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Tuesday, 15 June 2004
Page: 30298


Ms JULIE BISHOP (Minister for Ageing) (7:15 PM) —I thank the members for O'Connor, Herbert, Indi, Macquarie, Riverina, Paterson and Kooyong for their positive and optimistic contributions to the debate on the Aged Care Amendment Bill 2004. Their support of the government's plans for aged care is much appreciated. I know that they have been speaking to providers, families, residents and carers in their electorates about this government's concerns for the future viability and sustainability of aged care. I also acknowledge the opposition speakers on this bill.

Aged care is a matter of significance and of great importance to the coalition government. We have made it a priority from the outset, and we have treated it as a matter that is deserving of a great deal of attention in the form of funding, initiatives and leadership. When the Howard government came to office, we articulated our vision for aged care in this country: a world-class, high-quality, affordable and accessible aged care system that would meet the needs of individual older Australians as they aged. In contrast, I must say that the sector had lost its way. When we came to office in 1996, we found an aged care sector that had lost its way under a Labor government that had lost its way in aged care. Aged care had been seriously neglected under the Labor government; that is a fact. Opposition members should be careful to restate the facts, not the fantasy, and they should not try to rewrite the sorry history of aged care under Labor. It is a fact that, in an independent report, the Auditor-General found that, under Labor, there was a shortage of 10,000 aged care places. That is a fact.

The government set about building the stock of aged care places. Over 55,600 aged care places have been allocated across Australia since 1996. In fact, 35,371 places have been allocated in the last four years. Yes, there have been delays in bringing these places online, in making these places operational, but 70 per cent of the delays—that is, beyond two years from the date of allocation—are because of state, territory and local government planning processes and procedures. So, instead of talking about phantom beds, the acting shadow minister ought to turn his attention to his state and territory Labor colleagues and ask them, implore them, to work with the Howard government to ensure that aged care places that are already allocated—that already have funding allocated to them—are not delayed by bureaucratic state and territory Labor governments or local government planning procedures; that is the issue. The acting shadow minister is able to assist in this process by taking the matter up with his state and territory Labor colleagues.

Not only has the government sought to allocate sufficient places over the past eight years, it has also addressed other areas of need that were so neglected under Labor. We have injected record levels of funding. Funding has gone from $3 billion when we came into government to over $6.7 billion this financial year—a 123 per cent increase in funding in aged care. We have introduced a series of reforms, with the Aged Care Act 1997. Most notably, we have introduced a system of accreditation, the first nationally legislated quality assurance program for aged care. Directors of nursing, and providers around the country, tell me that the Howard government's accreditation system is the best thing that has happened in aged care; it has lifted the standards and we now have an aged care system that any country would be proud to call its own. We have introduced certification, providing standards to ensure that the buildings—the physical environment—are what Australians would expect for older Australians needing care.

Much has been achieved over the past eight years, but the ageing of the population—the profound demographic shift that Australia is experiencing and will continue to experience over the coming decades—presents many challenges. It increases the demand for aged care but it also presents many opportunities for us to get the policy settings right, now. We are tackling the hard issues such as: what is the right balance between public and private funding for aged care? What is the correct balance between the contributions of the individual and of the society, through taxpayer funded programs, when it comes to paying the costs of caring for older Australians? We know that Australians are living longer and with increasing means overall. So we are finding the right balance in sharing responsibility for aged care between self-care, informal care and formal care. We have tackled those issues.

In relation to residential aged care, the Australian government commissioned a review of pricing arrangements in residential aged care, which was conducted by Professor Hogan. The review was thorough, fully resourced and well researched, with broad community and industry consultation. There were some 1,250 submissions, 900 detailed financial reports from aged care providers and 270 formal consultations in capital cities and regional centres. Professor Hogan provided his recommendations to the government in February this year and his final report and recommendations on 5 April 2004. The opposition was bleating: `Where's Hogan? Where's the government's response?' This government responded to all the recommendations for immediate change that were contained in the Hogan report, together with funding allocations, by 11 May 2004—just over four weeks later. The Hogan report was published in full on budget night. The government responded in full to all the recommendations for immediate change. I ask: where is Labor's response to the Hogan report? It has been a month since the budget. Where is Labor's response to the most thorough, well-resourced and comprehensive review of residential aged care ever undertaken in this country?

Pending the completion of the review of pricing arrangements in residential care, I remind the House that, back in the 2002-03 budget, the government provided $211 million over four years to increase subsidies above normal indexation and $47.5 million to improve the supply and quality of the aged care work force. So, even while we were awaiting the outcome of the review, we were attending to the needs and concerns of the aged care sector.

Such is the commitment of this government to aged care that in response to the Hogan review we invested $2.2 billion in a package announced on budget night—the largest single investment in aged care by any government at any time, coming on top of record levels of funding and record numbers of places allocated across the aged care sector. It is nonsense to suggest the government have not responded to Hogan or his recommendations. All 15 recommendations for immediate change were responded to. We fast-tracked one of the medium-term changes that Professor Hogan said were worthy of consideration some time around 2008—the issue of capital—and dealt with that on budget night. As for the long-term options, Professor Hogan himself said they were not recommendations but ideas that he floated that he believed would be worthy of consideration by some government post 2008. It is ludicrous to suggest that, by responding in full to all immediate changes recommended by Professor Hogan and fast-tracking a significant medium-term issue on capital, we have done anything other than respond in a sensible, measured, appropriate and proper manner.

