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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19774


Mr ZAHRA (9:46 AM) —I am very pleased to see that the issue of the leadership of the National Party has been finally resolved after them agonising publicly and creating uncertainty in the community for a long time. But what we want is to see some leadership from the National Party on the issue of nursing homes and aged care hostels in country districts.

There are many people in this parliament who represent country districts. I am one of them; Gavan O'Connor, the member for Corio, is another. There are a couple on the other side here as well. And you, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, represent a country district. Everyone who represents a country district would know just how difficult nursing homes and aged care hostels in rural communities are finding it as a result of the woeful one per cent indexation which has been provided by the federal government to nursing homes and aged care hostels as a way for them to continue their operations.

One per cent is not much. One per cent is less than the CPI. One per cent is well short of the four per cent increase which nursing homes and aged care hostels have to pay their staff as a result of the enterprise bargaining agreement process. People may well say, `Why did they get themselves into a situation where they had to pay their staff four per cent more per year for three years?' The answer to that is that they were faced with the very real prospect of losing their staff. Even with that four per cent increase per year for three years, staff who work in age care services will still be 20 per cent worse off than people with similar skills working in the acute sector. It is not as though they had much choice at all.

I want to read to you briefly from a letter that I got from the CEO, Craig Stuchbury, of the Neerim District Soldiers Memorial Hospital. He says: `This increase is completely inadequate. It does not take into account increasing costs and puts the provision of age care, particularly in rural areas, very much at risk. It will almost certainly affect the quality of care that can be provided.' He goes on to say: `We simply cannot afford to sustain ongoing losses. At best, our current excellent standard of care, which has just resulted in reaccreditation for a further three years, will slip. At worst, this facility will face closure, particularly if government funding increases continue to take no account of rising costs.'

Similar sentiments have been expressed to me by other nursing homes and aged care hostels in my electorate, as well as by larger nursing homes which have 80, 90 or 100 beds as well. So this is an important issue, particularly for rural aged care hostels and nursing homes. I call on the National Party, who are supposed to represent country people, to stop focussing on their own leadership problems and start providing some leadership to country communities. (Time expired)