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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17201

Ms JACKSON (4:24 PM) —Providing an effective and efficient aged care system is one of the core functions of the Commonwealth, and the Howard government has failed to meet community expectations in aged care. I would like to thank the member for Shortland for her motion and commend it to the House. It brings to the attention of the parliament issues that have a very real impact upon Australian families. We have only to look at last Wednesday's Herald Sun to appreciate the crisis that families face. The headline on page 5 read `Granny dumping outrage', which referred to the practice of using public hospital beds as a substitute for aged care beds. The AMA federal vice-president noted in the article:

[Families] are at their wits end and caring for elderly relatives while waiting for a place in a nursing home.

With nowhere else to turn, families are compelled to rely on the public hospital system. It is estimated that up to 500 elderly people are occupying beds in public hospitals in Victoria alone while waiting for a nursing home bed.

Sadly, `granny dumping' is not isolated to Victoria. The ACT public hospital activity report for the second quarter of 2002-03 reveals that public hospitals lost 789 bed days to nursing home type patients. A similar situation prevails in Western Australia. State governments now have to pick up the bill for aged care. Simon Corbell, the ACT health minister, estimated that caring for nursing home type patients had consumed $2 million that now cannot be directed to the more critically ill in our community. This is not the only area where the Howard government is happy for state hospitals to pick up the tab; public hospital emergency departments are being used as GP surgeries because people can no longer access a GP who bulk-bills.

Funding arrangements for high-care beds actively discourage aged care facilities from providing them. This has skewed the distribution of aged care beds in favour of low-care beds. The reason for this is that accommodation bonds, which are used when applying for low-care beds, raise more funds for a facility than the accommodation charges that apply to high-care beds. The funding in the sector needs to be amended to correct this, particularly as the demand for high-care beds increases. Amaroo Village, an aged care facility in my electorate, has experienced these problems first-hand. Whilst Amaroo has constructed and commissioned 18 low-care places at a cost of $1.8 million, having had the benefit of accommodation bonds to assist with an $800,000 bank loan, the board is currently looking at how it can raise a $5 million loan for the 52 high-care places to be constructed in 2003. I hope this issue is addressed in the upcoming pricing review and, with many service providers having made the shift to solely providing low-care beds, it needs to be addressed immediately.

An equally important element of aged care is the work force. Unfortunately we are just moving from a discussion about one crisis to a discussion about another. Aged care workers are under enormous pressure and cannot afford to carry out some of the most basic caring functions. One CEO of an aged care facility in my electorate informed me:

Currently, our staff are run off their feet and simply do not have the time to spend doing the simple things with residents. An example of this would be sitting to sew on a button on a resident's shirt or blouse and having time to chat with them and listen to what they have to say.

Can any of us be happy with that level of service? I think not. We need more aged care staff and we need to pay them a just wage. Presently in Western Australia the base salary for registered nurses employed in aged care is 22 per cent lower than nurses employed in public hospitals. This disparity is reflected in the wages of carers and ancillary staff as well. The gap is much too wide and must be addressed urgently if the industry is to attract and retain competent and experienced aged care staff.

These are not new issues, and you have to ask yourself why they still persist. Unfortunately it seems the current Minister for Ageing has adopted the same line of defence as the previous minister, the member for Mackellar, and blames these problems on the states. This is a government that has run out of ideas. Its arrogance in this area is leading to a situation where it has neither the will nor the way to fix the aged care system. I would like to thank David Fenwick, the CEO of Amaroo Village, for his invaluable input and I hope the pricing review takes note of his submission. Someone's age should not determine how he or she is treated. All Australians have the right to be treated with respect.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The time allotted for private members' business has expired. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 104A. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The member for Hasluck will have leave to continue her remarks when the debate is resumed.