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Govt policy sparks concern for disability housing in SA


The Public Service Association and the Greens say about 500 people with disabilities have been left in uncertainty about the future of their public housing following a State Government decision to move a government-run accommodation service to the private sector.

The PSA and Greens MLC Tammy Franks have told InDaily that clients and their families in supported community accommodation were blindsided by a Government announcement earlier this month to transition the accommodation service to the non-government sector, despite the policy appearing in the Liberal Party’s “First 100 days” election platform.

Franks and PSA general secretary New Kitchin said clients and their families were under the impression that the accommodation service would remain unchanged under the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme as the Liberal Government had not adequately announced the policy or informed residents and their families of the changes.

Supported community accommodation provides services for people with disabilities to live as independently as possible through high support homes, group homes and individual living arrangements.

According to the Department of Human Services, it provides about 40 per cent of disability accommodation services in metropolitan and country South Australia.

The former Labor Government established a government corporation in February last year to ensure supported community accommodation remained a government-controlled service.

However, in an email sent to Department of Human Services staff on June 12, department CE Tony Harrison said the Liberal Government had scrapped the corporation.

“While we appreciate this is a change in direction for our department, it is in line with the NDIS vision that people with disability have choice and control over their supports, including the service providers who work in their homes,” the email said.

“Staff and employee associations will be consulted on how to best transfer clients and services to new management.

“Any changes will be made gradually and sensitively.”

Franks said despite the policy appearing in the Liberals’ election platform, the government had not provided sufficient notice to clients and their families that supported community accommodation would change under the new government.

She said clients and their families had not been informed or consulted before the decision was made and that community meetings with supported community accommodation staff had been “heated and emotional”.

“The Government has obviously announced this during the election but they announce many things during an election,” she said.

“As far as I know they haven’t informed the residents and families (and) if they’re relying on them following the Liberal Party website that’s not really due diligence.

“It’s not surprising but it is about the process and then there’s the fact that the corporation has now gone but we don’t know who the NGO would be.”

Franks said Labor established the government corporation because it believed an NGO could not sustain the services required by clients with the most complex needs.

She said she had not yet been provided with a Government timeline outlining when the state’s disability services would be transitioned to the NGO sector.

Kitchin said the change to supported community accommodation would affect approximately 500 people living with disabilities and 1400 staff.

“The Government’s announcement that it will no longer take responsibility for the care and support for these most vulnerable clients through a public sector mutual, but will farm out the clients to private NGOs has created enormous uncertainty for their future care and living arrangements,” he said.

“The one line about this matter in the Liberals’ 100-day plan was not given any focus by the new government.

“It is possible there will be significant changes to these clients’ living and support arrangements.”

Kitchin said clients and families had yet to be advised by the Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink that their accommodation services would be transitioned to the private sector.

He has called on the Government to advise clients and their families of its intentions, rather than leaving it for staff to inform their clients.

“A number of these clients have high needs and are advancing in age, some with parents who are quite elderly and who are concerned to ensure the security of their family members’ care when they are no longer here.”

Kitchin said the PSA was seeking to meet with the department urgently to raise its concerns.

“As a minimum, there needs to be a clear plan that gives certainty to staff and their clients and families,” he said.

In a letter sent to the PSA, Lensink said a timetable had already been established to transfer most of the state’s disability services to the non-government sector.

She said changes to supported community accommodation would not occur until the department had consulted with employees and other stakeholders.

In Parliament last week, Lensink was unable to answer questions calling on her to reveal if or when clients of supported community accommodation were informed of the Government’s decision.

She said the department wanted to retain skilled workers in the sector and affirmed no client would be forced to relocate or lose the accommodation place that they currently occupied.

“It is unfortunate if people are made aware of things not through the proper process and in an alarmist manner, but I am quite confident that the department, as the employer of these employees and the one that has the responsibility for the care and wellbeing of the residents and their families, is conducting this with the utmost sensitivity,” Lensink told Parliament.

“There is a massive need for skilled workers under the NDIS.

“The negotiations are going to be respectful and consultative with all the people who are involved in this process.”

InDaily has contacted Minister Lensink’s office for further comment but she did not respond before deadline.

The NDIS will be fully rolled out in South Australia by July 1.

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