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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 2839

Mr NEVILLE (7:40 PM) —It is undeniable that Australia’s ageing population is presenting some big challenges for our aged-care sector. Australia has proportionally more people needing some form of assistance or care, and fewer taxpayers to pay for those services. Almost 20 per cent of the Hinkler electorate is aged over 65 years, making us one of the favourite electorates in the nation for seniors. People come to our region for its lifestyle and climate, so it is understandable that the Wide Bay region has a significant population of older people. Unfortunately, it seems our pressing need for aged-care beds and services is not recognised by this government. In recent years, the number of beds allocated to the region has dwindled. In the last year of the Howard government, the Wide Bay Burnett region was allocated 146 beds; the best we can hope for this time around is 140. Clearly, this figure does not reflect the fact that the demand for aged-care services and other suitable facilities throughout the region is growing every year, and of course the capital cost of buildings is increasing exponentially.

In Bundaberg we have at least one new aged-care facility, which will comprise 60 high-care beds and 60 low-care beds, which has been held up for the past three years because of a change of ownership, the transfer of allocated beds and the effects of the global financial crisis. In the last round, not a single aged-care provider on the Fraser Coast was allocated beds. This means the region has for some time experienced increasing pressure on its aged-care facilities. Throw in the various local government requirements involved in building a new facility or expanding an existing one and you can understand why it is not uncommon for there to be a lag time between beds being allocated and beds actually appearing on the ground.

Very soon we expect the announcement regarding which providers in the Wide Bay region will receive funding for beds and community care packages under the 2009-10 aged care approvals round. I sincerely hope that the region’s full allocation of 140 beds is achieved in this upcoming round. Considering that the Wide Bay region includes Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Maryborough and the hinterland areas stretching from Monto to Kingaroy, these beds will be stretched thin. The fact that the region did not get its full allocation under the previous round, where only 120 beds of the 200 promised were delivered, makes me even less optimistic. In fact, the entire state of Queensland was short-changed, with 2,416 aged-care beds promised but only 1,605 delivered in the last round. What is even more depressing is that very few of the beds in the Wide Bay region that have been delivered are operable. Recently the Torbay Aged Care and Retirement Village in Hervey Bay opened its Parklands Retirement Haven facility, which offers 48 aged-care beds—20 low care and 28 high care. When the facility is fully developed, it will offer 150 beds, all of them sorely needed. So there is work to be done at all levels—local government with approvals and development application hold-ups, state governments with sensible, unoppressive building standards and the Commonwealth with a recognition of the cost of providing aged care on the one hand and the need to provide capital resources in some areas on the other.

When it comes time for people to move into a care facility, I want families to have a choice about where their loved one lives—preferably in a place close to their home community, friends and families. It is a tragedy to see people having to live 100 or more kilometres away from where their family lives and where their roots are. It is a very lonely existence. From my visits to nursing homes, I can tell you that is so, Mr Deputy Speaker.

No matter how nice the facility is, that loneliness really impacts on a lot of people and their holistic quality of life. We have more seniors needing a bed than ever before and regional centres simply do not have the capacity to cope if the beds are not in place. Already far too many Australians are travelling hundreds of kilometres to the nearest vacant aged care bed, and it is hard to believe any government could be happy with this state of affairs.