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Wednesday, 25 June 1997
Page: 5093

Senator NEAL(12.12 p.m.) —I seek leave to speak from a chair that is not usually my own.

Leave granted.

Senator NEAL —I must say that I find it quite an interesting situation to have Senator Lees explain the position of the government on aged care. I am sure she does it very well, but I do not think I have experienced that in the past and maybe that is something that we will be seeing more of.

There is some major concern about the failure of this legislation to really provide for a two-year review and furthermore for a review of some sections of this bill within three months. I certainly understand the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services (Senator Ellison) that in his view an undertaking provided in this place has the same force as legislation, but I would suggest to him that in fact there are many decisions that say quite the contrary. I would like to ask him to explain, on the next occasion when he is on his feet, why, if these undertakings are of the same force and of the same effect, this government is not prepared to put them in a legislative form and amend the bill accordingly.

The other issue that I wish to explore in some detail is this proposition that systemic complaints can be dealt with by this complaints committee rather than it just dealing with individual complaints about the application of the bill, the regulations and the principles made pursuant to the proposed act. In my experience of the normal construction of complaints committees such as these, there is generally a limitation on such a committee looking at the experience of the complainant, seeing whether they have been dealt with properly in line with the legislation and its subordinate legislation, and then advising and making recommendations based on the existing legislation.

I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary whether, by saying that systemic complaints can be dealt with, he is in fact saying that an elderly person who has been dealt with unfairly under this legislation can come along and say, `Because of the way this legislation operates, I only receive this sort of subsidy; I think that I should get more for it to be fair,' and that the complaints committee can recommend a change to the legislation and it will have effect.

Possibly the parliamentary secretary could outline in more detail exactly how these complaints committees are going to work. It has been indicated by Senator Lees that they will be set up in various states. Maybe the parliamentary secretary could confirm that. Maybe he could advise us when they will be set up, who will be appointed and what sorts of persons will be appointed. Who will have the power to appoint the members of the committees? Could the parliamentary secretary advise us whether either house of parliament will have some input into who is appointed?

Once these complaints are made, what power and authority do these committees have to make decisions? What effect can they make to their decisions? Will they only be able to conciliate and discuss the problems with the complainant and the person against whom the complaint has been made or will they be able to make decisions which will then be implemented? If they can make decisions, how far can they go? Can they give directions to a nursing home? Can they make recommendations about amendments to the legislation? If they can make recommendations, will they have effect per se or must they be brought back to the minister? Must they be brought back to this house or both houses?