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Tuesday, 31 March 2015 00:00

Competition must inform and empower consumers

“UnitingCare Australia welcomes competition if it improves quality and leads to increased choice, control and diversity for people using community services,” said Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director of UnitingCare Australia, in response to the final report of the Competition Policy Review.

“The experience of our agencies is that where consumers have been given choice, we have been driven to make sure we are providing what our clients actually want and need, not just what we have assumed is in their best interests.”

“Therefore we welcome the focus in this report on the role of competition in increasing choice, control and diversity for people using human services. We want to see people being able to choose the care that best suits them.”

“However, as the report acknowledges, it is critical that people’s choices are informed and empowered. Vulnerable people who have had minimal capacity to exercise choice in their lives may require support to gain the skills, capability and confidence to choose services that will meet their particular circumstances.”

“If competition is introduced to human services, it does not negate government responsibility to ensure quality access to services for all. We are pleased to see that the final report of the Competition Policy Review recommends that government should retain a stewardship function in human services, but we believe that the role of government in commissioning human services needs to be further examined,” said Lin Hatfield Dodds.

“One issue that does not receive enough focus in the Competition Policy Report is a recognition of the unequal position government is in when contracting services. Their market power can negatively impact on competition and the delivery of empowered choice for consumers. The Government should look to establish itself as ‘model contractor’ by obliging itself to: respect the independence of the contracted party; provide scope for genuine negotiation; and allow all parties to seek fair and reasonable terms and conditions.”

“Where market distortions exist, corrections are needed. For example, if the Government pursues competition policy in human services, they will need to ensure that quality services continue to be provided in remote areas. We are pleased to see this challenge receiving attention.”

“Competition mustn’t become a blunt instrument for driving down costs. If competition is based simply on price, or outcomes are not broad enough, it can do more harm than good. Competition in human services should be used to drive innovation, client-focussed care and higher quality provision. This is difficult, but essential,” said Lin Hatfield Dodds.

“Wherever competition is introduced to human services it should be done so in a way that enables better choice and better quality of care for the people who rely on those services.”