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Tuesday, 28 February 2006
Page: 22

Senator PATTERSON (2:06 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Ageing, Senator Santoro. The proper care and humane treatment of older Australians is a key responsibility for all levels of government and, indeed, the wider Australian community. Recent reports of alleged abuse in nursing homes are disturbing for all concerned, particularly the elderly and their families. Would the minister please outline to the Senate what actions he has taken since these reports came to his attention and any future initiatives he might have to support elderly Australians in nursing home care?

Senator SANTORO (Minister for Ageing) —Thank you to Senator Patterson for her question. I recognise her longstanding interest in and commitment to this vital area of public policy. As I indicated to the chamber yesterday, this government has been very proactive in moving to address community concerns about abuse of the elderly in nursing homes. As I have just said in my answer to Senator McLucas’s first question in this place today, I was particularly disturbed to hear that in one nursing home the alleged abuse was not reported immediately to police. This lent some strength to the call for the introduction of some form of mandatory reporting of such incidents. However, before ruling that in or out, as I indicated yesterday and also last week, I intend to consult the Aged Care Advisory Committee on that issue and on a range of other options such as compulsory police checks, whistleblower protection and possible improvements to the complaints resolution scheme. The meeting of the advisory committee, as I have sought to indicate, will take place on Tuesday, 14 March here in Parliament House.

Senator Chris Evans —It is not a summit.

Senator SANTORO —The committee is well positioned to provide me with the kind of expert advice that I need before deciding how to proceed in relation to these matters. I hear the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate say that it is not a summit and it is not a meeting. For the benefit of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and Senator McLucas I would like to outline the membership of that particular committee. It comprises representatives from the following organisations: the Council of the Ageing/National Seniors; the Royal College of Nursing, Australia; Catholic Health Australia; Carers Australia; the Baptist Community Services; the Australian Society for Geriatric Medicine; the Older Women’s Network; the Australian Nursing Federation; the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners; Aged and Community Services Australia; Alzheimer’s Australia; UnitingCare Australia; the Aged Care Association Australia; the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia; the Health Professions Council of Australia; the Australian Medical Association; the Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs; the Brotherhood of St Laurence; the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency; and the Australian Pensioners and Superannuants League. Call it whatever you want—you can call it a summit—but I think that committee is so representative, so authoritative that it could legitimately and reasonably be described as a summit. Call it a meeting. Call it whatever you wish.

Following this meeting, I will be meeting with my state and territory colleagues to discuss a collaborative way forward. I have already received assurances from at least one of my state and territory colleagues that they are keen to participate in this endeavour. In fact, the Minister for Ageing in Victoria made that attitude very clear on Lateline last week. Whatever collaborative approaches are determined with my state and territory colleagues, we could never give a 100 per cent assurance—and none of my state parliamentary colleagues who have got responsibilities in the area of ageing will give a 100 per cent assurance—that the incidents that we have been discussing today will never be repeated. But what I can say is that we will do our best, and I will certainly leave no stone unturned in order to improve the system and make sure that these bad deeds do not keep occurring.