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Thursday, 14 March 2002
Page: 1382

Ms PANOPOULOS (4:09 PM) —The member for Lowe seems to have selective amnesia. He seems to have a new found care for older Australians. Todayobviously the opposition must have been at a loose end with ideas for an MPI, and they decided to remind the member for Grayndler that he is in fact the shadow minister for ageing and seniors and he should start speaking to issues relevant to his portfolio. Looking across the chamber, I actually do feel a bit sorry for the member for Grayndler, as his office does not seem to have given him a full briefing on the Howard government's achievements, but I will try and help him here today.

I do wonder where the member for Grayndler has been since 1996. Perhaps we can get some ideas of his preferred areas of interest from the first two issues that he spoke about in this parliament. The first two issues that prompted the member for Grayndler to jump to his feet were cricket and rugby. Although noble sports in themselves that do provide many Australians with health and entertainment benefits, I would have thought that the member for Grayndler's first priority would have been to address his portfolio issues. Perhaps we can infer from this that the job he really wants is that of his good friend Senator Lundy—that the member for Grayndler is hankering after that preferred portfolio instead.

In his disinterest in aged care, the member for Grayndler is not any different from his colleagues in the opposition. When the opposition were last in government, they never had a vision, they never cared and they never had any compassion to plan for our aged Australians. They preferred to sweep it all under the carpet and pretend it would go away, whilst they racked up a $96 billion budget deficit. They swept it under the carpet. When we came to office, lifted the carpet and provided some transparency, their shameful 13 years in office became apparent. The thing that really hurts them—and it hurts them because they know it is true—is to be reminded of their failure and their appalling record.

Perhaps the member for Grayndler's briefings have also omitted these details of the past Labor government's record but, in the spirit of parliamentary cooperation, let me provide him with some information. During the 13 years of Labor, it was not only families and businesses that were crippled under the weight of high interest rates. It was not just the one million Australian workers who were suffering and abandoned by a Labor government devoid of any visional policies. Labor's shame does not stop there. Those Australians living in rural and regional Australia were also dropped off Canberra's radar. The last Labor government allowed an exodus of doctors out of rural health areas, and not once have they endorsed the coalition's $562 million regional health strategy.

But there is more: they abandoned ageing Australians. Our senior Australians—who deserve dignity, compassion and decent care—were treated by the opposition when they were last in government as second-class citizens. During their 13 years, they failed to address any serious issues in the aged care sector. They could have done something about it. They had the information—they had the Gregory report—but they abandoned it and did nothing about it. They knew that the aged care sector desperately needed capital to be invested. They knew that it needed a $1.3 billion capital injection over 10 years, but they did nothing.

They knew that 51 per cent of nursing home residents were living in rooms with three or more beds and they knew that 70 per cent of nursing homes did not meet relevant outcome standards, but they just sat on their hands and swept it under the carpet. It was not a priority for them, but perhaps if there were a union for aged care residents which had voting rights at Labor preselections then the member for Grayndler and the opposition would jump to their feet and start to prioritise the policies for ageing Australians.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr H.A. Jenkins)—Order! The honourable member for Batman should be very careful!

Ms PANOPOULOS —Let me continue my briefing for the member for Grayndler. Under the last Labor government there were only 4,000 community care packages. In the last budget this government provided for 50,000 community care packages. These allow for ageing Australians to be looked after in their own homes, where they prefer to be. Since this government came to office over 41,000 aged care places have been released—places that are guaranteed and funded.

Currently there are over 168,000 operational aged care places. The government have released an unprecedented number of beds because we inherited a 10,000-bed deficit from the previous government. But you do not like to hear about that, do you? If I were a member of the opposition, I would be ashamed of the record of the Labor government and I would be very tempted to apologise to all those older Australians who suffered under your previous government, under the substandard system that you provided.

In addition to the additional bed places that the Howard government has provided, $23 million in new capital grants has been made, $20 million of which is to support the continued growth and expansion of many of our aged care homes. The 2001 aged care approvals record, with its high number of places, is of particular interest to me, because nearly 50 per cent of all places have been allocated to rural and remote areas. A significant number of places have also been allocated to senior Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds, veterans and war widows, Australians who are financially and socially disadvantaged, and Australians living in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The only thing that the member for Grayndler has done as shadow minister is to hope and pray for some vivid story about aged care. He salivates over and feeds on the misfortune of our older Australians in an attempt to get a bit of cheap publicity and get himself a bit of a profile, poor bloke. This sad state of affairs shows that the Labor Party have not changed. They have come round full circle. They still have no vision, they still have no policies and they still do not care about our older Australians.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The discussion is now concluded.