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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23442


Ms GAMBARO (3:49 PM) —I am very pleased today to be supporting the Minister for Ageing in speaking to this MPI. I have a great deal of respect for the member for Canberra, but I do not agree with her when she talks about a crisis in aged care. I do agree on one thing: there is a crisis—and it is right there behind her in the Labor Party. Hopefully today will see the end of that. When she talks about aged care services, she concentrates solely on the aged care sector. I noted, when I checked on her electorate, that she is one of the most fortunate members in this House, in that her electorate has a very low elderly population, with just 8.2 per cent of residents aged 65 years and over. I am quite envious of her having such a very low ratio, because in my electorate 15 per cent of residents—nearly double the percentage of the electorate of Canberra—are aged 65 years and over.

It was not so long ago that I was elected member for Petrie, and one of the most appalling things that I remember from the first year that I was elected is that every Monday morning I would get a stack of reports about the inadequate and—I cannot describe them—horrific conditions that existed in aged care facilities. Every Monday morning I would dread getting those reports. They would go into the terrible and crowded conditions that existed. They would go into hygiene aspects, where soiled clothing would be washed with kitchen tea towels. It is appalling to even talk about it. There were terrible conditions in nursing homes.

The former minister, the member for Pearce, is sitting beside me here and she remembers those times only too clearly. They were horrendous. The Gregory report had come out. One of the most unpleasant things I had to do was to go through an aged care facility where the providers were sent to jail for their terrible treatment of residents and their appalling management of the centre. They were ghosting staff members—putting people that did not exist onto the payroll—and the residents in that nursing home were subjected to the worst type of treatment that anyone could imagine. So this government came along and we introduced an accredited system. The member for Stirling complained that it was too late, too little and too much paperwork. I disagree. Those people had to put up with appalling conditions. It was not too late for those people and I make no apologies for the system of accreditation that we brought in.

As I said, the former minister is sitting next to me, and her contribution to the aged care sector really needs to be highlighted. One of the things I remember her telling me is that she made no apologies for helping people in the aged care sector and that there was absolutely no excuse for people to treat the elderly in an appalling manner. We brought in the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency to monitor that and to make sure that standards were up to scratch, and we took action against people who did not comply.

Sure, some people were going to be upset with the accreditation process. People say all sorts of things to me, even today as I go around aged care facilities. Yes, there is paperwork. Doctors have complained to me that, when they go to aged care facilities, they do not have enough of the medical history of the patient, and we need to make sure that we have some sort of computerised system that will ensure that that information is available to them. Since 2001, we have had a very high record of accreditation. We have had more than 5,000 visits to aged care homes around Australia, and that has resulted in two per cent of homes having to change their accreditation period as well. As of 31 December, there have been 2,977 accredited aged care facilities.

The member for Canberra today concentrated on the nursing home sector. To listen to her you would think that there are no other benefits in this area that we have funded over a long period of time. A week does not go by when I am not doing something in aged care. I will just go through a few things that I have done recently. I visited a hostel, the Buffalo Memorial Home at Kippa-Ring. A $2 million extension to that home was made possible through the capital funding that the member mentioned earlier. Earlier this month, I also announced funding for 15 extended aged care places that will allow several frail, elderly residents to remain in their homes. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people stay in their homes. People want to stay in their homes. I know that for many members in this House, although they enjoy coming to parliament, the best part about parliament is returning to their own home.

It does not really matter what age we are, but when we become older we are much more attached to our home and surroundings. Also, when we become older and we lose our memory, we revert to our native cultures, and that is why this government has been very focused on providing for ethnic homes and facilities. I see the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs is here as well. That has been something that we have had a very strong emphasis on: making sure that there are homes for people of different cultural backgrounds. I support that move.

The government has been absolutely committed to all of these areas and programs and to providing aged care packages and ensuring that elderly and frail people can stay in their homes for as long as possible. Recently, when I provided some extended aged care packages to the Uniting Church's Wesley Mission at Chermside, the program director said, `These packages are the most fantastic things that you've ever done.' Seriously, the credibility from the local level is much more important than some of the throwaway lines which the member for Canberra has been using here today.

These packages have been highly successful. Since 1999, we have been committed to providing 650 high-quality places in the Brisbane North region that I represent. They are part of an overall $13 million aged care program. The record against Labor speaks for itself; their record was appalling when we came into government. As the minister said earlier, since 1996 we have doubled our spending from $3 billion to $6 billion this financial year. We have also provided some 52,700 aged care places. We are on track, and we are going to meet the 2001 election commitment that the minister spoke of earlier, of 200,000 places by June 2006. That is hardly what one could call a crisis in the sector.

The member for Canberra and the member for Stirling spoke about wage increases, particularly in the nursing sector. I would like to remind the members for Stirling and Canberra that they are a little confused in this area. The Commonwealth's purpose outlay indexation arrangements were a response to the emergence of enterprise bargaining, which made a very clear distinction between wage increases that should be self-funded through productivity gains at an enterprise level—I would have thought that the other side of the House would understand what enterprise bargaining is—and those that are non-productivity based, funded from a federal budget through the safety net adjustment to minimum wage rates. They really need to get that distinction very clear because they are slightly confused about how funding works. These arrangements apply to a number of payments that were made by the Commonwealth directly to service providers, which on 1 July 2003 resulted in an increase of 2.2 per cent in the residential and community care subsidies. That was based on a wage cost index which included both safety net adjustments and CPI.

I also want to mention the review of the pricing arrangements. I know the minister has been working very hard and has been consulting widely on this, particularly in response to the 2002-03 budget. This review has been conducted by one of the most respected economists, and I had the great pleasure of meeting with Professor Hogan very recently. He is absolutely committed to making sure that we look at the long-term financing options for the aged care sector. I do agree with the member for Canberra on some things: we are ageing, we do have demographic changes—I am ageing every day, and I know how that feels. We are here to make sure that we improve those care outcomes, and that review has been a very important one. It will look at underlying cost pressures, it will look at movement in nurses' wages and other wages, and it will also ensure that workers compensation and other insurance premiums are looked at.

On this side of the House, we are committed to ensuring that a range of aged care services is provided to all of those whom we represent. We have also ensured that a Medicare rebate of $140 has been introduced so that doctors can now go into nursing homes and make sure that those much-needed services in aged care facilities go on. I commend that measure. I say to the member for Canberra that there is no crisis. We are doing everything we can to ensure that the aged care sector continues to be funded in the strongest possible way.