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Wednesday, 14 February 2007
Page: 117

Mr HARDGRAVE (5:37 PM) —The member for Blaxland is pretty close to the mark, but there is one variation I will make on his contribution to the Aged Care Amendment (Security and Protection) Bill 2007. It has nothing to do with the extension of the settlement process, when we start to talk about the need for linguistic skills in aged-care services. For heaven’s sake, surely 30, 40 or 50 years after people have arrived in Australia, we should let them know they have settled.

I see the new Minister for Immigration and Citizenship here in the chamber. I was the first ever minister for citizenship at the Commonwealth level and one of the things I learned was that there are too many government agencies—federal, state and local—who have a belief that if the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs imported people to this country then forever they must be their problem. We really have to understand that our cultural diversity, our linguistic diversity and our religious diversity are very much at the heart of what makes Australia what it is today. Departments like the Department of Health and Ageing have got to have programs that give assistance to providers to offer linguistic skills, cultural skills, religious skills—even food skills. Perhaps providers can be given an opportunity to set up wings in their facilities that can be dedicated to particular groups within the community.

There are some great private providers in my electorate. Over time they may be able to provide 20 beds out of 100 for aged people from the Dutch, Greek or Italian communities and, over time, perhaps those from the Vietnamese community, the next group in the community to see its population in Australia age. The member for Blaxland and I will both have to deal with people from the Sudanese, Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean communities. He has a 100 per cent right to say that this is something in public policy that has to have a sensible aspect to it. So I will join with about 90 per cent of what he has said. But I ring the bells: this will not ruin his re-election in Blaxland—he has got the numbers locked up. Here you have the Liberal member for Moreton—the most culturally diverse seat in Queensland—agreeing with the Labor member for Blaxland on the point that we have to look at the whole of our society when we make our plans about this. I think he is also right in the point he makes about the bill before us on the establishment of the aged-care commissioner, who will be a point of reckoning, a responsibility mechanism, who will report to the minister about the sorts of violations that have occurred, about the attacks on elderly people, on vulnerable people—whether they are sufferers of dementia or whether they are simply physically infirm. From time to time there may be exploitation of older people. Any time it happens is too much. I think I heard the Minister for Ageing, Senator Santoro, say that a few months ago in responding to some horrific reports.

We have to be very clear that aged-care sector professionals today are offering day-to-day assistance to those who helped to build this country, the nation builders, particularly the post World War II generation who are now starting to age. Aged-care workers are champions. They do things that I personally would find very difficult, almost impossible, to do—certainly outside of my immediate family. They offer care and they put in extra effort in so many different ways, working unpaid overtime. I have met too many aged-care workers in that circumstance. I do not know whether many owners of aged-care facilities understand exactly what it is that the workers in those places do and the difference that they make through their very personal care and attention for the patients in their care. I am talking about not only those in institutions but also those who are ageing in place, ageing at home. Over the last 10 or 11 years, this government has embarked on making available to people more packages so they can age in place. That makes a difference. Perhaps, to reflect further on the contribution of the member for Blaxland, it also creates another set of problems because of their isolation. Those suffering from dementia who are ageing at home may revert to the language of their childhood. We find people who are perhaps even further socially isolated and trapped by those who have the linguistic skills to care for them, who become gatekeepers and controllers of their everyday lives. In fact we hope that their inheritance and dignity are in the control of good people. That is what the aged-care commissioner will of course deal with.

I think back to when we first came to office in 1996. In Queensland there was an absolutely chronic shortage of aged-care beds. There was a huge problem in Queensland. From memory, Victoria was way oversubscribed. I know the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Andrews, is from Victoria, and he was once the Minister for Ageing. At the end of it, Victoria’s entitlement was way oversubscribed from our point of view as Queenslanders. We fought hard to get further beds allocated to Queensland. There was an accelerated program for Queensland. The Prime Minister listened to us. We worked with him to make that difference in our own area. I have looked back—which I can afford to do in preparation for this discussion—and in my area of Moreton alone there has been a doubling of the number of places and a quadrupling off the base of the amount of money that is expended in aged care. So not only has the number of institutional places doubled but also we have added the community aged-care packages. There were zero in 1995-96 and 187 in 2005-06. That in itself explains that we not only put pressure on the Prime Minister and the Treasurer back in 1996-97 to get some way forward but also have actually been able to deliver on that.

