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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4974


Mr NEUMANN (BlairParliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing and Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney-General) (18:01): I thank the member for her question in relation to older Australians. We know that each year over one million older Australians receive aged-care services and by 2050 over 3.5 million Australians are expected to receive aged-care services each year. The Department of Human Services is well and truly involved in that process. This government has actually been a reformist government in the area of aged care. Our Living Longer Living Better package is a $3.7 billion package over five years, and I am pleased to say that legislation introduced into the House is going to make a big difference. The Department of Human Services is involved in that process.

I will talk about the Living Longer Living Better package and what the budget actually does for older Australians. But, in terms of the department's involvement, the Department of Human Services received $322,000 over two years from 2012-13 to implement the changes. That is an important assistance to the department. This package of reforms is about making sure that people have greater control and choice over the aged-care services they need. The single aged-care gateway will be important. The emphasis on home-care packages and a recalibration of aged care towards that bias is important. The funding towards dementia is really important as well. The number of Australians with dementia is forecast to grow from 269,000 to almost a million by 2050. At present 1,500 Australians are diagnosed with dementia every week. The budget provides some significant assistance in that regard by rolling out that package across the country.

There are other areas in which we are making a difference in aged care. One of the initiatives in support of aged care is the idea of supporting seniors who downsize their homes. This is a $112.4 million pilot program to assist age pensioners and other pensioners over pension age who want to downsize their home. It is common for people as they get older to not want a three-, four- or five-bedroom home and to want to downsize because their physical capacity to maintain that home wanes as they get older, particularly in retirement years. This is good initiative which we think will make a difference. What this particular benefit means in the budget is that for pensioners of pension age, who have lived in their home for more than 25 years and want to downsize to a lesser home or benefit, this is probably the transition before they go into what we used to call high care in a residential aged-care facility. Pensioners will be able to put at least 80 per cent of the excess proceeds from the sale of their former home up to a cap of $200,000 into a special account and have it exempt from the pensioner income and assets test. It is expected that about 30,000 Australians will benefit from this trial by receiving a higher pension than would otherwise be the case if the excess sale proceeds were means tested. Of course, the Department of Human Services would take that into consideration.

The member for La Trobe is right when she talks about the federal Labor government's commitment to pensions. Since 2009, and she mentioned this in her question, the maximum rate of pension has gone up by $207 a fortnight for singles and $236 a fortnight for couples combined because of this federal Labor government. I cannot say that those opposite have always supported pension rises. They have on occasions in fairness to them, but on other occasions they have not. One of the other ways that I think we are helping seniors is keeping them connected. I am sure the member has the Broadband for Seniors program in her electorate, as I do in mine. The budget has provided funds here and this is assisted through the department. The 2013-14 budget delivers the Keeping Senior Connected an extra $9.9 million over four years for new technology and training grants for Broadband for Seniors kiosks. These kiosks have been particularly helpful—and you can find them in libraries, aged-care facilities and council chambers. There is even one at the University of Queensland, which is hosting SeniorNet in my electorate. There are about 2,000 internet kiosks for seniors around the country. I am pleased to say that older Australians have made use of that technology. (Time expired)