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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23436

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Minister for Ageing) (3:24 PM) —I am really quite surprised that the member for Canberra would allege government failure in the provision of aged care services in this country. While, of course, aged care is a priority issue and an issue of public importance—it is certainly a priority issue for this government and it has been since we came to office—all this MPI does is to highlight the absolute policy vacuum in aged care on the part of Labor. The member for Canberra says she wants a copy of the Hogan review. What has the ALP done to contribute to that most significant and important review? What was Labor's submission to Hogan? What positive alternative did Labor put forward to Professor Hogan in terms of the long-term funding needs for Australia?

The member for Canberra had an opportunity just then, in her MPI, to offer a constructive, positive and productive alternative. If she says the government has failed, what are her alternative policies? There has been not one policy, not one hint—nothing—not a fresh thought from Labor on the very important issue of aged care and services for aged care. Her rhetoric has come straight from the lobby group that is preparing, according to the member for Canberra, to launch a political campaign. We are used to being lobbied; we expect to be lobbied. But fancy that the only sign of activity, the only sign of life, from the opposition in the area of aged care is when it jumps on the bandwagon of a lobby group. It is a really sad reflection on an opposition party that the only time it is able to come up with any sign of life is when a lobby group says that it is going to bus people in from their aged care beds to question time tomorrow. I would hardly have thought that that was a productive activity, but if that is the way Labor thinks aged care residents should be treated then it is an example of Labor's approach to aged care residents. All it will do is highlight the contrast between the government's achievements in aged care and Labor's total and absolute lack of policy on any aspect of, or on any issue in, aged care.

I would not deign to give any advice to the opposition, but one would have thought that opposition was, firstly, a time of healing. Of course, it depends on how deep the wounds are. Secondly, I would have thought that the time in opposition would be spent rethinking policies. Labor left government after 13 years of abject neglect of the aged care sector. They can say all they like now about the government's funding, the government's policies and the government's achievements, but perhaps the opposition ought to rethink their policies. They ought to look forward, devise a body of ideas—something sound, something progressive. They ought to use this period in opposition—it is now the second year of their third term in opposition—to come up with some sort of constructive issue in a period of preparation for the responsibilities of office.

What we have seen from this opposition is precisely the opposite. All they are able to do is to jump on the bandwagon of a lobby group that is seeking to undermine the Hogan review. The member for Canberra is dying to have the Hogan review in her hot little hands, even though the opposition provided not one idea, not one option, not one alternative and not one submission to the Hogan review, a review that she says is so important. But the lobby group that is campaigning tomorrow is seeking to undermine the Hogan review. That is its express intention. While it is bussing in people from aged care beds for tomorrow's question time, the question has to be: what is the alternative from Labor?

The member for Canberra raised a number of issues. She said, `We are unhappy with the government's failure to provide aged care services.' That is generally what she was saying. What is Labor's aged care policy? What is Labor's policy on accreditation? Labor opposed accreditation when it was introduced under the 1997 reforms. Labor opposed accreditation the first time that there was a national quality assessment and compliance program, and the Howard government introduced it. For the first time every aged care facility in Australia was independently visited, assessed, reviewed and audited to ensure that residents in taxpayer subsidised places were being cared for at the appropriate level and that the providers were providing the quality of care that we expected of them, given the government subsidy for aged care. So what is Labor's policy on accreditation? It stridently opposed the accreditation system that has raised standards of care across Australia. So what is its alternative?

What is Labor's policy on certification? This government introduced building certification standards to lift the quality of the built environment so that those who need aged care in residential facilities have quality buildings in which to live. It is their home, after all. So what is Labor's alternative policy on certification? It has opposed it from the beginning. It opposed it in 1997. What is its alternative policy?

What is its policy on aged care funding? As I said, it did not make any submission to the Hogan review. So what does it say funding for aged care should be? Labor introduced the COPO—the Commonwealth Own Purpose Outlays indexation model. That was Labor's policy back when it had a policy—back when it was in government. I was not here, but apparently it used to have policies. That was Labor's policy in 1995. Labor introduced that COPO indexation formula. What is Labor's alternative formula? Is Labor now scrapping its policy from 1995? If so, what is it introducing? Again, there is a policy vacuum.

What is Labor's policy on residential care place allocations? The member for Canberra says there are insufficient places being allocated to aged care. What is Labor's policy? When Labor was in government—when Labor apparently had policies—the target that it introduced back then, in 1985, was something like 100 places per 1,000 people for every person in the community over the age of 70. That was its ratio. It aimed for it, but it did not ever meet its target. It could not and would not meet its target. It was okay for Labor, between 1985 and 1996, to accept 100 places per 1,000 for the population aged over 70.

