THE Stockton Centre is scheduled to close between 2015 and 2018 under state government policies driven by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Plans for closing the disability group home have come and gone over the years and some families with members at the centre believe they had assurances of lifetime care on the site.
But the Public Service Association says the NDIS has finally given the state a way to close Stockton and other ‘‘large residential centres’’ such as Tomaree and Kanangra at Morisset.
Belmont North woman Wendy Cuneo says she and other Stockton Centre parents are alarmed at the prospect of the institution closing. She and her husband Clem have three children with disabilities, including David, who has been at Stockton 16 years.
Mrs Cuneo said ‘‘there isn’t a lot of time left’’, but families had been left in the dark about the changes and were disappointed to find the government going back on previous promises.
PSA regional organiser Paul James said there were 480 people at Stockton and another 100 between Tomaree and Kanangra.
The state government has confirmed plans to hand all disability services to non-government organisations by 2018, although it says the level of public funding will double under the NDIS.
Mr James said the union’s fears were confirmed last week when the director-general of the government’s Family and Community Services agency, Michael Coutts-Trotter, emailed staff about the NDIS.
‘‘By 2018 our department will no longer provide disability services,’’ Mr Coutts-Trotter wrote. ‘‘People with disability will get their supports from non-government organisations and, possibly, the Commonwealth.’’
Mr James said the union supported the funding principles behind the NDIS but the state government was using it as cover to privatise disability services, with an estimated 10,000 government jobs threatened by the changes.
The government said the changes would create another 25,000 jobs in the sector but Mr James said that even if the existing staff won work with the new employers, experience showed the pay and conditions would not match the public sector.
He said any new work was likely to be casual or part-time.
Newcastle MP Tim Owen dismissed the union’s concerns and said the changes were positive as Stockton, Tomaree and Kanangra ‘‘do not meet contemporary standards’’.
People with disability should be living in ‘‘more home-like accommodation with greater opportunities to access their local community’’.
A government spokesman, John Ryan, said the NDIS and the residential centre reforms were ‘‘separate issues’’, but agreed they overlapped.
Mr Ryan, an executive director working on the Stockton changes, said the government was still working on moving residents from the residential centres in Sydney and the detail of the Stockton move had not been worked out.
‘‘Exactly how and when is to be discussed with the families,’’ he said.
Mr Ryan said the government was buying blocks of land in various places to build community housing.
He said that while Stockton was a beach it was too isolated and far from being an ideal place for community housing. It was a quirk of history that virtually all former asylums – including the three involved here – were built on waterways.
Mr Ryan denied any of the changes were driven by a desire to sell sites to developers.
‘‘This is not about the real estate,’’ he said. ‘‘The simple truth is there is no agenda. Or, rather, the primary agenda is giving better services to people with disability. I’ve got no instructions to sell [Stockton]. It’s not relevant.’’