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Disability services withdrawal to go ahead in Canberra despite opposition

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Tom McIlroy
Wants a delay: ACT Liberals MLA Andrew Wall. © Karleen Minney Wants a delay: ACT Liberals MLA Andrew Wall.

The ACT opposition has backed calls by families of children taking part in early intervention disability programs for a one-year delay in the ACT government's withdrawal from services.

With Canberra set to become the first jurisdiction to accept all eligible people into the National Disability Insurance Scheme from July 1, the government is preparing to hand over services currently delivered by the Education Directorate for pre-preschool children to private providers from the start of the 2015 school year.

Services delivered by Therapy ACT staff will continue in their current form until the start of 2016.

More than 300 people have signed an ACT Legislative Assembly e-petition calling for the playgroups and other services to be maintained until private providers are established in the ACT, a development that Disability Minister Joy Burch believes will happen well before term one begins next year.

At a public forum held by opposition disability spokesman Andrew Wall on Monday, about 25 family members and representatives of organisations called for more information to made available on when and where private providers will be established.

Mr Wall told the meeting that his party was joining calls for a delay of one year, meaning government services would continue until the end of 2015. 

He said Ms Burch had failed to respond to an invitation to attend the forum and update families on the proposed withdrawal. 

"After listening to families affected by proposed changes to early intervention services, my colleagues and I are committed to ensuring that no one is left behind as a result of poor planning by the ACT government," he said. 

"My colleagues and I are calling on Katy Gallagher and Joy Burch to ensure that no service currently provided by Therapy ACT and the ACT government is discontinued until they have outlined to the community exactly how replacement services will be implemented." 

Mr Wall, and representatives of organisations including Autism Asperger ACT, said it was unlikely new organisations would be established and operational by the end of the year. 

Previously Mr Wall has indicated the phase-out was Canberra Liberal Party policy. 

In an interview with ABC Radio on April 3, he gave his support to a gradual phase-out of government involvement in service provision, saying it was "the appropriate thing to do".

A spokeswoman for Ms Burch declined to say why the minister did not attend Monday's forum.

It is expected new private providers will establish services in the locations currently used by the ACT government.  

"This was Mr Wall's meeting," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

"Minister Burch will be attending next week's forum with the NDIA and the NDIS taskforce.

"While we understand that some sections of the community are concerned about the change, the government is confident that services will be in place by term four this year and will be proceeding with the phasing out of services as planned." 

Parents and carers of children with autism or Asperger's are invited to attend the June 2 forum with representatives of Disability ACT and the National Disability Insurance Agency.
 

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