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Wednesday, 18 June 1997
Page: 5741

Ms ELLIS(6.16 p.m.) —There are two more issues that I particularly want to raise in this debate tonight. The first one is the removal of particular areas of health concern from the Commonwealth to the states and territories. In saying that, I note that two particular programs—the immunisation program and the Aboriginal sexual health program—are to be retained by the Commonwealth. That is fine and I do not have a problem with that. There are very obvious reasons, particularly in relation to the immunisation program and the great debate around that, as to why that has been done and why it is a good decision.

But I really wonder how a government makes it decisions in this area. I understand that programs such as the cervical cancer program, the breast screening program, the national drug strategy, the HIV/Aids strategy and the national women's health program are all going to be allowed to slip through to the states and territories. I have serious concerns about this government's attitude about the role between it and the community when it looks at the way in which it wishes to govern and in which it wishes to deliver services to the community.

There are certain areas that I believe should either be retained by the Commonwealth or should only go through to the states and territories under very strict circumstances because of the need for equality of access to service and for equality of delivery and level of service that is going out to the community. I question very sincerely why this government can make a decision to retain certain programs and not others. Is it because some are more important? Is it because some are more sexy out there in the community? What is it that makes a Commonwealth government decide that it is going to retain its role with the immunisation program but it is not going to retain the same level of role with cervical cancer or breast screening or the HIV/Aids strategy? I would like to hear some detail on how this particular area of the government's health portfolio operates.

I want also to quickly touch on—and this was brought up earlier tonight—the issue of nursing homes. In the debate in the House, in the detailed stage of the particular bill and the budget decisions that surround it, there was a great deal of screaming and carry-on from the government benches about our shadow minister and our side of politics running scare campaigns. I feel very strongly about that accusation. I had the opportunity the other day, and I repeat it here, to say that the comments coming to me—as a federal member in this parliament representing a constituency from the ACT—were coming not from my shadow minister but from the community. I want to talk about that.

The people who were presenting their views, concerns and worries about the whole implication of this strategy include Aged Care Australia; the Mirinjani Retirement Village at Weston, which is within the ACT; the Australian Catholic Health Care Association, speaking on behalf of the Alzheimer's Association Australia; the Australian Council of Social Service; the Australian Pensioners and Superannuants Federation; Baptist Care Australia; Churches of Christ Network of Aged Care Services; the Salvation Army; Community Services Australia, and the Uniting Church. I also had direct representations from the Aged Services Association of New South Wales and the ACT, and the Churches of Christ Homes and Community Services Incorporated.

The reason for my bringing this up is quite clear: we were not running a scare campaign at all and we are not now. We are attempting to reflect to the government, through the appropriation debate, the concerns from people at an incredibly high level out there in the community who service those who require access to nursing homes. I am dealing right now with a constituent—in fact, I have had two conversations with her today—who is desperately trying to get access to a nursing home. Her overriding concerns are about how all of these future implications will impact on her family.

I have also had discussions with people within the ACT who are going to be able to leave a nursing home, because they have been inappropriately housed up until now, and they are younger people. They are trying to make sure in this program being offered to them, where they can exit that nursing home, that should they find, after being in there for some years, that the transition was not as favourable as they wished they could re-enter. They have been told that they probably can, but only if they pay the up-front fee.

There is a lot of myth and a lot of misunderstanding in the community, but also an enormous amount of fear. I think the fear is very well-founded. Do not blame us for it. Go to the community and talk to them. They are the ones who are coming to me and telling me what they think of this particular decision.