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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3482


Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaDeputy Speaker) (12:33): I rise this afternoon to speak on this cognate debate on the Aged Care (Living Longer Living Better) Bill 2013. I also acknowledge, as the member for Shortland did, the member for Mackellar, who was an aged-care minister in the John Howard government. She did an excellent job and was acknowledged by the other side of the House. I have recently had the member for Mackellar, who is now the shadow minister for seniors, in my constituency. We were certainly welcomed very warmly out there and we certainly saw some of the aged-care challenges that we have in rural communities for what is across Australia an ageing population.

This Aged Care (Living Longer Living Better) Bill 2013 is a package of five bills and does not resolve many of the outstanding viability issues for providers, and I want to touch on a few of those particularly in rural communities.

At this most critical time, as a result of the unprecedented demographic change occurring in Australia, investment in the aged-care sector is imperative. Communities across my electorate want to have an aged-care facility where they can look after their seniors as they grow older and need more care and have to leave home for that care. It becomes a pride of their community. It also keeps their communities together. Because, without that aged-care facility, people have to leave their homes, their communities and their extended families and go to where there is an aged-care facility that can accommodate them.

This original reform package was announced by the government in April of last year, over 12 months ago. Yet it has taken the government a year to bring legislation to this parliament so that the opposition can look at it and see what we can do in relation to this aged-care reform. Now it wants to ram these bills through the House without proper consideration. They have had over 12 months to deal with the reform and yet here we are with just four weeks to run in this House before the House is prorogued and the election is called to deal with one of the most critical issues that this nation has to address—that is: how are we going to fund and support our seniors and people who require aged-care services?

One of the failings in the aged-care reform package that this government is missing is the failure to reduce red tape. This is something that the sector has been urgently requesting from government; to eliminate red tape. The sector is already wallowing in red tape. This package will actually heap more red tape on them, and more bureaucrats to deal with it

After the reviews, inquiries and talkfests, the government has ignored the bulk of the Productivity Commission's report by cherry picking just a few of its recommendations—not all of the recommendations, just a few. This is not real reform. This is another Labor Party smoke-and-mirrors trick.

I know that the member for Mackellar and many on this side of the House—and, I am sure, many on the other side of the House—have had aged-care providers come to them and identify some of the problems that this government has not addressed. And yet what the government is proposing will create more red tape and cost these providers more to deal with the regulation and meet accreditation guidelines and laws. A key issue that has caused major concern with the stakeholders is the decision by this government to rip $1.6 billion out of the ACFI. I guess it is in response to the way the government has mismanaged the economy and mismanaged its budget—so it looks for savings and is going to rip $1.6 billion out of this sector, a vital sector in the Australian community. Another issue is the $1.2 billion workforce supplement. It seems to me and many on this side of the House that the workforce supplement is about the unions, who really at the end of the day are the Labor Party bosses. That $1.2 billion workforce supplement is offered to the sector, but with conditions.

Australia is facing a major challenge with the median age of Australians growing all the time. In fact, in my electorate and in many rural communities it is rapidly increasing, more so than in many of our cities and larger regional centres. In my own electorate the median age is 38.2 years, which is 1.2 years above the national average. The Winton and Barcoo shires in my electorate have recently had some work done by the library to identify some of the issues of demographic change in my electorate. They found that the median age in those two communities is 43 years. In South Burnett, which the member for Mackellar, the shadow minister for seniors, visited with me recently—Kingaroy is the major centre there—the median family age is 42 years, as against the national average of 37 years. Australians are living longer, and that is the challenge. That is why this package of measures is so disappointing, with an opportunity lost to address some of the key concerns of the major stakeholders, the charitable organisations that provide the services and run very successful aged-care facilities. The government just has not listened to the message that is coming from our aged-care sector.