The member for Canberra does not appreciate that this formula is sensitive to demographic changes. She asks, `What about the demographic changes?' Obviously, the formula is sensitive to changes in the demographics. So if there are more people over the age of 70 in the population, the formula adjusts, obviously. Labor could not or would not meet that. What were we left with? A 10,000 place shortfall. That was a national disgrace. The member for Canberra was not in parliament at the time. She would be embarrassed to have to admit to that 10,000-place shortfall.

The member for Canberra is a nice person. The member for Canberra cares about her constituents. Only the other day we were both at Moreshead Home. The member for Canberra was there to witness the success of one of the homes in the member for Fraser's electorate in Canberra under the accreditation system. That home was recognised for the truly exceptional care that it is providing under this government's accreditation system. I am glad the member for Canberra was there. She would be embarrassed to have to admit that, when Labor left government after 13 long years, its priority in aged care was to be 10,000 places short.

Mr Downer —And no accreditation!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)— Minister for Foreign Affairs!

Mr Sidebottom —A serial offender!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Braddon does not need to interrupt!

Ms JULIE BISHOP —That was not the government's assessment; that was an independent assessment of Professor Gregory. The member for Canberra talks about leaving reports on the shelf. What did Labor do about Professor Gregory's independent assessment? What did Labor do about the Auditor-General's assessment of there being 10,000 places short? What is Labor's allocation target? What is Labor suggesting should be the appropriate allocation of places per head of population aged over 70, and how would it meet it? Labor at election time can be long on promises, but they are always unfunded and they are never attributed to a funding outcome. How would Labor meet that?

The member for Canberra mentions the La Trobe University report. She speaks of the report as though it is some independent report. Of course, it was commissioned and funded by the aged care sector. It was a group comprising providers, nurses, the Nurses Federation and unions, and—surprise, surprise!—this report managed to get the answer they wanted, which was that it alleges a shortfall in funding. The fact is that the Howard government has demonstrated its ongoing commitment to ensuring that older Australians receive the care that they need, and not only by increasing funding. The member for Canberra dismisses a 100 per cent increase in funding in aged care from $3 billion to $6 billion. She dismisses that as just statistics. What that $6 billion of the federal government budget delivers is a quality of care in aged care residences across Australia that any country would be proud of. The member for Canberra was there at Moreshead Home to see the truly exceptional provision of care, under the government's accreditation certification systems, that providers are able to give to those in our community who need care.

Let us have a look at the funding increases. The member for Canberra dismisses these as statistics. Let us have a look at what we have done in one area that has truly met the aspirational needs of an increasing number of older Australians—that is, to age in place at home in their community. The government made an election promise to meet 200,000 allocated places by June 2006. We are well on track to doing that. I have mentioned the fact that Labor was 10,000 places short. But, by June 2006, we will have 200,000 government subsidised aged care places in Australia.

What that also means is that we have allocated many community aged care packages within that sum. Of the 148,000 allocated aged care places that were in place shortly after the election of the Howard government, there were very few in community aged care. What we have done is ensure that community aged care packages are receiving a priority allocation. That is because older Australians want to age at home and in their community.

We have planned a further 8,666 aged care places for allocation in 2003-04 and I expect to announce those allocations shortly. We have ensured that 7,350 of the places will be in residential care, but 1,316 will be used for some of our national programs. I think that is a very positive outcome. We have also ensured that these places are made operational quickly. All aged care providers now have two years for their provisional allocation of places to become operational, so the government again are acting to ensure that government subsidised places that are allocated become operational very quickly.

The accreditation system is working. The success of the system is demonstrated by the overwhelming majority of accredited homes throughout Australia. Almost all of the 3,000 homes are accredited for three years. That is a fantastic achievement on the part of the aged care sector. This is a sector that is responding to the demands and expectations of the community that it meet high standards of care. We introduced the Aged Care Complaints Resolution Scheme. Again, what is Labor's policy on an aged care complaints resolution scheme? They opposed it in the 1997 reforms and we have heard nothing from them since the 2001 election. We have spot checks that are being carried out by the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency, and the department undertakes monitoring to ensure that providers continue to comply with their responsibilities under the Aged Care Act. What is Labor's alternative policy on the accreditation agency? The agency is an independent operation. It is working very well, and the aged care sector is responding extremely well, and we hear nothing from Labor on that.

Another area where the federal government is meeting expectations and meeting aged care needs is home and community care. This is a joint Commonwealth-state initiative, and the Commonwealth provides about 60 per cent of the funding. This year, we are providing over $730 million in funding for home and community care packages. That is a 70 per cent increase since we have been in government, and that is a substantial increase. But in the community aged care packages the increase in funding has been some 700 per cent. Again, the member for Canberra says that that is just a statistic, but a 700 per cent increase in funding means that we are delivering in the area of community aged care packages. I am sad to have to say that the only thing the Labor Party has to offer is to jump on the bandwagon. (Time expired)