PREMIER Barry O’Farrell signed two major reforms with the former federal Labor government in the past year – the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski education reforms.
Both schemes are designed to put more money into their respective systems.
Imagine the outcry if we later found that the Gonski reforms also involved the state government shutting down or privatising the NSW education system? Gonski does nothing of the sort, of course. But when we get to the NDIS, we find that’s exactly what’s happening.
I must admit to not paying a great deal of attention to the NDIS when it was announced but I was pretty sure I had not heard anything about the state government exiting the disability sector, costing 10,000 public servants their jobs.
But investigations last week for a series of articles on the Stockton Centre showed it was indeed the case.
Earlier this month, the director-general of the government’s Ageing, Disability and Home Care agency, Michael Coutts-Trotter, sent an email to staff signed ‘‘with my best regards’’.
In it, he confirmed: ‘‘By 2018 our department will no longer provide disability services. People with disability will get their supports from non-government organisations and, possibly, the Commonwealth.
‘‘One thing is crystal clear,’’ Coutts-Trotter wrote.
‘‘To make sure there’s no disruption ... we have to encourage as many of our staff as possible ... to move to the non-government sector as NSW moves out of direct service delivery.’’
This confirmed fears the main union involved, the Public Service Association, had held since learning about a heads of agreement signed in December last year by Premier O’Farrell and the then prime minister, Labor’s Julia Gillard.
This said: ‘‘Following the commencement of the full NDIS, the NSW government will not provide any residual specialist disability services or basic community care services.’’
Even so, the scale of the changes were such that I still expected a call from the government to tell me I was wrong.
It never came, although I was rung by Newcastle MP Tim Owen and a couple of highly-ranked bureaucrats, all telling me things would be better under the NDIS because people could choose their own services.
I hope they are right, but that is not the point.
What worries me is how a government can make such a dramatic policy decision at a likely cost of 10,000 public sector jobs and not tell anyone about it for 10 months.
On Thursday, the office of new Disability Services Minister John Ajaka insisted the decision was well known and promised to send me the press releases.
Five articles arrived, only one of which was from the state government, and none mentioned anything about an end to state-run services.
Indeed, one, a federal overview, said: ‘‘Services would be provided by non-government organisations, disability service organisations, state and territory disability service providers, individuals and mainstream businesses.’’
And the federal Productivity Commission, which wrote an influential report in the lead-up to the NDIS, said in that report that private agencies may be ‘‘unwilling or unable’’ to take on ‘‘clients with highly complex needs or challenging behaviours’’ and that government agencies may be the ‘‘only tenable’’ service provider.
But not in NSW, apparently. It may be, as the government says, that 75per cent of disability services are already private and that full privatisation will be a massive improvement.
I hope so, because the idea of telling 400,000 of the nation’s most disabled people that they are now in charge of their own care, and leaving them to the mercy of a private market, worries me deeply.