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Tuesday, 24 March 1998
Page: 1453

Mr MAREK (9:42 PM) —Like many of my colleagues in the parliament, I consider I would have had considerable problems trying to sell the original Aged Care Bill, which imposed an open-ended accommodation fee on elderly residents. To make this section of the community pay an untold amount of money to secure a nursing home place I consider was bad policy.

Mr Lee —Why didn't you say that before?

Mr MAREK —Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask you—he interjected!

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Quick) —The honourable member for Dobell will keep quiet.

Mr MAREK —I have the right to be heard in silence.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for Capricornia.

Mr MAREK —Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Dr Nelson —I will interject in a minute.

Mr MAREK —Thank you. But, fortunately enough, the government listened to the outcry from elderly people and communities around the country and they decided to scrap the plans and introduce a more acceptable policy. This bill is the result of that policy change and, on the whole, I welcome the changes as a vast improvement on the previous bond charges. The amendments to the 1997 Aged Care Act are necessary if we are to address the deterioration of nursing homes. I have a number of nursing homes in my electorate of Capricornia that do not meet new health and safety standards. They require a massive input of finances to bring them up to standard.

These nursing homes are the ones referred to by Professor Bob Gregory in his 1994 review of the industry. Professor Gregory's report documented major deficiencies in capital works and criticised the nursing home funding system as providing neither the funding nor the incentives for providers to maintain their buildings. He estimated that $125 million would be needed to address existing problems and to maintain future building stock.

But what did the Labor Party do in response to this report? Mr Deputy Speaker, you will have to excuse me if I sound like I have been taking angry pills, but the Labor Party burnt any credibility they had on this issue when they were in government! Let us have a look at what they actually did, especially in relation to the report. They ignored it. That is right: while the Labor Party were in government for 13 years, their track record was that 13 per cent of nursing homes did not meet fire standards, 11 per cent of nursing homes did not meet the necessary health guidelines, the design building codes were not met in 75 per cent of homes and 51 per cent of nursing home residents lived in wards with three or more beds.

This is a disgraceful record. The Labor Party just sat on its hands and did absolutely nothing while these nursing homes collapsed around it. Instead of finding some extra money to help the nursing homes meet the required standards, the Labor Party slashed the funding by millions of dollars. In 1992-93, Labor was paying $45 million; in 1993-94, it dropped it to $26.5 million; in 1994-95, it went even lower to $15.7 million; and, to cap it all off, in 1995-96, it slashed it to $10.7 million. That just goes to show that the Labor Party was not and still is not interested in the elderly. It was not interested in providing suitable nursing home accommodation at all. In fact, it was prepared to cut the funding right to the bone.

This shows the Labor Party to be a bunch of hypocrites. No interjections. Fine. It just goes to show my point is absolutely correct. Now they are saying that they will spend $150 million more on nursing homes if they get back into government. What a lot of rot. More unfunded promises. Let us just speculate. Could we consider that a lot of where the money would come from—if we are led to believe that Labor would give these unfunded promises if they came back into government—would be through death duties?

I would be interested to hear if the shadow Treasurer (Mr Gareth Evans) is prepared to make a statement before question time tomorrow on whether death duties, under Labor, would be introduced if they were returned to government. I am sure Queenslanders particularly would love to hear what he has to say about that. I throw the challenge out. It would be interesting to hear exactly what the shadow Treasurer has to say about that before close of trading, question time, tomorrow.

I am pleased to see the annual accommodation charge of $4,380 per annum will be capped and be required to be paid for a maximum of five years while concessional residents will pay no charge at all. I am also pleased to see the proviso that these accommodation charges must be used to meet capital work costs relating to the residential care, to retire debt or to improve the range and quality of aged care services in nursing homes.

While the previous policy recommended the home to be excluded from an assets test if a carer or a relative has lived there for five years, I am pleased to see this government has reduced the provision and the family home will not be included in a person's assets when considering them for entry to a nursing home, particularly if it is occupied by a carer for two years or a close relation for five years and they are in receipt of a pension. Likewise, assets gifted before 20 August 1996 are to be disregarded and rental from the family home will be exempted from the assessment of a person's income for pension purposes and for the purposes of calculating the income tested resident's fees.

Providers of residential nursing home care are prohibited to charge fees for placing a person on a waiting list for entry to the service or for the operator's costs of complying with its obligations under the Aged Care Act 1997. So the only charge that can be made is a set fee towards their daily living costs in a capped accommodation charge.

The minister has provided nursing home residents with four options for the payment of the accommodation charge. These are: making a monthly payment out of existing assets, renting the family home and using the income stream to pay the charge, making a charge against the person's estate or having a reverse mortgage against the family home. Although the first two are clear, it is worth stating that the charge against a person's estate is entirely a matter between the resident and the home. Unfortunately, there is no reason or legislation for the nursing home to accept this method. The reverse mortgage is not yet available to users as banks prefer that the mortgagee reside on the premises, but discussions are taking place between the government and the banks on methods to overcome that obstacle.

While this government attempts to right past wrongs and give the nursing home industry a boost to repair its stocks, the Labor Party would repeal this legislation if given half a chance. The Labor Party has presided over a tragic decline in nursing homes. It does not believe the wealthy should pay any more than the rest. It would prefer taxpayers to subsidise the wealthy in nursing homes rather than fix the problem to everyone's benefit. This demonstrates the Labor Party has lost touch with its base and is not interested in welfare or the elderly people within this country.

But this government's policy is very clear. We will not stand by and let old Australians live in substandard accommodation. We will not slug ordinary tax paying Australians to fund the guilt of the Labor Party. These fees will ensure that our aged care system is sustainable for a long time.

An interesting point at this stage is that before the March 1996 election, back in December 1995, the Goss-Schwarten Labor government in Queensland and the Keating-Lawrence government—all Labor, nothing in coalition about that mob—basically looked at negotiating to cut funding. I particularly talk about places close to home like the Eventide Nursing Home in Rockhampton. Then in January 1996 they signed off on it. That is right, they took the dollars out of the system.

The member for Fremantle (Dr Lawrence) came in here last year after debate in the House and basically said that she made no apology for the fact that Labor took so much money out of this sector—the aged care nursing home sector—when they were in government. We have obviously seen where they were going. They were cutting, cutting, cutting. We are adding, adding, adding.

You really have to ask the question of exactly where the member for Dobell and the member for Jagajaga (Ms Macklin) are coming from. Under Labor, we can obviously see who would be misleading the House. While I am at it, I might do a Simon Crean and hold up a picture. This is it here—Labor sent nursing homes down, down, down.