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Stockton Centre delays and NDIA’s contracting of Serco causing disability sector concern

A LOUD ‘NO’: An early 2013 protest against the closure of the Stockton Centre. Five years on, Stockton, Tomaree and Kanangra still hold hundreds of residents.FRIDAY’S announcement by the National Disability Insurance Agency, that it was hiring an n subsidiary of the controversial British outsourcing companySercoto run its call centres nationally, has not gone down well in the disability sector.
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WA Greens Senator Jordan Steele-John led the charge, when he said: “People in the disabled community have been warning about lobbying by Serco with regards to the National Disability Insurance Scheme for years and their worst fears have now come true. The last thing disabled people need when trying to interact with the NDIAis to be treated as a commodity.”

The Coalition federal government, which inherited the NDIS from Labor, would presumably disagree with any contention that it was treating one of the most vulnerable groups in our society as a commodity.

But it may be that the arrival of such a behemoth as Serco –even if it’s only as a call centre operator –signals the start of a new era for the NDIS, which has dramatically increased the commercial opportunities for those who wish to make a profit by providing a service in the sector.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Profit is a wonderful motive when it comes to providing innovation in products and services alike. But as the banking royal commission is showing us all too clearly, too much freedom in the pursuit of profit –often because of a lack of contractual or procedural transparency –can quite quickly lead to the customer or client coming second.

And if there is one sector where care of the individual must be the primary concern, it’s in disability. While many people have had their lives enhanced by the NDIS, there are plenty of families who have found it a difficult road to travel, especially for those who are looking after someone with profound and complex disabilities.

The Stockton Centre may not have been a perfect organisation, but it was a long way from the Dickensian institution the NSW government painted it as when its closure was announced in 2013.

No-one is doubting the effort that the government has put into implementing its policy.

But it is equally fair to say that the task of rehousing the hundreds of Stockton, Tomaree and Kanangra residents is taking far longer than the government had insisted would be the case. Five years of uncertainty will be taking its toll on all involved.

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