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Wednesday, 25 March 1998
Page: 1517

Mr FITZGIBBON (12:50 PM) —I would like to commence my contribution to the consideration in detail stage of the Aged Care Amendment Bill by expressing my outrage for having been denied the opportunity to speak in the second reading debate.

I believe that this is one of the most critical bills ever considered by this House and the Minister for Family Services (Mr Warwick Smith) is scurrying out of the chamber. I remind the House that this bill amends the government's own Aged Care Act 1997—the act which introduced the now infamous and universally condemned entry tax for nursing homes. The former Minister for Family Services, the member for Pearce (Mrs Moylan), came into the House day after day during question time and unsuccessfully attempted to justify that entry tax. Thankfully, after a period, we did have a backflip. The bill we are debating today deals with the backflip. It pulls the backflip into place.

Mr McClelland —A triple backflip!

Mr FITZGIBBON —Indeed it was. Today we are considering a bill—which the minister is not prepared to stick around for—that apologises for kicking pensioners in the ribs, but then it kicks them in the other side. It apologises for beating up on older Australians and makes amends by whacking them across the face with the introduction of an annual charge. In my two years in this parliament I have not seen a piece of legislation cause so much angst in my local community as did the government's Aged Care Act, with its accompanying entry tax and, of course, its extra daily fee. The minister told us, in his introduction to the new bill we are considering today, that the bill is in response to issues raised by some older Australians.

The minister must have a funny electorate, very different to my own. In the last 12 months my office has been inundated with letters, petitions, phone calls and visits from older Australians and their families, concerned about the impact of that original act. The minister wants us to believe that this is only a finetuning of what he believes to be an appropriate piece of legislation. To me, that is extraordinary.

We have had the backflip, but the impact of the original legislation has not moved on. There are still older Australians out there who are confused about where they stand with respect to the entry tax and there are still aged care facilities bearing the costs of the original proposals. I want to share with the House a copy of a letter written in December of last year by Mr Bob Russell to the Prime Minister (Mr Howard). Mr Russell is the General Manager of the Upper Hunter Village Association, which is in my electorate. In his letter, he said:

My dear Prime Minister,

Please find enclosed an account I have received from our Solicitor for the preparation of "Nursing Home", "Hostel" and Accommodation Bond Agreements.

These contracts, as you are fully aware, are now little more than scrap paper. Therefore we believe that it is more than reasonable to expect reimbursement for the attached account.

I also assume that as a gesture of goodwill you will try to send us your cheque prior to Christmas.

The cheque should be made out for $2902.40 and made payable to Upper Hunter Village Association Ltd.

I thank you in advance for your cooperation and understanding in this matter.

Bob Russell is a great bloke and a competent manager, but how misguided his faith in the Prime Minister was. He has now found it necessary to write to the Prime Minister once again. The letter is dated 9 February and he says:

I refer to my letter regarding reimbursement of Solicitor's fees, dated 2nd December.

It appears that you may have misplaced my letter, or Treasury has been a tad slow in processing it because you see I still have not received a cheque for $2,902.40.

(Time expired)