I have new aged-care facilities in my area that are fantastic—for instance, the Regis home at Salisbury. The new facility at Eight Mile Plains which the Bethany Christian Care have in place is without doubt, like the Regis home, an exemplary example of aged-care practices, with 32 high-care beds and 64 low-care beds. This is a facility that will continue to grow. I know that Minister Santoro actually opened that facility in Underwood Road last year, and I was very pleased to be there with him. On raw statistics alone, the electorate of Moreton now has 408 high-care beds and 550 low-care beds. I have figures from the Department of Health and Ageing that back up that claim, but I very much want to place on the record my enormous sense of gratitude to those aged-care workers who work in so many different places to make a difference for people who deserve to have a difference made for them.

I know that there are a number of aged-care facilities on the south side of Brisbane that have had a history of long service. Because of this government’s reaction to the understandable public pressure being applied to update and upgrade facilities, they may face some changes to their circumstances as new facilities may have to replace the old. That seems to be a concern in the sector now, and of course government support to assist with a lot of the practical infrastructure is there—but not in a complete sense, I know. Nevertheless, we have partnerships with private providers like Churches of Christ, TriCare, the Uniting Church, organisations to do with the Catholic Church and others, and the Russian Benevolent Association. The way in which Serge Voloschenko and his team have made a difference at Pine Lodge for 30 or 40 years, offering Russian-speaking assistance to people, is now being met by the enthusiasm of others in the community who want to do more for their particular parts of my enormously culturally diverse local area, and of course I speak of the work being done by the Jeta Gardens corporation.

Jeta Gardens have established themselves at Bethania, in the member for Forde’s electorate, 20 minutes by rail from Sunnybank in my electorate. Choe Lam Tan and his consortium members have set out to establish a marvellous aged-care facility which will have a Buddhist feel about it. I do not know about you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I may want to age as a Buddhist at a later point in time. It might be a very nice and peaceful way to go out. I am not sure what my parish priest will make of it, but it might be a very pleasant way to go out. Jeta Gardens are not saying it is only for Chinese and it is only for Buddhists; it is certainly for anybody who wants to be a part of that particular style of aged-care service, and they are opening their doors to a broad range of people.

Of course they are following on from the work that has been done by the 310-year-old Catholic order of the Sisters of St Paul de Chartres, marvellous people who, at Boronia Heights in the member for Rankin’s electorate, provide beds for all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. This is a Chinese order that has been providing this service for decades, but the order itself is some 310 years old. I remember speaking in this place on the occasion of their 300th anniversary. The sisters there have provided support for all sorts of people. My own grandmother spent some days in respite there about 18 years ago.

I make the point about this diversity because I think the member for Blaxland put me on that particular tangent. But at the end of it there is an opportunity for groups in our communities to participate in the dignity-giving which aged-care services should and are providing in this country, and what a difference a decade has made as far as aged-care services are concerned in this nation. Of course with this bill we have an ambition to do more. I thank Minister Santoro for the very deft way in which he has responded to not only the demands that have come out of the media inquiry but, of course, a lot of other interaction about the needs for compulsory reporting, not to put unnecessary pressure on aged-care professionals but to back the good ones by helping to expose if there are any bad ones in their midst, thus giving a structure and some certainty to people who are in the broader community that there can be a great deal of public confidence about the way the aged-care sector actually operates.

The safety of the residents is of paramount importance to us as a government, as it is to aged-care sector workers, those people who make a difference. Increasing the quality of care is something that we must do, because as this government has continued to invest its money in packages so that people can stay at home—and these staying-at-home packages have been enormously popular—it tends to be that those who actually arrive at the doorstep of an aged-care facility may well be those who need a higher level of care than may have been the case a decade or more ago. Increasing the quality of care and maintaining a decrease in the risk factors associated with the delivery of that care to residents are, I believe, absolutely vital.

