Govt move to privatise homes for disabled
In a move which has serious implications for the disabled and their carers in NSW, the Carr Government has announced a step towards privatising the State's 250 group homes which currently house 1200 people with intellectual disabilities. Having failed ignominiously in his infamous bid to privatise the State's electricity services, NSW Treasurer Michael Egan and others now want the private sector to tender for the provision of care for the disabled in NSW. The result could see the breakup of the group home system, with charity institutions such as the Spastic Centre of NSW taking over the role currently played by the NSW Department of Community Services (DOCS), and with disabled residents who have established long-term friendships being forced to separate. Premier Carr has denied that the move would necessarily mean a downgrading of service for the disabled. With regard to the care offered by charity organisations, State Minister for the Ageing and Disabled, Faye Lo Po, is adamant that the change will better suit the needs of the disabled. Premier Carr noted with rather less certainty that: "sometimes they do it better." However, Helen Sears, chairwoman of the Council for Intellectual Disabilities, has drawn attention to the considerable differences between the level of care offered by government and non-government group homes and has called for an enquiry prior to the Government taking any action to implement the proposals. The decision will not only affect the 1200 residents of the State's group homes. At stake also are the jobs of some 4000 DOCS staff, who could find their services terminated. The proposal would see DOCS compete with private organisations for the work of running the group homes. However, the DOCS tender would be hamstrung by several factors. Although by no means well-paid, DOCS staff are, nevertheless, better paid than their charity organisation counterparts. Significantly, the Department of Ageing and Disability has criticised the resistance of group home staff to "more flexible staffing levels". The Director-General of the Department has stated that "we need to be assured by whoever is providing the service that they can adapt their staffing to meet the changing needs" and that "It's important to withdraw support as individuals are able to become more independent..." Translated, this means: "We need to be able to have more staff retrenched as we place more responsibility for caring for the disabled on those least able to take that responsibility — the disabled themselves and/or their carers." State President of the Public Servants Association, Maurie O'Sullivan, points out that the DOCS tender would of necessity have to include costs such as payroll taxation, which does not apply charity institutions. Some of the larger charity groups may also be able to economise on rent for the group homes, by utilising their own accommodation. In comparison, the DOCS accommodation is all rented. Despite the fact that the disabled will always be part of the community, successive State Governments have never purchased permanent accommodation for them. Loaded Mr O'Sullivan described the tender situation as unfair and "loaded against DOCS". However, the State Labor government appears to have underestimated the backlash against abolishing the current group homes system. Last week NSW State Parliament House was the scene of a vigorous demonstration by the disabled and their carers against the proposal, and the issue is likely to be fiercely opposed at the ALP State Conference in October. It was last year's ALP conference that saw the overwhelming rejection of Egan's electricity sell-off proposal.