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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17053

Mrs GASH (2:56 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Ageing representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister inform the House of recent reports relating to the care of the frail aged? What action is the Howard government taking to ensure that elderly Australians receive the essential care that they need?

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Ageing) —I thank the member for Gilmore for her question and say in respect to it that elderly Australians have just as much right to hospital care throughout this nation as do younger Australians. I say that because the rhetoric of the state governments in the last couple of days would suggest otherwise and would suggest a lack of care and a lack of respect for the dignity of older Australians. For example, we have state governments talking about `granny dumping' and `bed blockers'. It implies that older people should not receive hospital care in the first place and that, if they do, the states believe that they should be shoved out of hospital as quickly as possible. This rhetoric is supported by facts.

If we look at the number of public hospital beds provided by the states around Australia between 1987-88 and 2000-01, we see a substantial slashing in the number of public hospital beds—not by 1,000, 2,000, 4,000 or 5,000; over that period of time, state governments have reduced public hospital beds by 14,352. That is one in five beds which have been slashed from the system by state governments around the country. The worst offender, so far as the states are concerned, is the state of New South Wales. Indeed, over that period of time, there has been a reduction of 6,130 public hospital beds in New South Wales—6,130 public hospital beds that existed in New South Wales just over a decade ago no longer exist. One in four—

Mr ANDREWS —I hear an interjection from the member for Lyons. The state of Tasmania has slashed 950 public hospital beds for people in the state of Tasmania. Even though Tasmania's population is not growing as fast as the population of some other states, if the member for Lyons wants to do something about the issue he should be talking to his state colleagues in Tasmania about increasing, not reducing, the number of public hospital beds.

The member for Gilmore asked me what the Commonwealth are doing about the care of frail older Australians. We are doing two things: firstly, we have put an offer of $42 billion over five years on the table, under the Commonwealth-state health care agreements, to assist the state governments to run their public hospitals. That would be a $10 billion increase in hospital funding to the state governments over the next five years, which is a 17 per cent increase in real terms. We also expect the state governments to commit to growth, as we have done at the Commonwealth level. Why haven't the state governments signed up to these agreements? They have not signed up because, for the first time, we require some transparency and accountability from the states so that they do not simply cost-shift to the Commonwealth.

The second thing the Commonwealth are doing is making a substantial investment in aged care. Since we came to government, we have increased funding of aged care from $3 billion in 1995-96 to a projected $6 billion in the next financial year. In the last five years, we have released an additional 52,700 beds. We are on target to achieve 200,000 aged care places by 2006. In the member for Gilmore's electorate, there has been a substantial increase over the last four years. There are an additional 1,590 aged care places for the Illawarra and Southern Highlands planning regions, which is worth some $25 million in annual recurrent funding. In the 2003 aged care approvals round, the electorate of Gilmore will share in some 313 new aged-care places that have been released to these two regions. That is in addition to the $29 million of federal government funding for aged care already being spent in Gilmore. The Commonwealth government have been, are and will continue to be committed to older Australians. We call upon the state governments to do likewise.