End of an Era: AND founding Board members honoured

Fri 15 December 2017

John Bennett OAM, a founding Board Member of the Australian Network on Disability (AND) has stepped down from his position bringing an end to an era.

Alongside his brother Steven Bennett OAM, Suzanne Colbert AM, John Little, Kay and John Hartley, Susan Hughes and Di Agnew, the group formed AND’s very first Board.

Suzanne Colbert AM stands beside John Bennett OAM. John is holding a glass plaque.

Photo: 2017 Suzanne Colbert AM presents retiring Board Member John Bennett with an award to say thank you for making a difference.


Looking back to September 2000, when AND was incorporated, it has certainly come a long way.

According to John Bennett, the first objective was to create 500 jobs for people with disability, something that at that time was considered a stretch. “What AND has become - we just couldn’t have imagined.”

Recently AND celebrated its 200th member. All large organisations that together, employ approximately 1,530,525 Australians, which is 12.44% of the Australian workforce.

Employers Making a Difference

In 1985, brothers John and Steven Bennett started Benbro Electronics. In 1998, the organisation was announced as the state and national winner of the Prime Minister’s Employer of the Year Award in the small business division, for their leadership in the employment of people with disability. At around the same time, they met Suzanne Colbert in her role as CEO of disability employment service, Shore Personnel. They asked Suzanne to bring together a group of passionate business leaders and Employers Making a Difference, now known as AND, was started.

Group of people standing on stage with a plaque

Photo: 1998 L to R former senator Jocelyn Newman, AO, Susie Bennett, Steven Bennett, Andrew Booth, Ina Bennett, Suzanne Colbert AM, Hon Warren Truss MP, John Bennett.


 “We wanted to tell other employers about the benefits and make it easier for them to employ people with disability,” said John Bennett.

Benbro won the Prime Minister’s Employer of the Year Award again in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

The idea

John and Steven were inspired by their father who was injured in an explosion while serving in the air force. When he moved to Australia he found it difficult to find employment. His injuries changed how people treated him.

Steven said, “We wanted to turn our father’s scars into stars. When we started Benbro we made sure there were jobs for people with disability. What we did wasn’t particularly special. It is something we should all be doing.”

The idea behind starting AND was to support more businesses to employ more people with disability.

“We knew that signing up more Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) wasn’t going to have the impact we needed, so the idea was to bring some large players and CEOs on board,” said Steven.

When the CEO’s of Westpac, McDonald’s The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network, IBM, Compass Group, Sparke Helmore Lawyers and Australian National University signed the Employment Charter for people with disability in 2003 they became AND’s founding Platinum Members. They also invested in the organisation making it truly employer led.

Group of people standing for photograph in front of banner

Photo: 2003 L to R Philip Bullock - IBM, Michael O’Shaughnessy – McDonalds, Martin Bowles -NSW Department of Education and Training, David Morgan AO – Westpac Group, John Bennett OAM, Steven Bennett OAM, Dugald Russell – Compass Group, Gary Flowers – Sparke Helmore Lawyers and Emeritus Professor Kim Oates – The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network.

Funding our work

From small beginnings ($50 donated by each of the founding Board Members during their first meeting), a government grant helped to get things up and running. AND became self-funded in 2004.

In 2002 entrepreneur Siimon Reynolds nominated AND as the recipient of his winnings from the hit television show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? We’re fortunate that Siimon was successful and won an incredible $64,000. At the time, this provided two months’ operating costs.

Two people pose with a cheque

Photo: 2002 Siimon Reynolds presents Suzanne Colbert AM with a cheque for $64,000.


British Mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington presented at a fundraising breakfast in 2004, raising a further $80,000 towards operating costs.

man stands at a podium addressing a room full of people sat around tables

Photo: 2004 Sir Chris Bonington addresses guests at a fundraising breakfast seminar.

Making a difference

In 2017, Suzanne remains the founding CEO of AND. She has led the organisation to support more than 200 businesses, with Members in every state and territory. 

Australian organisations make up 25% of membership, with Federal Government at 25%, state and local government at 20%, multinational companies at 16%, and education and not-for-profit at 14%.

“Right from the beginning, Suzanne has believed in our goal. I have never seen such commitment and such courage,” said Steven.

John added, “There was no other person who could have done this.” 

According to Suzanne, you can never doubt the ability of a small focused group of individuals to make a difference.

“With belief, we can have a sustainable reality and achieve the equitable inclusion of people with disability in all aspects of business.







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