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Monday, 27 October 1997
Page: 9817

Dr NELSON —Mr Speaker, my question is addressed to the Minister for Family Services. Given the federal government's commitment to improve aged care in Australia, what contribution is made by the Commonwealth government for people in residential care? What will be the impact of income testing on these benefits?

Mr WARWICK SMITH —Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the member for Bradfield, Dr Nelson, for his question. Indeed, as most members will know as this matter was subject to extensive debate last week, residential care is expensive. Currently, the government pays an average of $30,000 per year for every nursing home resident on top of the daily contribution to the resident, made up to about $36,000 for those needing the highest level of care.

Last week I outlined that the contribution by the Commonwealth to residential aid care in this current financial year is about $2.6 billion, rising to slightly over $3 billion by the year 2000. I also indicated that there will be more residential care places required every year. Around 2,500 new places are funded each year, adding to the 130,000-odd places currently funded.

Members should be aware that the cost of providing this care is growing at a faster rate than the amount of taxes paid each year. In relation to the proposed changes we talked about last week, I should indicate that 65 per cent of those residents—of the 135,000 in nursing homes and hostels—in actual fact are full pensioners and not affected by those changes.

Over the course of the first week as minister, I have been hearing many views put to me by members on all sides of the House, and also by many in the community. I took these concerns to cabinet this morning and I am pleased to indicate, firstly, that the thrust of the policy of the federal government is maintained. In this country, we are about giving an aged care policy that deals with that demographic problem that I talked about so regularly last week, deals with the improvement of the infrastructure and the care and asks those who have the means and the capacity to contribute towards that care to meet those fundamental facts that I have just recited to the member for Bradfield.

I am pleased to indicate to the House, and I will table a ministerial statement that will be released shortly to all members, that the introduction of the income testing for nursing home residents will be deferred until 1 March 1998. Residents in care before 1 March will not be income tested, and income tested fees will apply only to those entering care from that date. Further, I indicate that, for the purpose of income testing for nursing homes and hostel benefits, assets gifted prior to 20 August 1996 will not be taken into account, that being the operative date of the announcement previously.

A further measure designed to protect residents who were in hostels before 1 August 1997 is announced now. Some of these residents were to lose up to $11.50 per fortnight as a result of those increasing basic daily fees for hostels to align that fee with fees paid by nursing home residents. They will have their fees reduced to the level they were paying before 1 October.

I should indicate that the government remains committed to ensuring that older people will not be forced to sell their family home to enter a nursing home. I will be focusing on the prospect of periodic payments and the deferment of the entry contribution by way of deferment to a charge against the estate. Honourable members who have researched this matter will know that that is a real option for many people who have been concerned.

I reiterate the point that I made: over 50 per cent of people now, as they go into a nursing home, do in fact sell their home. There is also a proposal to enable the support to carers to be varied from five years to two years which is, I think, an eminently sensible proposal. We are extending the hardship provisions.

Finally, I want to say to the many people in nursing homes, those who care for them and the staff in those nursing homes that I have heard what they have had to say in the period that I have been minister. I gave a pledge to the two nursing homes that I opened in my own electorate that we would listen. I will continue to listen. I will continue to consult, as the government has done, with regard to this matter. I commend the statement to the House and seek to table it.

Mr Lee —On indulgence, Mr Speaker, the minister seemed to—

Mr SPEAKER —Do you have a question or a point of order?

Mr Lee —I seek your indulgence, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER —About what?

Mr Gareth Evans —As acting manager of opposition business.

Mr Lee —I seek your indulgence.

Mr Gareth Evans —Those are procedural matters.

Mr SPEAKER —This is question time. This is not the appropriate or proper place—

Mr Lee —I am seeking indulgence, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER —No. I deny your indulgence.

Mr Lee —You don't know what I am going to seek indulgence for, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER —You can have a question. This is the opposition's opportunity—

Mr Lee —I am seeking indulgence, rising from the minister's answer.

Mr SPEAKER —There is no indulgence. Resume your seat.

Mr Lee —The minister has given no notice to the opposition that he intends to make a statement.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I warn the member for Dobell!

Mr Gareth Evans —Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER —Do you have a question or a point of order?

Mr Gareth Evans —I am sorry—did you ask him to sit down?

Mr SPEAKER —Yes, I did.

Mr Gareth Evans —On a point or order, I just make the point that the member for Dobell is acting as the manager of opposition business. He was seeking to ask a procedural question, which is normal in these circumstances, as to whether a statement was intended to be made after question time.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order. If the member for Dobell wanted to ask a procedural question, he could put a question to me. But, as he was looking around the chamber and at no stage of the game addressing his question to me, I ruled that it was inappropriate at this time of the proceeding to do so.

Mr Lee —I seek your indulgence, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER —The hook has been cast. I am happy to hear your indulgence, but I reserve the right to sit you down.

Mr Tim Fischer —The answer to the member's question is no.

Mrs Crosio —Are you giving indulgence?

Mr SPEAKER —I will listen to the member for Dobell.

Mr Lee —I think you are granting me indulgence this time, Mr Speaker, and I thank you for that. The Minister for Family Services has given the opposition no notice of a statement later today.

Honourable member interjecting

Mr Lee —If it is a press statement, why do you refer to it as a ministerial statement? We would welcome a debate on the minister's statement. We would welcome an opportunity to debate these matters.

Mr SPEAKER —The indulgence is withdrawn. The point that we should realise here is that, if the opposition is disturbed by the tabling of a media release, which I think it was, it is well within the compass of a minister at any time to table a media release.

Mrs Crosio —He called it a ministerial statement.

Mr Melham —He said `a ministerial statement'!

Mr SPEAKER —Order! It was not a ministerial statement. The question did not ask for a pronouncement on a ministerial initiative. However, if the minister wishes to draw on some initiative that the government is about to make, his response is totally in order.

Mr Lee —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Mr SPEAKER —The point had better not be frivolous.

Mr Lee —It is not frivolous, Mr Speaker. It goes to the heart of the point you have just made. The statement the minister tabled is headed `Ministerial statement'.

Mr SPEAKER —My comments stand.