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Monday, 27 September 1999
Page: 8976

Senator CHRIS EVANS (9:20 PM) —I have a couple of remarks to make because this issue of coalescence is important. I was glad to see Senator Allison raise it in her speech on the second reading, and Senator Brown is pursuing the interests of Tasmanian aged care interests tonight. That is welcome because this is an issue that we have been pressing the government on since January. The Treasurer received the report on coalescence from the Productivity Commission in January and did not release it until March, after a lot of pressure from industry, the opposition and others to have it publicly released.

We were promised there would be a consultation period in the May-June period, with a decision being announced shortly afterwards. We are now getting various stories about the next month or two. I hear that the last story the providers got was that it would be by the end of the calendar year but the story varies from day to day. The government admitted there was a problem with the policy and sent it off for independent review by the Productivity Commission, which is not usually a friend of those concerned with a caring, sharing society. However, the commission produced a report which was highly critical of the government's coalescence policy and pointed out the inequities in the policy, particularly for states—as Senator Brown quite rightly says—like Tasmania and Victoria.

The industry is extremely frustrated that the minister is unable to deal with the Productivity Commission report and give a proper government response to it. It is scandalous that there is no direction coming from the government. Senator Brown, like the industry, makes the point that people need to be able to plan on the basis of the conditions that will be applying in their industry. The industry is in a state of great uncertainty because of the failure to get clear direction of what the government intends to do.

The government said it would refer the issue to the Productivity Commission. It got an answer which said that the government's policy ought to be abandoned. For the last eight or nine months it sat on that report and failed to respond. It has consulted to the point where the industry does not want to be consulted anymore, because all they hear is talk. They want some direction. They want some positive policy response to the issues that have arisen. Providers and the community in Tasmania are rightly concerned to know what the answer is.

So I really do think the government owes the Senate, the aged care community and the aged care residents an answer on when it will know what the policy will be. Really, Minister, they ought to know what the policy will be. The minister has had long enough, and she cannot continue to ignore the need for some direction from the government. So I add my support to Senator Brown's and Senator Allison's comments that this is one of the key issues that are at stake in aged care at the moment.

I understand that the minister in the chamber may not be in a position to give those assurances tonight and that, in the end, the buck does not stop with him—he is the messenger on this occasion—but it is the most pressing issue and it is causing uncertainty. The government must respond and must address the issues raised by the Productivity Commission in a proper way and quickly. It is not good enough to say, `Oh well, we are still looking at it, we are still consulting.' I have not met anyone in the industry who wants to be consulted anymore; they want the problem fixed and they want an answer as to when it is going to be fixed.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Lightfoot) —Does Senator Evans wish to formally move his request—schedule 1, item 14?