independence, employment opportunities and integration in the community, for persons with disabilities who are of working age by the provision of comprehensive rehabilitation services’ (emphasis added).[9] The DS Act currently allows for the provision of rehabilitation services to people aged up to 65, which has been the age at which people have been deemed no longer of working age because they may have then qualified for the Age Pension.

However, as part of the Rudd Government’s 2009 pension reforms, amendments were made to the SS Act to increase the qualifying age for the Age Pension.[10] From 1 July 2017 the minimum age required will increase from 65 years to 65 years and six months, and the qualifying age will increase by six months every two years so that it will be 67 years from 1 July 2023.[11]

The Bill amends the DS Act to align the upper age limit for DES service provision to the Age Pension qualifying age, thereby ensuring continuity of service for working age people with disability.

Key issues and provisions

The DS Act does not currently include a definition of ‘pension age’. Item 1 of the Bill inserts a definition of ‘pension age’ into the DS Act which is the same as the definitions outlined in the SS Act dictionary.[12]

Item 2 establishes that the target group of Part III of the DS Act (Provision of rehabilitation services by the Commonwealth) includes people who have attained 14 years of age but have not attained pension age.

If the Bill is not passed, the target group of Part III of the DS Act will remain people between 14 and 65 years old. Therefore, from 1 July 2017 people aged from 65 years up to the revised pension age will not have access to rehabilitation programs or the Age Pension.

Committee consideration

The Bill has not been referred for inquiry and report by any parliamentary committee.

Policy position of non-government parties/independents

Neither the non-government parties nor independent members appeared to have commented on the Bill at the time of writing.

Position of major interest groups

At the time of writing, the Bill had not been the subject of substantial public discussion.

Financial implications

The Explanatory Memorandum states the Bill will result in ‘a total estimated cost of $4.6 million over the current forward estimates period’.[13]

Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights

As required under Part 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 (Cth), the Government has assessed the Bill’s compatibility with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments listed in section 3 of that Act. The Government considers that the Bill is compatible with human rights obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[14]


[1].         Disability Services Act 1986, subsection 20(2).

[2].         Department of Social Services (DSS), ‘1.1.I.95 independently of a program of support’, Guide to Social Security Law, version 1.230, DSS website, 20 March 2017.

[3].         DSS, ‘Disability Employment Services’, DSS website, 1 December 2016; DSS, ‘Disability Employment Services reform’, DSS website, [2016]. Current contracts for the provision of DES expire in 2018. In 2015 the Australian Government commissioned a review of the disability employment framework to consider developing a new model to be implemented from March 2018.

[4].         DSS, New Disability Employment Services from 2018: discussion paper, DSS, November 2016, p. 6.

[5].         DSS, ‘1.1.I.95 independently of a program of support’, op. cit.

[6].         Disability Services Act 1986, section 8.

[7].         DSS, ‘1.1.I.95 independently of a program of support’, op. cit. From 2015, people who had been registered with CRS Australia (formerly the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service) were registered with a Disability Management Services provider.

[8].         Disability Services Act 1986, section 18.

[9].         Disability Services Act 1986, paragraph 3(1)(f).

[10].      D Daniels, L Buckmaster and P Yeend, Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Pension Reform and Other 2009 Budget Measures) Bill 2009, Bills digest, 179, 2008–09, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2009, pp. 17–22.

[11].      Department of Human Services (DHS), ‘Age Pension’, DHS website, 10 March 2017; DSS, ‘ qualification for Age’, Guide to Social Security Law, version 1.230, DSS website, 20 March 2017.

[12].      Social Security Act 1991, subsections 23(5A)–(5D).

[13].      Explanatory Memorandum, Disability Services Amendment (Linking Upper Age Limits for Disability Employment Services to Pension Age) Bill 2017, p. 1.

[14].      The Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights can be found at the fifth page of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill (numbered as page 1).


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