Barnett's drive to out-source services: What's at stake?

In comments to the Herald on March 13 condemning the Barnett government’s push to outsource human services to charities and other non-government organisations; it was careless of me not to stress that there are people in these organisations doing their very best with limited resources to help people in need.

Evidently Peter Tagliaferri and Steve McDermott from St Patrick’s Care (Socialist Crucified, Herald April 3) thought that I was criticizing their efforts. For the record; I’m sure people at St Pats are doing a power of good. Furthermore I was happy to make a small contribution to the Gimme Shelter concert by promoting it on my blog site, distributing the flyers and attending with friends.

But let’s not forget the context in which the comments were made. The state government is determined to privatise and out-source just about every human service it can. The main reason non-government organisations can provide a service cheaper is because their pay rates are about 70-80% of what a public servant would get for doing the same job.

Public servants have been told that where their job is out-sourced they will have to follow it to the new employer with no option of redundancy or redeployment. If they refuse they’ll be sacked. That’s right, accept a possible 20% pay cut or be sacked!

To top it off, for those left in the public service Barnett has proposed the Public Sector Reform Bill which will impose an industrial relations regime worse than the hated WorkChoices. All this has got nothing to do with delivering better services; it’s about cutting costs and smashing public sector workers’ rights and conditions into the bargain.

There are plenty of non-government organisations who openly admit that they simply don’t receive enough money to do the job properly or to attract and retain the staff they want. The problem with a system in which services are provided by a raft of under-funded and fragmented contractors is that it takes the focus off the failure of government to properly resource it.

While my talk about a return to the era of Dickens was laying it on thick, I have no doubt that this process is a stepping stone towards government trying to absolve itself of the moral responsibility to provide these sorts of services.

Compare the provision of care and therapy for children with disabilities in this country - provided by a mish-mash of government agencies, contracted non-government organisations and charities – with the British state which under the National Health Service legislation is obliged to provide this care to all its citizens for free.

A recent episode of Four Corners followed the stories of families who have left Australia for Britain so their children can receive the care that in this country only the very rich can afford. This is a disgrace.

Finally, while I appreciate the Herald’s cheeky sense of humour it was a bit insensitive to suggest that participants in this discussion are trying to “crucify” each other, on the day before Easter too! Or was the Herald alluding to the man who really was crucified for defending the poor and dispossessed?

I wonder what he’d make of WA. Thanks to a boom in the mining and offshore oil and gas industries there are rivers of gold flowing down St Georges Terrace, yet our society still can’t properly fund services for people with disabilities, the mentally ill, the aged and others who need our support.

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