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Thursday, 2 September 1999
Page: 9809

Mr SWAN —My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Aged Care. Minister, in light of your overriding on Tuesday of the department's policy on spot checks of aged care facilities—`I am the minister; that is the department'—have you instructed the department to commence spot checks immediately? When will you ensure that the department's response to the Senate estimates of 11 February 1999 is corrected? Or is the department's answer still the opera tive policy being followed by your department today?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Aged Care) —I thank the member for Lilley for his question and, to put it into context, I will recap where we are. The member for Canning asked me on 26 August:

Isn't it a fact that the Commonwealth can no longer carry out surprise inspections of nursing homes and hostels . . . How can you claim to be cracking down on poor quality homes when you have effectively nobbled the powers of the Commonwealth to properly investigate complaints made by residents?

The second question was from the member for Lilley on 31 August when he asked:

Do you recall telling the House that Commonwealth officers do not have to give notice when carrying out surprise inspections of aged care facilities to look into complaints for poor quality care?

My department said in an estimates answer that `conducting "surprise" visits is not within the spirit of the new collaborative arrangements.' The Leader of the Opposition then took up the theme.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order on relevance. The thing that was asked her was whether or not she had altered the instructions of the department; it was quite simple. Perhaps she might like to address the `thing' in her answer.

Mr SPEAKER —The minister was responding to a question that has been asked of her on other occasions this week and it is not inappropriate for her to refer to the answers she gave on those occasions.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —About those things, I have three points I wish to make. The first is that the department was speaking about only one of a range of monitoring powers that is done in cases other than serious cases, as was predicated in the question from the member for Canning when she spoke about poor quality homes—that is, where residents' health or wellbeing is at risk. I did not deal with the range of investigative and access powers available to the Commonwealth but I will in a moment. The second point I want to make is that, where the provider was a good provider, notice is given, and this reflects the cooperative spirit as mentioned in the response from the department. But where there is a case of real risk, where the health or the wellbeing of the resident is under threat, then unannounced visits are available under the Aged Care Act and under subordinate legislation. The third point I want to make is precisely what those powers are.

The first one is the one I mentioned in the House yesterday: principle 1.7 under subordinate legislation under the Aged Care Act allows an assessor to make an unannounced call carrying a letter with him or her and proceed with the visit. The provider is obliged to give access. The second power relates to Commonwealth authorised officers being given access to aged care premises at any time of the day or night under section 91 of the act. The third power, if we require it, is the ability to obtain a monitoring warrant, from a magistrate, which will allow an officer access at any time or at a specified time with assistance, and force supplied as necessary.

I have outlined those powers and they are important for people to know. Where a provider is a good provider, we exercise the policy reasonably and sensibly. But where there is a home where people are at a risk the unannounced visits are part of our policy. I repeat what I said a few days ago, that we will use all and any tools at our disposal to ensure that we do not allow individuals to be at risk.

Mr McMullan —I ask that the minister table the notes from which she so copiously quoted.

Mr SPEAKER —Was the minister reading from a confidential document?

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —They are my confidential notes.