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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4027

Senator KNOWLES(4.58 p.m.) —I rise to speak on this motion because I have, I suppose, sat through as chairman of—

Senator Calvert —On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President, I think there were arrangements made for speaking times to be 10 minutes. I think everybody should be aware of that.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Childs) —It being the wish of the Senate, I will ask the clerks to set the clocks accordingly.

Senator KNOWLES —I have sat through days and days of hearings on the question of the funding of aged care. I have to say that it has been a most disturbing exercise to have had to endure. The scaremongering and the downright misrepresentation by the Labor Party to the most vulnerable section of our community has been nothing short of disgraceful.

What we have seen over the last 13 years of Labor government is the grinding down of the facilities of nursing homes. We have seen Professor Gregory's report, which documented major deficiencies in nursing home capital works and criticised the nursing home funding system for providing neither the funding nor the incentive for providers to maintain their buildings.

Professor Gregory found the following information. He found that 11 per cent of nursing homes did not meet fire standards, 15 per cent did not meet health regulations—

Senator Ellison —Shame! Shame!

Senator KNOWLES —It is a shame, Senator Ellison. But did we ever hear the Labor Party talking about any of this when they were in government? This happened under their administration. Furthermore, Professor Gregory found that 40 per cent of residents had to share a room of more than four beds.

To substantiate that, I will quote from the evidence given to us on Monday, 5 May. Senator Forshaw has—very conveniently—forgotten to quote this. We have to remember that in 1992-93 there was a total of $45 million spent on capital stock. By 1993-94 that had declined to $26.5 million. In 1994-95 it was down to $15.7 million. In 1995-96 it was down to $10.7 million.

Senator Neal —What are you spending?

Senator KNOWLES —That represents a decline of a mere $35 million on this area of aged care, a decline which took place under the former Labor government that has brought this motion before the Senate today. That is absolutely disgraceful.

The changes being proposed by this government are designed to bring better consumer protection, better and more sustainable funding, better buildings and better facilities for the care of residents. That is all designed to rectify the problems this Labor Party caused when they were in government. They criticise what we are trying to do, which is to ensure that the cart is turned around and that people who qualify for aged care are not put in some dreadful position where they cannot get access to proper quality care.

In the last year of the Labor government the amount that was spent on upgrading was under $1 million. That is nothing short of a disgrace. But did we hear anything from the Labor Party when they were in government? Not a single, solitary syllable. At least we now have a number of people in this place and in the community who are in favour of what the government is doing. Senator Woodley, for example, said:

I think what they've got to consider is whether or not they're prepared to allow decaying nursing homes to continue . . . unsafe, often with improper fire services to those homes . . . to continue or whether they are prepared to make a contribution themselves to the accommodation that they would want to be of a much higher standard than what we've got now.

That is what Senator Woodley said.

In addition to that, the ACT Council on the Ageing had positive comments to make. Maureen Lister of Aged Care Australia, which represents the church and charity community groups sector that provides most of the hostels and about 45 per cent of all nursing homes, had positive things to say, as did the Australian Nursing Homes and Extended Care Association and the National Association of Nursing Homes and Private Hospitals. The list goes on. The only people who have carping criticisms about the government's proposals are those very people who allowed the system to run down. It is absolutely and utterly disgraceful

Professor Gregory estimates that what we will need to spend—on an approximately annual basis—to not only arrest the decline in nursing home standards but also to bring the stock up to standard will more than double in about 15 years, if we do not take some action now. This Labor Party does not want any action taken now.

We have a situation where the Labor Party say that people should not be forced to sell their homes. Yet the fact of the matter is that well over 50 per cent of people sell their homes now. Most people do not have a problem with that. One of the interesting things the Labor Party raised in the inquiry was that people should not be forced to sell their homes, because they are somehow going to leave a nursing home and go back home. Unfortunately, it happens to be a fact of life that most people do not leave a nursing home either to go back home or to go and play football, baseball or anything else. They leave a nursing home to go into hospital or to go to their final resting place. This is where the Labor Party keep on frightening the aged and so many people out there. The government is trying to fix the decline of nursing homes which occurred under Labor and their mishandling of the situation. I would be very interested to hear what the Labor Party have got to say in terms of defending their $35 million cut to aged care funding—and nursing homes in particular—over their last few years of government. That is a shame. That is absolutely scandalous. But they are very careful not to mention it.

There have been further reports this week that are so misleading you would not believe them. Since the minister made further announcements on Monday, we have had the shadow minister going out and saying that the under-privileged and the less well-off in society are only going to get paid $5 a day. I thought oppositions—and members of parliament generally—had some responsibility to at least get close to the truth. This does not even come near it.

According to the opposition, the government was allocating just $5 a day to frail older disadvantaged people. That is totally untruthful. It is a distortion. This additional $5 subsidy will be paid on top of the existing government subsidies which are as high as $100 per day per person. Yet the shadow minister has the gall to say that they are going to get $5 a day. In fact, the average amount this government spends at nursing home resident level is about $29,000. The government will be spending a total of $66 million on assisting providers to care for financially disadvantaged people.

Senator Neal interjecting

Senator KNOWLES —Senator Neal has done nothing but flap her gums about nonsense since I got to my feet; she has done nothing but flap her gums about nonsense since this issue was raised. She asked me, by way of interjection about five minutes ago, what we are spending: $66 million—when they ran down the whole show by $35 million over a matter of five years.

It should be noted that the Labor Party policy at the last election was to spend a pathetic 18c a day on people suffering dementia, and to give operators just $3 to help them with capital upgrade of their homes. I issue a challenge to the Labor Party: come and tell us why your policy at the last election was to give a measly 18c a day for people suffering dementia, and to give operators just $3 to help them with capital upgrade on their homes.

To a very, very serious group in our society and our community who are least able to defend themselves, this whole debate—and this motion in particular—is just the most disgraceful distortion of the facts. The Labor Party should start telling the truth—start telling it now, and let us see whether they can defend the appalling position which they took when they were in government for over so many years of a $35 million reduction in spending.