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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23628

Ms ELLIS (3:03 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Ageing. I refer to the campaign launched today by Aged and Community Services Australia and the La Trobe University report which found that the industry has been under funded by up to $405.8 million since the Howard government came into power. Is the minister aware that several nursing homes have gone into receivership and liquidation due to financial stress and that this increases existing shortages and pressures on families caring for their elderly loved ones over Christmas? Minister, why has the Howard government allowed this nursing home crisis to occur, and what immediate action will the government be taking to address this crisis?

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Minister for Ageing) —I thank the member for Canberra for her question. I understand that there are residents from the Goodwin homes in Canberra here today. They have been invited to question time after the launch of the ACSA campaign, and we certainly welcome them here today. The Goodwin Aged Care Services is one of those services in Canberra that has been allocated an extra $1.5 million in recurrent funding under this government. An additional 80 places and capital funding of $1.7 million have been allocated to the Goodwin Aged Care Services under this government. They are a very good provider, and we are pleased to see them here.

I am pleased that, on this rare occasion, Labor has asked a question on aged care. It gives me the opportunity to contrast the government's achievements in funding and subsidies, allocated places and innovative practices with Labor's woeful record. But we have heard it all before: there is a such a lack of direction, policy and alternative ideas; it is a policy-free zone over there.

Yesterday I saw signs of life. For a moment I thought that it was going to be the emergence of a policy position on the part of Labor. I mistook it. The stirrings on the other side were in fact just the member for Canberra announcing on the floor of this House the launch of this political campaign in aged care. It was not Labor's campaign, mind you; it was a campaign of what has been termed a national political organisation—ACSA. So they have hopped on the bandwagon. That is fine; it is understandable that Labor would want to support a scare campaign—Labor would want to support anyone's campaign, I guess. After all, you get your questions drafted for you on that basis. It saves the tactics committee having to do it.

But what is this campaign about? It is a contrived political campaign against the government to, first of all, portray the aged care industry as being in a state of imminent collapse. That is one of the slogans. Secondly—and this is of concern—this scare campaign is designed to undermine the Hogan review. As members would know, the Hogan review into pricing arrangements for residential care is an independent review that has been set up by the government to consider the financial viability of the sector and its short-term and long-term needs. It is yet to report to the government, but it has been an independent review, there has been very wide consultation and key stakeholders, including ACSA, have been invited to provide their ideas and their alternatives. But there has been not a word from Labor. There has not been one submission to the Hogan review from Labor—not an idea from them.

The strategy document prepared by the public relations firm for this scare campaign talks about the timing of the campaign to create an appropriate climate prior to the release of the Hogan report. It says, `The most effective strategy will be to undermine the review process and, to work best, this strategy should start before the report is released.' This is what Labor is supporting. In the part of the document that talks about the media strategy and how they will use the media, it says, `This will lay the groundwork for attacking the inquiry as not having been properly conducted'—

The SPEAKER —Minister, the chair has exercised a good deal of tolerance, as one does when questions are wide ranging, but I would like you to come back to the question.

Ms JULIE BISHOP —I am speaking about the campaign that was raised by—

The SPEAKER —The question was about funding. I would like a link made between the Hogan report and the question, please.

Ms JULIE BISHOP —What this government is seeking to achieve with the Hogan review is to have an independent, wide ranging reference and consideration of the issues facing the financing of the aged care sector. I am pointing out that it is part of Labor's strategy to undermine the Hogan review. Supporting this ACSA campaign, which is laying the groundwork for attacking the inquiry before it has been released, is, I think, extraordinarily poor form. The member for Canberra said yesterday, `Boy, am I waiting for that pricing review report to be in my hands.' While she is supporting the review on the one hand, on the other hand she is trying to undermine the report. Essentially, this campaign has acknowledged `the government's line, supported by fact, that it is spending ever-increasing amounts of taxpayers' funds on aged care, combined with its reforms in the area, works well to neutralise arguments that it is not meeting its obligations in the area.' So much for an aged care industry in crisis.

Finally, I guess they got something right. In addressing the support that the scare campaign expected from the ALP, it concluded rather sadly, `As in the past, the ALP continues to criticise the government's approach to resolving the issues related to aged and community care funding without proposing any hard solutions.' So say all of us.