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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17195

Ms HALL (3:59 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that Australia has an ageing population; and

(2) calls on the Government to:

(a) address the chronic shortage of aged care beds;

(b) resolve the issues surrounding phantom beds;

(c) provide more community care packages;

(d) ensure that aged care resources are located in areas of greatest need; and

(e) provide positive initiatives to improve the quality of life of older Australians.

Australia, like many countries throughout the world, has an ageing population. This has resulted from a declining birth rate—our birth rate is currently at 1.7—and an increase in life expectancy, with women having a life expectancy of 82.4 years and men having a life expectancy of 77 years. In other words, we are having fewer children and we are living longer.

Unfortunately the Howard government's response to this has been reactive and unimaginative. The Intergenerational Report, which accompanied last year's budget, said that we faced a financial crisis due to our ageing population—and the government tried to use the report to justify increasing the cost of pharmaceuticals. There were no constructive, innovative approaches in the report; rather, it was used as a cost-cutting exercise and as a vehicle to portray older Australians as a burden on the community.

The Minister for Ageing, in answer to a question from the member for Dobell, boasted that the government has approved 5,237 residential aged care places, an additional 861 community care places and 550 extended aged care at home places. It is interesting to analyse these figures and the government's performance in reducing the number of aged care beds. These figures will identify not the fact that the government is doing a great job in allocating plenty of beds but that there is a chronic shortage of beds and that the government has been constantly falling short in this area.

In 1996, when the Howard government came to power, there was a surplus of 800 aged care beds Australia wide. By December 2002 that 800-bed surplus had turned into a shortage of 10,338—quite an indictment, you might say. The New South Wales health minister advised the New South Wales parliament last week that, according to the formula for the allocation of beds—that is, 90 beds per 1,000 people over the age of 70—there should be 190,000 aged care places Australia wide. There are only 173,000 places. That is quite a shortfall.

We have quite a considerable shortfall of aged care places in the Hunter. We have 82.1 beds per 1,000 people over the age of 70—a shortage of 450 beds. On the Central Coast—the other part of the electorate I represent in this House—there is a shortage of 1,065 beds. That is a disgraceful state of affairs. The Shortland electorate is the 12th oldest electorate in the country, yet in the two areas that fall within the Shortland electorate there is an enormous shortage of aged care beds. The government are failing people in a very big way and, at the same time, are trying to put across the argument that they are looking after people.

In New South Wales, the number of aged care beds has fallen by 2,000. There were 51,000 aged care beds but there are now 49,000. Remember what I said at the beginning of my speech: Australia has an ageing population and has a great need for these resources, yet there are 2,000 fewer beds available. To the people in the Hunter this means that there are 73 people in acute care hospital beds waiting for an aged care place. On the Central Coast there are 68 people in acute care hospital beds waiting for a place in a nursing home or a hostel. This is hardly the place for them to be. It costs $354 a day to keep a person in an acute care hospital as opposed to $80 a day in an aged care facility. But the difference—and this is what the Howard government is very mindful of—is that when they are in a hospital the state pays, whereas when they are in an aged care facility the Commonwealth pays.

The UK and Sweden have a scheme in place whereby, if a person is not offered a bed in the appropriate place or offered the appropriate home care package by an organisation, the organisation has to pay the hospital for keeping the person in an acute care bed. In Australia that would mean that the Commonwealth would have to pay the states the difference. I do not think that this government would embrace that at all.

In New South Wales there are 55,788 beds and of that 7,206 are phantom beds, existing only on paper. The government is approving beds and those beds are not being provided; the facilities are not being built. This means that people are waiting. This is due to the inadequate funding formula that is used by the government, the problems that exist with the resident classification scale, the staffing shortage and an inadequate and ineffective planning and approval process. Beds are approved without any consideration being given to whether or not the local government authority is going to approve those facilities—that is whether or not the facility complies with planning laws and requirements. Quite often, these facilities are located in inappropriately zoned areas.

When it comes to the community care packages, once again we have an enormous shortfall in areas where there is the greatest need. Recently I spoke to two ladies who are both eligible for the veteran home care scheme. One lady was told, `I am sorry; we do not have the resources. You are eligible for this service; you have been approved to have two hours per week. But the resources aren't there, so we suggest that you contact the local Aged Care Assessment Team and see if there are any packages available.' When she contacted the Aged Care Assessment Team, she was informed that there were absolutely no packages available.

Similarly, there is a lady who lives in Swansea in the electorate of Shortland. She has been advised that there are no packages available for her mother who is dying. She has been on the waiting list since January, and the mother is not expected to last more than two or three months. So there are insufficient aged care packages, there are insufficient residential packages and the government continues to fail the people of Australia.

I will also go to the method of allocation of aged care places. They are allocated on the basis of health areas, so there is the Hunter area health and the Central Coast area health. The needs are assessed against those areas. In the Hunter you have the Upper Hunter area, Newcastle and the Central Coast—all very different areas with very different needs. If a bed is approved for the Upper Hunter, it is well and truly over 100 kilometres between the two. Even within Lake Macquarie there are enormous problems, because you have the lake in the middle of the area.

Finally, there are few positive initiatives to improve the life of older people. Health and age discrimination need to be addressed, and there needs to be an end to stereotyping. The Howard government has shown that it has no respect for older people and their achievements and no commitment to their security. The Australian Institute of Family Studies estimated that Australians over the age of 55 years contribute $72 billion to the Australian economy. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Gibbons —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.