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Monday, 20 October 1997
Page: 7587

Senator SYNON(3.29 p.m.) —Senator Gibbs, we agree that the aged care sector is in crisis. It is a group of people that we care about very much. This is why this government has been the one that has had the courage to make the major reforms that are needed to ensure that these people are cared for well into the future. We care—we care very much. We simply cannot understand how for 13 years you neglected this key sector of Australian society.

It is this government that has convened the Conference for Older Australians, which will be looking specifically at the needs of our ageing population and it is gross hypocrisy on the part of the ALP to suggest that this government does not care. The ALP is capable of saying one thing and doing another—it was the ALP which introduced accommodation bonds in hostels.

Because you neglected this critical area—despite dire warnings to the contrary—we have had to pick up the bundle. You turned your backs on the very people who have given and invested so much in this society over many years. How dare you have the hypocrisy to not only come into this chamber but go out into the community—which, I would suggest, is far worse—scaremongering amongst elderly people. Your disgusting neglect is the mess that we are cleaning up, and I think it is worth revisiting some of the legacy of the ALP.

The ALP reduced capital funding to nursing homes by 75 per cent between 1992-1993 and 1995-1996. It is worth having that figure on the record again. The ALP cut funding by 75 per cent, and you have the audacity to come in here and ask, `Who cares?' You deliberately ran down the nursing home sector. In 1985, Bob Gregory warned you, the then government, that $125 million per year was needed to upgrade nursing homes. Your response—zilch. At the last election, the ALP's policy on aged care ran to 200 words—half a page. This is how much the ALP, the then government, cared about the older people in our community. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

When we came into government, we found nursing homes that do not meet fire standards. Some 11 per cent of nursing homes do not meet fire standards, and 15 per cent do not meet state health standards. In 40 per cent of nursing homes, patients share a room with four or more. The ALP's record is appalling, but it is typical of those who sit on the other side and cloak their words with compassion and integrity but do nothing. The Australian public knows that to be a compassionate government you must at times take tough decisions—tough decisions that will see the sector strong into the years ahead.

I will cite a couple of facts that are often neglected in discussion of this issue. Under our reforms, 27 per cent of nursing home beds will be guaranteed for the financially disadvantaged. The number of people over 65 will grow by 48 per cent over the next 20 years. We just cannot afford to turn our backs on the perilous condition of nursing homes in this country. This year we will spend $3.7 billion on aged care, on supporting our older people, and this does not include their pensions. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.