Hundreds of disability sector workers and their supporters rallied outside the Victorian state parliament on 12 May over the government’s plans to privatise Victoria’s disability support sector. Workers are furious about Labor premier Daniel Andrews trashing an election promise to keep disability services public. Shouts of “liar!” and “coward!” jumped out from the crowd whenever Andrews was mentioned.

A few months before he became premier in 2014, during an election campaign in which unions were battling Liberal Party plans to privatise the sector, Daniel Andrews publicly assured workers and families: “Under a Labor government, mental health care, disability care is not for profit and not for sale”.

Behind closed doors, the government said the same thing. Barry Fitton, whose son lives in a public residential care facility, told the rally that he took Andrews at his word. “We were invited to parliament house, where [he] promised us that his government, when they’re elected, would always have the interests of disabled people at heart.”

Instead, a year after Labor was elected, it announced that disability services would be thrown open to the market and private providers invited to tender to provide care for thousands of Victorians with a disability. The government has tried to link its privatisation plan to the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Lloyd Williams, secretary of the Health and Community Services Union, says the government’s attempt to hide its agenda behind the NDIS is a “sham” and a “lie”. The union insists that there is nothing in the terms of the NDIS funding agreement that requires state governments to sell off disability services.

“Let’s be very clear about what privatisation is all about. Privatisation is about driving down costs. Privatisation is about cutting costs”, Williams told the crowd. “In disability services how do you cut costs? Well 85 percent of service delivery is labour, you cut costs on the backs of disability support workers … by cutting workers’ pay and conditions, you can drive down the unit price of service delivery. That’s what this is all about – nothing more, nothing less.”

Kareena McLurg, a disability support worker, told the rally that public disability support services are the safest and best option for people with a disability, particularly those with high care needs. “We want to support our residents to live their lives, make their choices and make the most out of the one life they have, just like the rest us.” She invited the premier to meet with workers and families to “explain why you’re placing all Victorians who have a disability at risk”.

The families of many people currently being supported in the public disability sector share workers’ fears about what privatisation will mean for service quality. “I encourage you to fight right until the end; we’re right behind you, we’ll come, we’ll join with you and we hope you win”, Barry told the rally.