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Tuesday, 28 February 2006
Page: 39

Senator MARSHALL (3:13 PM) —What a disappointing defence of the Minister for Ageing that Senator Humphries has just made. To come to the Senate and suggest to us that because the minister has only been in charge of his portfolio for some 28 days somehow the government has no accountability, no responsibility for fixing this mess and no responsibility for this mess in the first place is very disappointing. The only thing more disappointing today was the incompetence shown by this minister in not answering the questions and not really going to the issues that underpin the substantial flaws in the aged care system.

Senator Humphries well knows that these issues are not new. Even though these issues have just become public recently, these issues have been well known for a long time. Senator Humphries was involved in an inquiry into the aged care system—an inquiry which I chaired. We actually tabled a unanimous Senate report. Every single member of that inquiry unanimously supported all of the recommendations. That report was tabled in June 2005. Some of the recommendations, which I will come to in a minute, go to the very crux of the problem that we are being confronted with today. They go to problems with the complaints resolution procedure, the intimidation of families of residents who actually make complaints, people being dissuaded from making complaints, the complaints process not actually accepting complaints and complaints not becoming complaints unless the complaints body actually accepts them as complaints in the first place.

What we found in that report was that some 13 per cent of complaints that are actually made do not register as complaints because the complaints authority does not accept them as complaints. So they just fall off the radar. Senator Santoro, the minister responsible at this present point in time, suggests to us that, because less than 50 per cent of people who actually complain fill in a survey and some percentage in that survey say they are somewhat satisfied with the complaints system, we can then say that everything must be okay with the complaints system. That is really a bridge too far for this Senate to accept.

The recommendations were tabled in June 2005. The normal process for the government is to actually respond to Senate reports within a period of three months. What has this government done with the aged care report which identifies the problems with the accreditation standards and many other issues to do with aged care? Has there been a response? No, there has not been a response. I actually put to the Senate on 6 October last year my concern that the government had not responded to that committee inquiry of the previous June. I asked why the minister was publicly talking about some of the problems with aged care but had not responded to the Senate report which identified some of these problems. Maybe if that minister had taken her responsibilities seriously at the time then Senator Santoro as the minister responsible today might not be in the mess that he is in.

This is a mess that could have been avoided by this government because these issues have been made public. They have been tabled before the Senate. Senator Humphries cannot simply say, ‘Give the minister a chance.’ I asked the minister directly today about the Senate report. He did not even mention the Senate report. Senator Humphries, you suggested that the minister answered all of the questions fully. You ought to go back and check Hansard. Read the question I asked and you will see that Senator Santoro made no effort at all to answer my question. He went off on a tangent to talk about the complaints facility but did not come back to the Senate inquiry, which was the basis of my question.

I will go to some of the elements of the inquiry. I think it is certainly worth while. Some of the recommendations go to one of the very important aspects of this—that is, whistleblower protection; actually giving employees in nursing nomes protection to enable them to complain about the standards and treatment of people in their care. They should have protection for doing that because we know—and the Senate report talks about it—about a culture of intimidation in some nursing homes. I do not want to paint a picture that all nursing homes are bad. We do not believe that and we say that is not true. The majority of nursing homes are good and they provide adequate care. But where there is inappropriate care and illegal activity, the system does not enable it to be dealt with. (Time expired)