Campaspe Shire considers petition in aged care and disability debate

By Lachlan Durling

MORE than 2500 signatures were delivered to Campaspe Shire Council to protest council’s in-principle decision to exit aged care and disability services.

Chief petitioner Marlene Orange addressed council at its most recent ordinary meeting and presented 2621 valid signatures from residents across the district voicing their concern that residents won’t receive the same level of care.

In her speech, Ms Orange said clients with workers from council would lose a local connection they are currently provided.

“The overwhelming feeling in the community is that the purpose of local government is to listen to its community, provide the services required and not outsource them,” she said.

“There is anger in the community that such an important decision around council withdrawing from providing aged and disability services was made in a closed section of the May 21 council meeting.

“At this meeting it was decided to keep the decision confidential until staff, clients and unions were informed.”

In response to this, council held community information sessions that were attended by a total of 137 people across Rochester (25 people), Kyabram (30 people in two sessions) and Echuca (80 people).

However Ms Orange said the communication of these meetings occurring was restricted due to the nature of how aged care services are provided.

“My aunt is in an aged care package so therefore didn’t receive any information on that meeting and was told to talk to her case manager,” she said.

“They were informed by council that there was no more information other than things won’t immediately change.

“The thing that I was astounded with was, I estimate at the Echuca meeting, there was at least 60 older people there or people who were certainly at the age that could be hearing impaired.

“And when I left that meeting there was a division of people saying they couldn’t hear or the ones that could said they felt like it was a political spiel.

“They felt like they were not getting all of the information, they felt like things were hidden, they felt like things weren’t transparent.

Campaspe Shire regulatory and community services general manager Paul McKenzie said the in-principle decision would save council money in the long term and alternate work would be readily available for current carers.

“Council operates a business arm where it is a provider of service on behalf of a number of agencies who purchase from us so (providers have) money provided by the federal government and they can purchase the service off any agency that provides home and community care,” he said.

“There are a number of private providers and on this occasion they have decided to purchase from the Shire of Campaspe.

“Really at any time (the provider) or the client could choose to use another organisation and take their money elsewhere. They are just purchasing from council on this occasion.”

Mr McKenzie addressed the claims of a lack of transparency and said council had an obligation to notify staff and clients before the decision could be made public.

“We have a range of obligations and our first obligation is to our staff. Under their enterprise bargaining agreement we needed to notify them first,” he said.

“If it was in a public forum our workers would have known through the media. So we needed time to tell our workers and explain to them what was happening and then send out information to our clients and try and get in front of the media reports and at least be able to provide information to (clients and staff) first.”

However Mr McKenzie could not guarantee if council did move to end their involvement in providing aged and disability care services, that clients would have the same carer.

“If it comes to occur that council is not going to provide the service any longer, the workers are really well-placed because of their excellent training and because there is a large shortage of workers in the field.”

“(It would be) highly likely that our workers, those who want to continue on, would be able to gain employment with an organisation.”

Council has noted the petition and will consider the findings of a report when the expressions of interest stage has closed.