The Guardian September 15, 1999


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.

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