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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19706

Ms ELLIS (3:30 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Ageing. I refer to the funding petition today by aged care nurses representing 20,000 New South Wales aged care workers. Is the minister aware of the La Trobe University report which concludes that the aged care industry has been underfunded by an estimated $393 million since the Howard government came into power? Minister, given that the aged care nurses now earn about $140 per week less than their public hospital counterparts, why does the government's 2002-03 budget provide funds which only amount to $1 per resident per day and do almost nothing to address the wage disparity? Minister, what action will the government now take to ensure that aged care providers can pay their workers—like nurses, for instance—decent wages and provide quality care that our elderly Australians deserve?

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Ageing) —I thank the member for Canberra for her question. I had a very cordial and productive meeting with the New South Wales Nurses Association for about an hour this morning.

Mr ANDREWS —If you listen, I might tell you. I can indicate to the House a number of the things that were discussed in relation to that. For example, the New South Wales Nurses Association acknowledged the 100 per cent increase in funding which this government has provided to aged care—from some $3 billion when we came to government in 1996 to some $6 billion in terms of total funding for aged care this year. In addition to that, they acknowledged the fact that in last year's budget an additional $211 million was provided in funding towards a subsidy specifically in order to address the issue of the increased costs of nurses' wages. So these were matters which we had a cordial discussion about. In addition to that, the New South Wales Nurses Association, their General Secretary—Mr Holmes—and other members of that association with whom I had this meeting talked about some of the processes and the possible outcomes of the pricing inquiry currently being conducted by Professor Hogan. The New South Wales Nurses Association and the Australian Nursing Federation more generally have an input into that inquiry, because the Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, Ms Jill Iliffe, is a member of the expert reference sector committee which is advising Professor Hogan in relation to that.

Two other matters which we discussed are worth recounting to the House. One is that, as one of the nurses present said to me, even if the wages were exactly the same as they are in public hospitals, that would not be the end of the issue, because there are some structural issues that need to be addressed—which we are in the process of addressing. One of these is to reduce the amount of paperwork for aged care nurses: relating to that there are three trials currently under way which will conclude at the end of this month. The other matter is in relation to expanding the scope of practice for nurses because, as the New South Wales Premier Mr Carr himself conceded, there is a national and international shortage of nurses. One of the ways in which we can do that is to expand the scope of practice of enrolled nurses in New South Wales.

It is a curious fact that for 41 years in Western Australia enrolled nurses have had a scope of practice which has enabled them to give medication to the residents of aged care homes. Today in New South Wales that ability is not available to enrolled nurses. So someone who might have been practising as an enrolled nurse in Western Australia for the past 25 years and be competent in administering medications could come to New South Wales and be precluded from doing that.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Bass is warned!

Mr ANDREWS —As the nurses from the New South Wales Nurses Association agreed today, this is a structural barrier to improving the care of the elderly in New South Wales. I call upon those members from New South Wales in this place to take up this issue with the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Carr—and with the state health minister in New South Wales—because it is under his legislation and his regulations that these structural impediments to improving aged care exist. Another example of what happens with health and aged care in New South Wales is that, as I said yesterday, 5,330 beds have been slashed from the public hospital system in New South Wales. If you lined up end to end the beds that have been slashed from the public hospital system in New South Wales under Bob Carr, they would stretch from Macquarie Street to the airport—of course, that is where he wants to go.