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Tuesday, 28 February 2006
Page: 20

Senator McLUCAS (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Santoro, the Minister for Ageing. Is the minister aware of fresh allegations on Lateline last night of the abuse of frail aged care residents? Didn’t the program note that there is now a third aged care facility in which allegations of abuse are being investigated by police? Can the minister confirm that a resident’s allegations of abuse at this unnamed facility in March of 2005 were dismissed by the provider, with police only being called nine months later when a second resident made similar allegations of abuse? When was the issue brought to the attention of the department and the minister? What action was taken? In addition, didn’t Lateline recount an incident in a fourth facility, Millward, in Victoria? What action has the minister taken to investigate the claim that in this facility an elderly female resident with a brain injury was forced to confront the person she alleged had assaulted her? Does the minister still have full confidence in the protection provided to frail elderly residents under the government’s aged care system?

The PRESIDENT —It is a very long question, Senator.

Senator McLUCAS —It is a long issue, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT —I remind senators of the time restrictions on asking questions.

Senator SANTORO (Minister for Ageing) —Thank you to Senator McLucas for her continuing questions. Yes, I did watch Lateline last night, after I was notified that there were going to be further revelations in relation to this very sad issue. I must admit that, just like Senator McLucas and anybody else who watched the program, I was quite shocked by some of the allegations that were made. I can assure Senator McLucas that we are acting as quickly as we can to get to the bottom of the allegations that have been made. Undoubtedly, the department and the agency will be in contact again with the various nursing homes and aged care facilities in question. Undoubtedly, they will show great diligence and will investigate the allegations expeditiously.

In terms of the nursing home that was not named, I cannot say much more than what was on that particular program, other than to ask the department if they can identify the nursing home in question. We will be making contact, if we have not already done so, with Lateline, to ask them if they have any information that will identify it. As to the allegation that was aired about the nonreporting of an allegation of abuse, I can say to the senator that that was very disturbing. Those of us who saw the story were all very disturbed, particularly by the allegation that the resident who allegedly had been abused was asked to confront the person who offended.

I say to you again, Senator McLucas, that I am very committed to doing my very best to eradicate these problems. I will continue to do my very best, as I have been doing since I became minister, to look at the way the department operates and to look at the way that the agency operates so that we can improve the system in order to minimise the sort of abuse that has become evident. I say again to the senator that the vast majority of residents within aged care facilities that are funded by the Commonwealth government live in perfect safety and perfect happiness. There are, however, some outrageous instances of abuse. We will be doing our very best to resolve that.

Senator McLucas said that there were four cases. The Senate may wish to be informed that there are over 100,000 aged care residents in aged care homes. I provide that information simply to show the number of cases relative to the number of people who are in aged care facilities—although, as I have said, one case of abuse is one case too many and four cases of abuse are four too many. I again reiterate that I will do my utmost to improve the system so that we can minimise the occurrence of these dastardly deeds.

Senator McLUCAS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Aren’t aged care nurses now publicly saying that a system which gives providers notice of inspections can be manipulated by the minority of providers who are not providing proper care? If the nurses who work in aged care do not have confidence in your system, why should families have any confidence that there are effective protections for their vulnerable relatives in care?

Senator SANTORO (Minister for Ageing) —I thank Senator McLucas for her supplementary question. I can assure Senator McLucas that I will be meeting with the peak bodies representing the nursing profession within this country. They will participate in the meeting to discuss these particular matters on 14 March. I will certainly also be looking at opportunities to meet, on a one-to-one basis, the representatives from the peak nursing organisations. At that particular point in time I will listen very carefully to any constructive suggestions that they would like to make about improving the system.