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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17199


Mr GIBBONS (4:14 PM) —I am not surprised to hear the final remarks of the previous speaker, the member for Casey. He indulged in a bit of state government bashing. The government have been doing that for quite some time, but it does make a bit of a change from the union bashing that they used to indulge in, so I guess we can be thankful for that. I support the motion moved by my colleague the member for Shortland, which recognises that Australia has an ageing population and calls on the Howard government to address the chronic shortage of aged care beds, resolve the issues surrounding phantom beds—that is, the pretend beds or, as I like to call them, hot air beds: beds that are constantly talked about but never eventuate—provide more community care packages, ensure that aged care resources are located in the areas of greatest need and provide positive initiatives to improve the quality of life for older Australians.

The eighth Costello budget fails to address the critical issues facing the aged care sector. The budget does not offer one new residential aged care place, despite a chronic and growing shortage. As my colleague has pointed out, the Howard government has turned a surplus of 800 aged care beds in 1996 into a 10,388-bed shortfall in December 2002. There are now 21,125 phantom or hot air beds that have been promised and allocated but have never eventuated, compared with 17,920 in June 2002. In Victoria in December 2002 the targeted places were 41,084; the actual places were 36,536. That leaves a bed shortage of 4,548 and, of course, there are 7,025 phantom or hot air beds.

I again remind the House of the problems that the Dunolly community are experiencing in gaining much-needed federal funding for aged care. In doing so, I provide yet another example of the Howard government ignoring the needs of central Victoria. Over the past five years the Dunolly community have applied to the Commonwealth for funding—initially for nine low-care hospital beds and a $60,000 capital grant—and have been refused on every occasion. They are in the process of applying again, but they have reduced the application to four beds. I understand the submission is nearly finalised. They have five people on the current waiting list. One of the four beds will be used for respite, and there is a desperate need in this small community for recurrent funding for respite care.

The local community have raised over $300,000 towards this project, which is a magnificent achievement, given that this small community have a huge unemployment problem and a higher than average aged or age pension population. The Bracks state government has recognised that this community are deadly serious about this facility and has made available $1.2 million towards the project. The Howard government has continued to ignore the fact that the Dunolly community are prepared to contribute $300,000 of their own money towards this much-needed project. The people of the Dunolly district have a proud and successful history of fighting governments that refuse to acknowledge the wishes of their community in matters relating to their hospital. I vividly remember their great struggle against the former Kennett government, which planned to close this hospital in the very early 1990s. The people rallied in a way the Kennett government had never experienced, and it soon buckled under the weight of community pressure—something that had never happened before in Victoria during the Kennett years.

They are not asking for much. They are prepared to put 300,000 of their own hard-earned dollars into the project. All they ask for is a fair go. I urge the new minister, whom I have high regard for, to visit Dunolly and learn first-hand of the determination of these people in ensuring that their much-valued senior Australians have the opportunity to remain in their local area in their twilight years. It is not a big ask, and this government should take this request seriously or accept the consequences—the consequences being a major campaign by the Dunolly community, similar to that waged against the Kennett government, to ensure that they get the appropriate funding for this much-needed facility.

The Dunolly community fought back against this attack on its hospital. During the Cain government years, the hospital had been funded for major redevelopment when David Kennedy was the local member for Bendigo West. The then health minister was Caroline Hogg, whom I am delighted to say now lives in my electorate in Castlemaine. She was an excellent health minister for country people, just as she was an excellent education minister for country people. In 1997 the Dunolly community was determined to fight the closure of its hospital. With the energetic support of my state parliamentary colleague Mr Bob Cameron, it won.

The Bracks government has allocated $1.2 million for this expansion. This would enable the hospital to redevelop existing nursing home accommodation and provide an additional six nursing beds, making a total of 15. This is vital for older people in the Dunolly district who want to go on living in their community if they need nursing care. The only obstacle now to the redevelopment of the hospital is the Howard government, which is holding back the nursing home licence. It is time the Liberal and National parties lift their blockade on the Dunolly hospital and give the go-ahead for the nursing bed licence—and, in doing so, give the people of the Dunolly community a fair go. (Time expired)