Disability services are not for sale

Melbourne rally of disability workers and their families last December.

The Victorian government has turned its back on a major commitment to not contract out disability services to the private sector.

The Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) has been left feeling “absolutely betrayed” by the Daniel Andrews' government's decision to break an election promise that declared, “Disability is not for sale”. News of this proposal was not so much announced, as discovered in the closing paragraph of an unrelated document.

The discovery of this unannounced election backflip prompted several hundred disability sector workers and families impacted by the decision, to rally in Treasury Place on December 14.

The speakers included Deb Johnson, the mother of two disabled children, whose story and image was used by Labor before the election to add strength to their claims that they were opposed to the privatisation of disability care in Victoria. A clearly outraged Johnson said: “I feel betrayed. I heard Dan Andrews say the state is not for sale. I can't believe that he has broken his promise.”

Politicians breaking promises is nothing new, but to use the mother of two disabled children to spearhead the anti-outsourcing campaign while in opposition and then turn your back on her once in government, is possibly a new low for Victorian Labor. As a mother striving for the best possible care for her children, Johnson is concerned that “once the sector is contracted out, there will be no going back, standards will fall, wages will drop”.

She spoke of the beautiful connection between her sons and their skilled, professional workers, who go above and beyond their duty of care. “Agency staff will not know them, leading to an increase in challenging behaviours,” she said.

Johnston described the standard of care in the private sector as horrific. She expressed further outrage that this decision was made with no consultation and offered no choice.

“Jen”, a worker from Sandhurst in Bendigo, was also outraged. She described the campaign against privatisation dating back to the previous government. “In 2013 the Liberal government threatened to contract the entire disability sector. Daniel Andrews … stood by us all the way. He reassured families, workers and clients that Sandhurst will always remain a public sector facility.”

HACSU state secretary Lloyd Williams continued the theme of Labor's duplicity: “NGO's do not have the facilities that the state provides ... Andrews wants to wash his hands of the whole disability sector.”

A community can best be judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable members. Social responsibilities should never be defined by a profit motive. The Andrews government has deceitfully turned its back on Victoria's disabled community, their families and dedicated support workers.

Was this decision driven by budget constraint, or pressure bought to bear on government by private sector lobbyists keen to secure another revenue stream? As the privatisation of the WorkCover system in Victoria has tragically demonstrated, when profits are put first, people always come last.

HACSU has an online petition opposing the outsourcing of disability services here.

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