Lies and lucre

Families of Stockton Centre residents say the government is selling them out for commercial gain.

Wendy Cuneo and her son David, a Stockton Centre resident. photo: ryan osland, newcastle herald
Wendy Cuneo and her son David, a Stockton Centre resident. photo: Ryan Osland, Newcastle herald

As the state government exits disability services it appears set to break another promise and close the Stockton Centre, which houses about 400 people with disabilities.A government official has denied the motive is to sell the prime beachfront site near Newcastle to a housing developer.

Soon after winning the 2011 election the Coalition government recommitted to keeping Stockton open – noting that it needed upgrading. However, in October, Minister for Disability Services John Ajaka said Stockton residents would have to leave by 2018 when the centre would be “redeveloped”.

The government will not commit to some form of accommodation for disabled people being available onsite after the redevelopment, the Newcastle Herald has reported.

The paper quoted a government official working on the Stockton redevelopment, John Ryan, as saying that while Stockton is a beach it is too isolated and far from being an ideal place for community housing. He denied any of the changes were driven by a desire to sell sites to developers.

“This is not about the real estate,” he said.

Gregory Howley’s brother Doug has been a resident of the Kanangra Centre and Stockton Centre for 50 years.

Mr Howley wrote to the Newcastle Herald: “As recently as April 2011 we were told that residents would not be forced out. The Stockton Centre would remain open for as long as residents needed.

“Now it seems that was a lie, with a closure date of 2018 again proposed. The families learned this from a report in Thursday’s Newcastle Herald, not from the government.

“Doug requires 24-hour supervision and care in a secure environment and this is provided by the state via the wonderfully dedicated staff at Stockton.

“Stockton has been home for most of Doug’s life and the staff there are very much part of his family.”

Mr Howley says residents contribute to the cost of their accommodation and upkeep from their Commonwealth Disability Support Pensions.

“It is a good system that private operators with a profit motive could not match.

“How ironic, that the National Disability Insurance Scheme initiative may be the window of opportunity for New South Wales to push through its economic rationalist agenda, at a cost to some of those the scheme was designed to help.”

In a letter to Minister John Ajaka, Wendy Cuneo said she had a son at Stockton and a daughter in a group home and had experience of both systems.

“The NGOs [non-government organisations] pick and choose whom they want,” Mrs Cuneo said. “What happens if after moving our people into another home, the NGO decides it can no longer support that person?

“This has happened to us three times and each time a person is moved, their mental health deteriorates. These are people we are talking about, not pawns in a chess game.”

Meg Panov, the mother of another resident, told the Herald that community agencies would not be able to handle some clients.

“My son was taken out of community care by two policemen in a paddy wagon 22 years ago because they couldn’t handle him and the only place he could go was Stockton,” she said.