By Anna Patty
The NSW government plans to transfer all its disability services to the private sector from next year in preparation for the introduction of the national scheme, DisabilityCare, in 2018.
Public service workers are concerned the transfer will mean a cut in their pay and conditions. The transfer is expected to include the redevelopment of group homes such as Stockton in Newcastle.
The assistant general secretary of the Public Service Association, Steve Turner, said the change would lead to a loss of expertise and experience within the public sector.
”The NSW government was the first to sign up to [DisabilityCare] and we now see that was because they plan to privatise a significant public service by transferring the provision of disability services to the private sector,” he said.
”The claim of extra funding by the federal government to provide better disability services is being used to privatise a major public service by the NSW government.”
The Minister for Ageing and Disability Services, John Ajaka, said more than 60 per cent of disability services were already provided by non-government organisations.
Mr Ajaka has introduced a bill into Parliament which is expected to pass through the upper house this week. It allows the government to transfer services to the private sector from next year until 2018 when DisabilityCare is due to be fully implemented. Mr Ajaka said the national scheme would create as many as 25,000 new jobs.
”It’s really important that this bill is not held up so the NDIS transition can start,” he said.
”Staff transitioning to the non-government sector will have access to the same entitlements that they currently have.”
Kerry Stubbs, the chief executive officer of Northcott, a not-for-profit agency which has delivered disability services for decades, said: ”We are ready, willing and able to take on government-run services”.
Ms Stubbs said the legislation, if passed, would deliver the Productivity Commission’s recommended removal of the government as the main service provider, creating greater competition among disability services.
“More competition means more choice and opportunity for people with disabilities,” she said.
The opposition spokeswoman on disabilities, Barbara Perry, said the legislation would give the government the flexibility it needed to implement the national scheme.
”While we acknowledge the need for flexibility, we also recognise the need to keep our best and most experienced workers in the disability sector,” she said.
”This needs to be done on the basis of trust and this won’t happen if the government pushes the legislation through too fast. They need to put more time into explaining the framework behind this legislation and negotiating the way in which this will happen.”
John Della Bosca, campaign director for Every Australian Counts, said DisabilityCare was designed to ”shift choice and control to people with disability and their families”.
”This requires a market where disability services are diverse … This is not possible when a single provider, such as a government, dominates the market,” he said.