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Monday, 8 March 2004
Page: 20945

Senator HARRADINE (2:34 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Ageing. Is the minister aware of an industry survey released yesterday by Aged and Community Services Tasmania which shows that one in three nursing homes faces closure and that eight out of 26 nursing homes cannot make ends meet in Tasmania? I am aware, Minister, that the government is increasing funding for new beds, but what is the government going to do about recurrent funding and ensuring that senior citizens in Tasmania are properly provided for?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) —I thank Senator Harradine for an important question. As he reflects in his question, the government have committed an enormous amount of money and policy time into ensuring just what he seeks in the last sentence of his question: that people who move into aged care facilities get good quality aged care. The senator would know that when this government came to power in 1996 we inherited what could only have been described as a mess in aged care. We brought in an accreditation system to ensure that people who entered aged care facilities knew that if it were Commonwealth funded then it would meet strict criteria in terms of both the quality of the accommodation and the quality of the care that people could expect if they were in aged accommodation that was supported by the government. Yes, I am aware of the article—there is one in today's Mercury I think; and it did quote a Mr Stephen Richards of Aged and Community Services Tasmania. As I read the extracts of that article, he did make some claims about the potential closure of a third of nursing homes. He does say not imminently, however; the extract that I have been given says within the next few years. Clearly, any indication of the closure of aged care facilities that are important to the community is of concern.

The government have been investing heavily. For example, we provided something like $124.5 million for residential aged care in Tasmania in the last financial year, 2002-03. In the current aged care approvals rounds, we recently announced a total of 140 new high-care residential places and 53 new low-care residential places in Tasmania at an expected recurrent cost of around $6.6 million a year, with capital expenditure of $2.6 million also announced. In addition, 25 community aged care packages were announced late last year, at an estimated cost of $0.29 million.

One of the issues facing Tasmania is the coalition's policy to try to bring all states to a fair and equitable level of funding. This funding equalisation assistance package for residential subsidies is being implemented. Senator Harradine should also know that the Minister for Health and Ageing, the minister whom I represent here, has recently received a report from the Productivity Commission into aged care funding. That report is with the minister. I recall from estimates committees that there was much questioning by members of the estimates committee on just when the review of the pricing arrangements for residential aged care would be responded to by the minister. The minister has assured me, and I am happy to assure the Senate, that she will be giving that report thorough consideration and that the outcome of the report and the response will be given in a timely manner.

Senator HARRADINE —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Isn't it the bottom line that lack of federal funding is putting nursing homes at risk in Tasmania? Wasn't this the finding of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which conducted an independent analysis of the survey results?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) —I am not aware of the background of the interaction Senator Harradine has referred to, but I reiterate that it would be easy just to say that funding is the cause of the report findings. The senator and, I think, all people in aged care in Tasmania understand that the Commonwealth have massively increased funding to the sector. We have shown a commitment to ensuring that we have sound, ongoing funding for both recurrent expenditure and for the upfront capital. The government have got the runs on the board in relation to that. The minister has made it very clear that she is very keen to ensure that that is the case and that the sensationalist claims that have been the subject of reports in the press in recent days are just that—sensationalist. They do not reflect the commitment that the government has in terms of funding and also of policy effort to find long-term, sustainable funding outcomes to the benefit of all Tasmanians.