An open letter to Samantha Connor, disability advocate

Dear Samantha,

I appreciate your concern about the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities that has prompted you to write this open letter.

The Greens NSW support the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including the rights of persons with disabilities to equality of participation in all aspects of life, including through participation in the community and access to housing. At the moment the principles in our policy on disabilities include a number of statements about people’s rights and the need to remove barriers to inclusion; however our policies are currently under review and we are working to include even stronger recognition of the importance of these rights. Large residential centres (LRCs), as they are called now, are inconsistent with those rights. As the 2010 Ombudsman’s report that you mentioned in your letter states, they are incompatible with our commitment to the rights of people with disabilities, despite any improvements that have been made over past conditions.

Having made clear that position, I note that the issues regarding the Stockton Centre and the forum to be held in Newcastle have been complicated by the fact that there are several different changes involved, and it is important to separate them out. Along with the closure of LRCs, at the moment the Stockton Centre is affected by the move to a person-centred service model under the NDIS, as well as the NSW Government’s plan to transfer assets and services to the private sector and to no longer deliver government-run services.

The decision to close LRCs through a process of devolution and/or partial redevelopment was first announced in 1998 and has been a commitment of successive NSW Governments, but it is only recently that an announcement was made about the Stockton Centre closure and discussions with residents and families have only just begun. This has prompted concern among some of the residents and their families – as well as staff and members of the community – about what the announced changes mean, what choices and future living arrangements the residents will have access to, and how the current uncertainty will be resolved. As a Member of Parliament I have attempted to listen and respect these concerns and work to gain clarity from the Government.

I have visited the Stockton Centre and met with families who are concerned about the process and wish to remain in place. We are attempting to ensure that as families engage in the assessment and planning process that their choices – including in some cases the wish to remain at Stockton – will be respected while ensuring they have access to all necessary and appropriate services. The Minister has provided assurances that there will be some redevelopment on the site to develop appropriate accommodation for those who wish to remain in place, and we will continue to ask questions and seek further information to ensure that this process produces the right results for everyone. We have also heard concerns about the role that some services (e.g., dental care) provided at the Centre to the broader community and are attempting to seek clarification about the continuity of those services.

Unfortunately the issue of moving from LRCs to appropriate, individually-chosen housing models has become confused with some other issues where there are reasons for concern. Because these centres are within the area for the Hunter launch (or trial) of the NDIS, this process is taking place at the same time as questions are being raised about the adequacy of the funding model. Also, the NSW Government last year passed legislation that allows it to transfer assets and personnel to the private sector, and by 2018 there will be no state-delivered disability services. There are a range of industrial relations and workforce issues involved in this, and we are again working to ensure that the concerns of those who are affected will be addressed. My office is also raising questions about how the Government will address issues such as services that the non-government sector might be unable or unwilling to provide, such as in regional areas, and whether a workforce strategy is in place to meet the sector’s future demand.

I hope that this message clarifies our position and that the Greens are committed to respecting the rights of people with disabilities and ensuring the best outcomes in accommodation and services for all people with disabilities. I will include some links below to questions I have asked in the Parliament as part of this process of seeking to ensure that the processes taking place are being monitored and producing the best possible outcomes.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any further issues you would like to discuss.

Jan Barham, the Greens NSW spokesperson on Disability Services

See also Senator Rachel Siewert’s open letter.