Michael has a moderate intellectual disability and cerebral palsy. A business owner in Coffs Harbour, NSW, offered Michael a job shredding documents, despite the fact that Michael couldn't prepare the equipment, ensure he had the right documents or record the work he had done.
The owner offered Michael $1.85 an hour – which Michael and his guardians accepted. Michael gained the personal pride and social camaraderie that comes with paid employment, while continuing to receive graduated income support from the government. Had he not been given the job, he would have spent his days sitting around in an institution. And no other employer offered Michael a job, at any wage.
Gordon has a mild to moderate intellectual disability and is legally blind. A business owner in Stawell, Victoria, offered Gordon a lawn-mowing job. He would be constantly supervised, because he was unable to carry out necessary safety checks and preparatory steps, and had difficulty correctly interpreting instructions.
The owner offered Gordon $3.82 an hour – an offer Gordon accepted. Again, Gordon had much to gain from paid employment, and no other employer was offering Gordon a better deal at the time.
I have nothing but praise for the business owners who employed Michael and Gordon. After all, I didn't offer Michael or Gordon a better paid job. It would be rank hypocrisy for me to complain that the business owners didn't do enough for Michael and Gordon, when I did nothing.
Nonetheless, some people did complain that the business owners didn't do enough for them. They argued in the courts that Michael and Gordon should have been paid more. The first judge rejected this argument, but in an appeal to a full bench, two of the three judges agreed.
In light of the court's judgment, the Commonwealth government now advises business owners that if they employ disabled people, they need to pay them more.
We will never know how many disabled people now spend their days in an institution rather than a workplace because of this. I am pretty certain the number isn't zero.
It is also unknown how many of the people who campaigned for higher wages for the disabled have put their money where their mouth is by employing more disabled people. I strongly suspect the number is zero.
These campaigners believe that their utopian vision – in this case, a world where vast numbers of disabled people are remunerated generously in jobs tailored to their needs – can be achieved by decree.
But they are oblivious to the real world consequences of their decrees. Their behaviour is akin to banning bread and then responding to hunger by declaring, "Let them eat cake!"
To save the business owners in Coffs Harbour and Stawell from further harm, the Commonwealth government stepped in and paid the court-ordered costs to Michael and Gordon.
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