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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2554

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (21:21): When this government came to office, the state of aged care was parlous. The coalition government failed to deliver a plan for a sustainable aged-care system during the long 11½ years it was in office. The previous government failed to deliver a substantial pension increase during their time in office. Contrast that with this government's historic pension reforms by increasing the age pension and the introduction of the extra benefit as part of the Household Assistance Package. In my electorate of Banks, over 20,000 pensioners benefited from these increases. We know that these increases would be ripped away should the coalition win government. We have already seen the New South Wales government increase the cost of public housing rents as a result of the increase to the Commonwealth's income supplement. I doubt that the rent rises will be reversed if a future coalition government removes the increases in benefits.

Over one million Australians will receive aged-care services by 2050. Over 3.5 million Australians are expected to use aged-care services each year. Over the past 100 years life expectancy has increased by 25 years. The country needs to ensure that the needs of this ageing population are met. The system we inherited in 2007 was simply not sustainable. As our health and medical services improve, older Australians want to stay at home for as long as possible, while being able to access care and support as well as appropriate and convenient health services. Older Australians should be able to contribute to their own care, based on their capacity to pay. Let us not forget that it was the Labor Party under Prime Minister Fisher that introduced the age pension. It was a Labor government that introduced compulsory superannuation to assist Australians to prepare for a dignified post-retirement life. It is Labor that will always support Australians throughout the different stages and transitions of their lives.

Specifically in aged care since the government was elected in 2007, there have been an additional 25,849 residential care places, 13,052 home and community care places and 2,000 transition care places allocated nationally. We will provide nearly $13.6 billion for aged care in 2012-13, compared to $7.8 billion in 2006-07. Since 2007 the government has embarked on an extensive reform of aged care. Overall, this government is delivering a $3.7 billion plan to deliver more choice, easier access and better care for older Australians and their families. This is the largest ever investment in aged care.

As part of its Living Longer Living Better program the government has pledged $1.9 billion to deliver better access to aged-care services, $1.2 billion over five years to tackle critical shortages in the aged-care workforce, $80.2 million to improve aged-care linkages with the health system, $54.8 million to carers, $268.4 million to tackle dementia and $192 million to support the diverse care of Australia's ageing population.

On 4 March I was pleased to host the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, the Hon. Mark Butler MP, on his visit to my electorate. The minister made himself available at a seniors forum I conducted at the Peakhurst Bowling and Recreation Club. He was able to outline some of the significant reforms that the government has introduced as well as answer questions on seniors matters generally and more specific aged-care matters. There was a very positive response.

As the minister said:

"We're replacing an aged care system designed a quarter of a century ago and which is now ill-equipped to meet the needs of retiring baby boomers and their parents who are living longer and healthier lives."

…   …   …

"People want services that respond to their individual needs so we are re-orienting the system on a consumer-directed model."

One of the people attending said that she found it difficult to access information on what assistance and services were available for her ageing mother. She really had to rely on seeking information from her neighbours or friends who had experience. It is satisfying that another government initiative, the My Aged Care website, will be established to assist with precisely that issue. The government is providing $198.2 million over five years to progressively established a gateway to aged-care services. The first step will be establishing a website, together with a national call centre service, as the main entry point for the aged-care system. This will be followed by reforms to assessment arrangements and establishing a new linking service to help the vulnerable in our community to access services.

Receiving appropriate levels of support at home is increasingly important for seniors. From 2012, the Australian government has directly funded and administered the home support services for older people currently provided under the Home and Community Care Program in most states and territories. Over the next five years, the government will provide $75.3 million to integrate these services with other Commonwealth programs to create and grow a new home support program.

The government currently funds more than 58,000 home care packages. Demand for these packages far outstrips supply, leaving many people forced to wait a long time for care. The government will more than double the number of home care packages available across Australia over the next 10 years, with more than 80,000 new packages by 2021-22. The government is committing $880.1 million over the next five years to expand care in the home, reducing the emphasis on residential care.

Earlier I mentioned the visit of Minister Butler to my electorate on 4 March. He also visited Penshurst on 5 March to make an important announcement. I have already referred to the government's commitment to the carers of the aged. This of course includes those who work in the aged-care sector. Aged-care workers have been amongst the lowest paid workers in Australia. They perform the vital task of looking after our older citizens, often in the various aged-care facilities. While this group of workers pursue their careers for more than financial reward, pay rises would no doubt be a further incentive to work in a growing industry.

On his second visit to Banks, Minister Butler announced a landmark agreement to provide higher wages, better conditions and more rewarding careers for the 350,000 workers in the aged-care industry. The funding will flow from July through a workers supplement, delivering pay rises for aged-care nurses, care workers and others in the aged-care industry. An additional one per cent pay rise will be available above minimum annual wage increases or other wage rises negotiated through the enterprise bargaining agreements for workers employed by aged-care providers that meet the requirements of a workforce compact. This means that a personal care worker currently paid the award rate who is employed by an aged-care provider that meets the requirements would effectively see a pay rise of up to 18.7 per cent over four years. Enrolled nurses would receive 25 per cent higher pay and registered nurses 29.9 per cent higher pay in the same situation.

The workforce supplement will be paid to providers that meet the conditions of the workforce compact, which was developed in consultation with providers and unions. Providers will be required to pass the supplement on as higher wages. Workers employed by providers that meet the terms of the compact will receive not only increased wages but also enhanced training and education and improved career pathways and development. One aim of the workforce compact is to improve the capacity of the aged-care sector to attract and retain staff through higher wages, improved career structures, enhanced training and education opportunities, improved career development and workforce planning, and better work practices.

The second part of the Addressing Workforce Pressures initiative is the aged-care workforce development plan, which will begin later this year. An expert advisory group will be established to focus on better ways to support the aged-care workforce. This group will seek to ensure that, on top of wage increases, aged-care workers get the other benefits, including improved career structures, better training and education, and better work practices, including lowering the high rate of workforce injuries in aged care.

I am proud to be part of a government that continues the Labor tradition of social reform and social justice. The reforms to the long-neglected aged-care sector are extensive and go to the heart of the industry's needs. These measures are in the great Labor traditions of equity, fairness and social justice. This is where the difference between Labor and the Tories is self-evident.

Our ability to combine idealism with pragmatism has allowed us to make a real difference to Australian society. Throughout its history, the Australian Labor Party has been the only party that has been able to deliver benefits to working Australians and real economic and social reform. We have done this by virtue of our ideas and vision. We should not do it at the expense of one section of the community to benefit the other. What we need is dignity in retirement. We should not take advantage of the goodwill of a lot of people in the sector and pay them slave wages. Those arguments are long gone. People need fair wages. We need to accept, as a government, whatever political party is in government, that we have to provide dignity in retirement for our aged people and dignity to the workers in that sector, because we rely on them enough as it is; they do put in a lot more than they are paid.