THE HERALD'S OPINION: Hunter out-of-home care provider quizzed over its operations

PRIVATISATION has been one of the most dominant political trends of the past 30 or so years. While some on the left still rally against privatisation in any guise, most people seem nowadays comfortable with privatising a host of services that were once run by government.

Recently, enthusiasm for privatisation has resulted in a wholesale overhaul of the disability sector, with the NSW government handing over all of its responsibilities in this area to a range of operators. A similar process is happening in the out-of-home care sector, and while a lot of the organisations, such as Life Without Barriers, are set up as not-for-profits, there are other groups that are privately owned and run with a firm eye towards making a profit out of the provision of services that are funded often entirely by taxpayers. One such operator is the Cardiff-based Premier Youthworks, which looks after about 80 children in the Hunter and the ACT. Late last year, Premier, along with Life Without Barriers, was examined by the ABC’s Four Corners, where questions were raised about the amount of money that appeared to be flowing to the company, in contrast with an alleged paucity of funds going towards the children in care.

A year later, new concerns have been raised about the company: concerns that the company’s sole director dismisses as coming from disgruntled former employees. This may be the case, but that need not necessarily mean that the concerns are unfounded.

In the wake of the Four Corners episode, the state government funding agency began a review of Premier, but as is almost invariably the custom in this regard, the government is refusing to say anything meaningful about its investigation. The Newcastle Herald accepts without reservation that the job that Premier and other agencies are paid by the government to do is extremely demanding. Many of the children have what are usually termed “complex and challenging behaviours”. Looking after them can be difficult, and sometimes dangerous, work.

But taking on this admittedly onerous role cannot become a rationale for excessive profit-taking. Premier has acknowledged a need for more “transparency” in its reporting, but unless the government provides a corresponding transparency when it comes to its dealings with subcontractors such as Premier, then the public has no real assurance that the system is working. Or, most importantly of all, that the children are being given the best care possible.

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