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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4036

Senator EGGLESTON(5.50 p.m.) —I rise to oppose elements within this motion specifically, and also the general thrust of it. First of all, I would like to make the point that we do have accommodation bonds for hostels. The system of charging accommodation bonds for hostels has greatly improved the standard and quality of facilities in hostels around Australia. The point about this is that the policy of charging accommodation bonds for hostels was introduced by the ALP. This proposal to introduce accommodation bonds for nursing homes is simply duplicating the policy which the ALP introduced for hostels and applying it to nursing homes.

During the course of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee hearings on this matter, a very eminent geriatrician, Dr Norman Marinovich, who is a consultant physician and geriatrician at Fremantle Hospital in Western Australia, was asked whether or not the system of charging accommodation bonds for hostels was causing financial disadvantage to people going into hostels. He said:

I have found that patients and their families have generally not objected—

to paying entry fees for hostels—

first of all. Secondly, it has not caused significant problems financially to those people or their families by having to provide that ingoing fee.

When asked to comment on whether or not he thought accommodation bonds for nursing homes would cause any problems, he said:

But I envisage that most patients and their families in particular, will be able to take an ingoing fee, if it is a reasonable one, in their stride as they have with hostels, without too many problems.

I think that little bit of information underlines the hypocrisy of the whole case that the ALP has been making in objecting to these proposals introduced by the government.

Before looking at the four specific points raised by Senator Carr, I would like to briefly draw the Senate's attention to this government's commitment to addressing the desperate state of our nursing homes. I have seen nursing homes in the metropolitan area in my work as a general practitioner and I assure the Senate that they are appalling. The conditions in nursing homes really do need to be improved. Improving them costs money and this proposal is a means of doing that.

Forty per cent of nursing home residents have to share a room of more than four beds. Conditions are cramped, with beds often being less than one metre apart. As Senator Patterson mentioned, 11 per cent of nursing homes do not meet fire standards and 15 per cent do not meet health standards. These problems are the legacy of Labor. The previous government commissioned a report on nursing homes by Professor Gregory and, in his report, Professor Gregory detailed the problems for the former government and offered solutions. Labor did not do anything about those recommendations. In fact, instead of doing anything positive, they responded by cutting funds to nursing homes, and that surely must have aggravated the conditions in them.

Not only is the current system inefficient for service providers but also the bureaucratic and administrative processes currently required divert the service providers from providing care while still not guaranteeing the quality of care. Labor left the community without enough funding for dementia patients and has created problems for families trying to find a place which will give a decent standard of care and accommodation to their elderly relatives as they pass towards the end of their lives.

Labor must take full responsibility for the state we find our nursing homes in today. It is in response to that terrible situation that Labor left that the government has introduced these proposals. If they had any sincerity or honesty about this matter, Labor should have admitted the error of their ways and acknowledged that this package, introduced by the government, is responsible and caring—but they have not done that. Instead, they have engaged in a program of scaremongering. One can only say that it is a bit rich, if not outrageous and totally dishonest, for the opposition to come into this place and start criticising the government when we have acted responsibly and acted to clean up the mess Labor left behind.

I will now address the specific points made in the motion. I strongly oppose the first point made by Senator Carr when he asked the Senate to note:

. . . the community's overwhelming opposition to the introduction of nursing home entry fees.

I am not sure where the senator gets his information from but the government has certainly not seen any evidence of `overwhelming opposition' to these changes. In fact, there has been quite a lot of overwhelming support, and I would like to mention where the support has come from. Firstly, Mr Jim Purcell, from the ACT Council on the Ageing, on ABC Radio, Canberra, on 11 February 1997, said:

At the present time with the two systems, hostels and nursing homes you have . . . two different bureaucratic structures to look after them and two different sets of rules which have been very confusing.

to patients as well as their relatives. He continued:

Under this new system,—

proposed by the government—

a person can go into a residential care facility and with reasonable confidence will be able to stay there all their life with a high level of care they then need and progressively more complex level of care as their age or as their need increases.

Another endorsement came from Maureen Lister of Aged Care Australia, which represents the church and charity community group sector that provides most of the hostels and about 45 per cent of all nursing homes. On The World Today , on ABC Radio on 11 February, Miss Lister said:

Certainly for the majority of pensioners there will not be a requirement for them to pay an accommodation bond at all and entry to an aged care facility will be based entirely on the care need.

We've had entry contributions in the hostel system for some ten years and I don't believe that residents of hostels would ever say that there's been any discrimination against their admission on the basis of the amount of assets they have had.

We will be able to see quite significant improvements in the buildings of nursing homes and everyone knows that is gravely needed.

The Australian Nursing Homes and Extended Care Association, in a media release dated 11 February 1997, said:

Overall the new aged care legislation delivers incentives for aged care service providers to strive for continuous improvement in care standards and upgrade accommodation standards.

The National Association of Nursing Homes and Private Hospitals, in a media release, again, dated 11 February, said:

The Aged Care Structural reforms guarantee a better system of residential care under an accreditation and quality assurance system that will allow for vast improvements in aged care under a spirit of competition. No such competition or incentive to better accommodation prevails under the existing arrangements.

These are strong words of praise which acknowledge the benefits these government reforms will provide for consumers and providers. The motion put by the opposition therefore fails on its first assumption, which stated that this aged care package has overwhelming opposition from the community.

It also fails in part (ii) where it states that the timetable is unrealistic. The shift of the date to 1 October 1997 is required because the income testing component of the legislation must start three months before the commencement of the reforms. It is therefore quite unreasonable for the opposition to seek to imply that this start-up date is not appropriate. There is absolutely no need for a start-up date beyond 1 October. All the key players, including the industry itself, have indicated that they can support a start-up date of 1 October.

I am concerned that the opposition is doing little more than wasting the Senate's time with this motion. I make the point, however, that the government is prepared to listen to criticism. We believe that this package introduces much needed improvement. (Time expired)