The local RSL has undertaken a project. I have raised it in this place before, but I raise it again because it is relevant to part of the way forward. As we start to demand a higher level of care, increase the quality of care and back the professional providers at the coalface—and I am not so much talking about those who have the nice big cars and the wood-panelled offices; I am talking about the nurses and those working at the aged-care bed level—it is important that we in fact encourage another stream of people into this sector, and what the RSL at Sunnybank has done is to engage a couple of local high schools in my electorate. It is a fantastic project. Runcorn High School students and St Thomas More College students have been given a chance to work at the two RSL homes in my electorate. I know, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, when you had the role of Minister for Veterans’ Affairs you came along to Cazna Gardens at Sunnybank Hills—‘Cazna’ being ‘Anzac’ backwards in case no-one can read that properly. Cazna Gardens and the Carrington home at Parkinson have been places where these students have gone on a weekly basis as part of their school work to actually interface with older Australians in these aged-care facilities.

From the residents’ point of view it is an opportunity for them to talk with and engage with a new generation. There are all of the fun things like learning about the internet and computers and so forth. But, for the young people, they have a chance to actually engage on the dignity, and the importance of dignity, associated with ageing. When you actually go along and talk with these kids, you see the fact that they have coped with even the worst set of circumstances. One 16-year-old girl had one of her charges die during her time at one of the homes. The way in which she learned to cope with that and the way in which she was supported by the teachers of her school and the RSL in general I think does set a very good pattern of conduct. From my point of view, I want to see those kids’ efforts actually rewarded with some kind of certified outcome from that training. It is the elementary stage of aged-care professional training and it should be recognised as such.

I think it is very important that we encourage people from all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of language backgrounds to be involved in this process, particularly in an area like mine. I know that the Charlton Brown College in Brisbane has in fact been dealing with those who have come in through the migration program. They have come to Australia perhaps as refugees. They have come with skills which have not been recognised in Australia because of the cumbersome way in which our occupation group recognition occurs and sometimes because of the professional capstones applied by organisations such as unions and state governments. I know of one chap who came from Eritrea who was a trained registered nurse in Eritrea. That would not be recognised here because of what I have just said and because of the conditions I have just outlined. This chap in fact has undergone further training through Charlton Brown College and he is now out there working in the aged-care facilities. What is really great about it is that, no matter what the complexion or the shape of face of the person offering the care, these people are involved with other people who might be of completely different ethnic or linguistic backgrounds. They are part of the changing face of aged care in Australia and, indeed, so it should be.

When this government came to office there was an aged-care expenditure of $3.1 billion. Annual government outlays now have increased to $9.9 billion by 2010-11. That is a threefold increase. When we came to government there were issues left undone by the previous administration in my own local area alone which saw people facing the hostile prospect of having to pay more for aged care because of the failure to invest in aged care by that previous government. They were too busy clocking up enormous amounts of government debt and too busy dedicating too much government expenditure to the repaying of that debt, with a $10½ billion interest rate bill in 1996-97. They were too busy putting Australia into debt to actually concentrate on investing in Australia’s long-term future.

When you think about the numbers, you realise that this country is ageing quickly. Within 50 years the number of people aged 65 will almost triple, from 2½ million today to around 7.1 million by the year 2051—that is when I will turn 91, so I will be stuck in that particular category—and it will go from about one in eight in the population to about one in four. You then realise that we have to gear this sector up for the long term. We have to make families understand that it is not a matter where, when someone reaches a certain age, they are flicked off to aged care. Families have to take primary responsibility, as they should, for the older members of their family. They should indeed be the first port of call. We have helped to resource that with increases in respite for carers, increased carers allowance and increased investment through community aged-care packages. But, when the day does come that someone loses the physical or mental capacity to look after themselves, and when a doctor decides that they actually now need the professional caregivers, we have to make sure that those professional caregivers are well trained and well resourced.

To me it is always a no-brainer. There is a no-brainer in this allocation of government resources question. The first place that the resources should go is always to the patient-caregiver equation. It should not be filtered through massive bureaucracies, choked off and used for paying off a whole pile of people in the process before that care is given, like that fabled episode of Yes, Minister in which the most efficient hospital was the one with no patients. We do not want a system that operates like that. We want something that recognises and resources first and foremost that professional caregiver equation with their patient.

That is why this legislation is in fact so important. While those opposite have been promising an aged-care policy for over two years, but have failed to produce it, this government has recognised it cannot just rest on the great achievements to date and be satisfied that the last 10 or 11 years is good progress; it also has to make sure that the progress to come will set Australia up for the long term. That is what this government is about—responsible economic management delivering the dividends to everyday Australians where and when they need them. Therefore, I absolutely recommend this legislation to the House.