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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4035

Senator HOGG(5.39 p.m.) —I rise this afternoon, having listened to Senator Patterson and a couple of other senators participating in this debate, to say that any time the opposition raises points in this chamber against a policy of the government, it is called scare tactics. I think that is far from the truth. Undoubtedly, the people out there are quite capable of sorting the chaff from the hay and of understanding whether what the Labor Party is saying is correct or incorrect.

Senator Patterson —If they are told the truth.

Senator HOGG —Let me just say that they have the opportunity to do it, and I thank Senator Patterson for the interjection. I can say that I have been out there in the electorate. I have been to meetings where the aged have been gathered, and there was one particular meeting recently in north Brisbane.

At that meeting, quite unsolicited, the aged persons in attendance voiced their opposition to and doubts about the intentions of the government's bill. They were quite clearly disturbed at what they thought would come down the track as a result of this legislation. I have also been in the position where I have presented over 700 signatures in petitions asking this government not to go down the path of charging fees to get into nursing homes.

What Senator Patterson said about the member for Jagajaga, Ms Macklin, was not correct. Senator Patterson made the assertion that Ms Macklin's views on the issue of choice about going into either a hostel or a nursing home were incorrect. It is quite clear that those people who are going into hostels have a clear choice—they are in the situation health-wise to make a choice about whether or not to go into a hostel. On the other hand, those people who are going into nursing homes invariably have no choice whatsoever.

This was the concern that was being expressed to me and to other people who were in attendance at this particular meeting—people do not see themselves as having a real choice when it comes to going into a nursing home. It is generally a fait accompli because of the state of their health.

Further, the people at that particular meeting voiced their views on why the elderly and the sick were constantly targeted by this government. The actions of the government led one elderly lady to put the comment at the meeting, `Why are they'—meaning the government—`constantly putting the boot into the elderly?'

In the area where this meeting was held—and it was in Sandgate in Brisbane—there is a high percentage of elderly people who are reliant on the pension, who are not generally considered to be affluent and who will suffer, in spite of what Senator Patterson said, under the two-tier aged care system that will develop under the government's aged care bill. Sandgate is the site of a major state run nursing home—that is, Eventide. When one considers that there is limited accommodation in the area as it is and that resources are being stretched to the full now, there is real concern about this initiative that the government is undertaking.

I really think what needs to be done in this debate is to put a human face on it. There is no better way to do that than to look at the reactions of a constituent from Queensland, a Mrs Sallows, who wrote to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley) in March this year. If I just quote a couple of selected areas from this letter, one will see the genuine concerns that people have. This letter was not solicited, but it shows the difficulties that people are having. The letter states:

I have been led to believe that as a family she would be classed as `Financially Disadvantaged'—

this is the writer referring to her mother—

and would not have to pay any entry fees. However upon admission I was further advised that Government guidelines are such that because she has owned her home within the last 2 years then `Financially Disadvantaged' did not apply in her case. (The home has been left to my sister, brother and myself with the proviso that my brother can live there for 3 years after both our parents have passed on.)

These are the concerns that people are expressing. The letter continues:

As you can see, selling the home (as has been mentioned to me on numerous occasions) would not be an option, and furthermore neither of my parents are in a position to authorise such a sale. It had also been mentioned to me that I should endeavour to get a bridging loan from a bank to pay entry fees. What bank would entertain giving such a loan to pensioners and even if they did where would we get the money from to pay the interest each month for an indefinite period of time.

These are no economic analysts; these are no financial giants. These are ordinary people out there in the community who are concerned about what they face with respect to their parents. I really think it is summed up towards the end of the letter, when it says:

Because of the health condition of both my parents we are unable adequately to look after them at any of our homes. Also my sister does not live in Brisbane.

It goes on:

I realise we are only one family but there must be many others in similar circumstances.

This is the concern that people out there in the broader community have. This initiative is going to impact not just on the elderly themselves but on their next of kin as well. The letter continues:

Where can we go for advice, help and assistance. Do we just take our elderly parents to the Hospital door and leave them with a note attached `NAME UNKNOWN—NO NEXT OF KIN' and let the hospital do what they can. It seems a sad state of affairs when the elderly cannot be given the best possible to see them through to the end of their lives without having to find a great deal of money.

The concern is out there. Whilst this is only one letter, I am led to believe that there are numerous letters couched in this vein that have been received by many of us on this side of the chamber. I would be surprised if they have not been received by those on the other side. They are not just fleeting fears; they are real fears and real concerns about the imposts that will face them. They are real concerns about the double standards that will emerge as a result of the government's policies in this area.

The other issue that probably needs to be addressed, but there is insufficient time, is the issue of the supervision of aged care as a result of this bill. Whilst the impost of $26,000 and the issue of the subsidy are very important issues, there is also real concern about the actual supervision of the care that will be given within those hostels and within the nursing homes in particular. If one reads between the lines, one sees that part of the agenda is to remove the registered nurse from within those institutions. This causes grave concern to the elderly, who place such a great deal of trust, respect and faith in a person such as a registered nurse. This adds further to the concerns that they have with this very piece of legislation that will be debated at a later stage in this parliament.

What we have are problems that are being created by the government, not by the opposition. But the government does not have the courage to face up to members of the public and deal with them in a fair and compassionate way. Whilst Senator Woodley said that the government and the opposition were throwing bombs at each other and tried to make himself out to be a peacemaker, I do not know whether the Democrats necessarily have the answers either. (Time expired)