This $2.2 billion package, Investing in Australia's Aged Care: More Places, Better Care, builds on our previous reforms by providing further support for older Australians needing care. It also encourages aged care providers to become more flexible, accountable and innovative in the delivery of care. It gives a clear direction for the future of aged care. It maintains our policy imperatives of quality of care, equity of access, efficiency and sustainability. With more funding, more aged care places, more choice, more training, better systems, better administration and better management, this package is just the type of responsible and measured approach to the short- and medium-term issues in residential aged care that have been the hallmark of this government's commitment to the sector since coming to office in 1996. A total of $30 billion will be allocated to aged care between now and 2007-08. In total, from the time this government came to office in 1996 until 2008, over $67 billion will be allocated to aged care.

Specifically, the package covers a number of issues. There is additional funding of nearly $880 million over four years as a conditional adjustment payment. Professor Hogan recommended a 1.75 per cent conditional adjustment payment on top of the annually indexed subsidy. We have accepted that recommendation in full. That will deliver the means and resources to the aged care sector to pay competitive wages to those in the aged care work force—to sit down and negotiate AWAs with the work force so that we can attract and retain aged care workers.

The package includes nearly $15 million over four years to increase the amount of the viability supplement, which is about $13 million a year, available to rural and remote providers. We have significantly increased the number of aged care places that we subsidise by increasing the provisional ratio to 108 operational places for every 1,000 people aged 70 years and over. That means that about 27,900 new places will be allocated across Australia over the next three years, including 13,030 places this year, in 2004. For New South Wales that means 8,575 new places in three years; Victoria, 6,555; Queensland, 4,350; Western Australia, 1,890; South Australia, 1,675; Tasmania, 635; the ACT, 505; and the Northern Territory, 140—with a national flexible pool of 3,550 places. They are record numbers of aged care places, coming on top of the 35,371 allocated over the last four years.

On the question of capital, the Labor Party is obsessing over the issue of accommodation bonds in high-care facilities. It has become an obsession, and I will come to that later; I guess it is because there is nothing else in their lives in relation to aged care. The extension of bonds into high care is not appropriate and is not necessary. We have provided $438.6 million by way of increases in concessional, transitional and respite payments to help better position providers to raise and repay borrowings for capital works. In addition, we will provide over $513 million—worked out on the basis of $3,500 per resident—to aged care providers in recognition of the forward plan for improved safety and building standards for aged care homes required by 2008 certification, for improved fire safety in particular.

As I have said before and as I will say again—and the acting shadow minister is here so I will say it once more for his benefit—the government have estimated that the sector will require $10.3 billion to service its capital requirements over the next decade. Without additional assistance, public and private capital contributions—this is pre budget night—would have amounted to $9.1 billion, which would have left a shortfall over the decade of about $1.2 billion. This is over the next 10 years. Our package will ensure that that shortfall for capital requirements is met entirely, with the vast proportion, nearly $1 billion, coming from the government. So there is no necessity to change the government's policy on bonds in low care.

I think the obsession with bonds is because the Labor Party have no ideas for aged care. They have no policy, no platform, no philosophy, no passion. One would have thought that in response to the government's budget aged care package Labor could have come up with one policy, with some sort of response to the Hogan report. Older Australians, their families, their carers and their aged care providers and peak industry representatives ought to be very concerned and very disappointed this evening by the position that has been adopted by the Labor Party on this bill concerning amendments to the Aged Care Act.

Labor made no submission to the Hogan review. They had no ideas to offer, nothing to add, to this comprehensive review. What is going on over there? The Labor leader ignored aged care in his budget-in-reply speech. Faced with a $2.2 billion package for aged care in the government budget, what did the Leader of the Opposition say in reply a couple of nights later? He said nothing. The words `aged care' did not pass his lips. Does aged care not deserve even passing mention, passing recognition, passing acknowledgement by Labor?

The government's response to the Hogan review also included $101.4 million over four years to fund a major expansion in training places for aged care workers and nurses; $48 million over four years for aged care assessment teams, to allow better case management, more timely assessments and better links between community and residential care; and funding to streamline the resident classification scale by reducing the current eight categories to three. In contrast to the Labor policy vacuum, this government is getting on with the job of implementing the recommendations that we have accepted from the Hogan review, including ensuring that over half a billion dollars will be paid to aged care providers before 30 June this year.

These amendments—as I outlined in my second reading speech—allowing accommodation charges to increase to $16.25 a day in recognition of the capital needs of this sector and removing the need for ACATs to assess residents who are moving from a low-care situation to a high-care situation in the same home are sensible. They are part of the most significant package of aged care initiatives and funding that Australia has seen. Older Australians and their families deserve no less. I commend this bill to the House.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Barresi)—The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Perth has moved as an amendment that all words after `That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question. A division is required. In accordance with standing order 193 the division is deferred until 8 p.m. The debate on this item is therefore adjourned until that time.