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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15027

Mr TICEHURST (2:30 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Ageing. Would the minister update the House on the government's commitment to expand access to quality aged care places for frail elderly Australians?

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Ageing) —I thank the member for Dobell for his question and indicate to the House that earlier this year I announced an additional 8,624 new aged care places to be allocated throughout Australia this year, worth some $185 million in additional recurrent funding for aged care. This week, I was pleased to announce the approval of the regional distribution of these places—some 5,237 residential aged care places, an additional 861 community aged care places and also 550 extended aged care at home places, where nursing level care is taken to people in their own homes. Over the last five years, the Commonwealth has allocated 52,700 aged care places and is well on track to meeting its target of 200,000 places in Australia by 2006.

In the planning region covered by the member for Dobell's electorate, there will be 100 new high- and low-care places, 20 additional community aged care packages and 20 of the new, expanded aged care in the home packages. This is part of a planning formula to ensure that there is an equitable distribution of aged care places right throughout Australia. The key priorities in allocating these places—and I should say that the regional distribution details are now available for aged care providers to apply for these places—will be: firstly, ensuring that places become operational within the two years provided by the legislation; secondly, addressing the complex care needs of people with dementia and people requiring respite care; and, thirdly, improving access to services for people with special needs.

The allocation of 52,000 additional places over the last five years stands in marked contrast to what has happened in the states vis-a-vis public hospital beds. Indeed, between 1987 and 2000 there has been a reduction in public hospital beds by the states of some 14,000 beds. In New South Wales, where the honourable member for Dobell's electorate is, there has been a closure, a ripping out of the system, of more than 6,000 public hospital beds by the state government. So, in terms of what the Commonwealth is doing for aged care, there are now more than three times the number of aged care places as there are public hospital beds. This is reflected in the growth of aged care expenditure by the Commonwealth. When we came to government in 1996, total Commonwealth aged care expenditure was some $3 billion. In this year's budget, it is expected and projected that total Commonwealth aged care expenditure will have risen to $6 billion.