As I said a moment ago, a few weeks ago I visited Goondiwindi with the member for Mackellar. We visited the Kaloma Home for the Aged at Goondiwindi. It is privately owned and run by the community, and it is the pride and joy of the community. Over many years they have built on from the reforms that were introduced by the member for Mackellar when the coalition was in government, which were acknowledged while we were there. It is a magnificent facility. But they tell me this new package of measures in this bill is causing them major concerns and cost blowouts. An issue they raised with me was their significant concern with regard to the workforce supplement. They will miss out on the accommodation supplement despite having completed significant building developments and upgrades supported by the residential ratios. A number of the substantive concepts relevant to accommodation payments in the Living Longer Living Better reform package are contrary to the market driven model proposed by the Productivity Commission and, as Kaloma says, without significant amendment will deter future investment in this sector. That is the very opposite of what we should be aiming to achieve: to encourage more development of aged-care facilities. Because the government has not picked up on the recommendations of the Productivity Commission this package will deter future investment in this sector.

The provisions that introduce controls for setting accommodation payments should be removed and replaced with a market-driven model where the providers set a price, as proposed by the Productivity Commission. The board of management of the Kaloma Home for the Aged at Goondiwindi support that. That is what they would like to see. The government's aged-care reforms require that accommodation supplements will be reduced by 25 per cent where facilities have fewer than 40 per cent financially disadvantaged people in occupancy. So what they are saying is supplements will be reduced by 25 per cent if they do not have 40 per cent of financially disadvantaged people in occupancy. In a sector that is dominated by religious and charitable organisations, the government really does need to only provide a reasonable accommodation supplement to promote investment that goes to support the financially disadvantaged who, when they do need an aged care facility, are going to be looking to the charitable organisations who run these facilities to support their needs.

The other thing I have found in many parts of my electorate is multipurpose health services. These are an excellent response. They are funded by the Commonwealth, and I acknowledge that, where the multipurpose health service is attached to the local hospital. But what it also identifies is that it enables communities that have a hospital, after consultation with the community, to provide some aged-care beds, particularly high-level care, for those communities where otherwise those people would have to leave that community. It is an excellent way to provide that very much needed service to those communities.

I have a number of them. I have been to a number of the consultative meetings. Only last week I was down at Surat, south of my home town of Roma, with the Queensland Minister for Health, Lawrence Springborg, opening the new multipurpose health service in Surat. It is a wonderful facility, purpose-built, added on to the hospital and one of the facilities there that enables the community to stay together rather than those people leaving Surat. It certainly supports families and extended families. I think there are six beds there, but it is not like a hospital environment; it is more like a home. It is a wonderful facility and I congratulate the design engineers and the Commonwealth for that matter, who have provided the funding which will be administered and run by Queensland Health because it is a Queensland Health hospital.

The other one, which is under construction at the moment, is at Injune. It underpins what I have been saying about providing services to our smaller rural communities. There is a hospital there and they had an aged-care facility: Mount Hutton. It was about 10 rooms and it was run by the Churches of Christ. But what they were finding with all the regulations they have is that basically it was becoming unviable, and they wanted to hand it back to the community. The community were unable to run it; it does require the knowledge of charitable organisations that have been running—and do successfully run—many in my electorate.

We went through a very difficult period, because it looked like there would be no aged-care facility in the town of Injune. It would shut: a wonderful facility, built by the community with money saved by the community. That is what underpinned a lot of our aged-care facilities in the past in many of our communities. It was money raised by the local community to build the aged-care facilities that look after the people as they aged in their towns. They recognise, as I do, that it is so important to keep families together in these smaller communities. Otherwise, it sees the deterioration of help for many and the dislocation of family life, if you are not able to keep communities together.

Luckily, we have been able to negotiate, through Queensland Health and the Commonwealth government, a facility where we could expand the hospital to include a multipurpose health service. This is now under construction. I am certainly looking forward to when it is completed and to attending the opening there, because I know what it means to the community of Injune and the surrounding district. I know it will be of the standard that we opened recently in Surat.

Similarly in Mitchell, just west of my home town, we are going to establish, through the Commonwealth funding as well as with Queensland Health, a multipurpose health service attached to the hospital. When they are attached to the hospital it means that the laundry, the cooking and the registered nurses are there and available all the time, 24 hours, seven days a week, to meet the needs of those who are residents in the aged-care section of the mulitpurpose health service.

I am very disappointed that this government has failed to pick up completely the recommendation from the Productivity Commission. The aged-care providers that I talk to are still very concerned that this is going to add more costs, more red tape and will make it even more challenging to keep many of these operations in rural communities viable. (Time expired)