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Thursday, 15 February 2007
Page: 12

Mr WINDSOR (9:41 AM) —There are a number of issues that I would like to raise in this second reading debate on the Aged Care Amendment (Security and Protection) Bill 2007. I will obviously support the legislation. The changes that were proposed last year are very worthy and build on what I see as a good attempt by the government to come to grips with aged-care issues. I know we can always do better, and that is the dilemma that governments have and the demand that people make, but I believe that in my time in this place the various ministers—Ministers Andrews through Julie Bishop and now Santoro—have attempted in the main to address the issues that are out there. This piece of legislation, particularly in securing the safety of our older Australians, is to be commended.

As members of parliament we have probably all seen circumstances in aged-care homes where the reporting of various incidents and complaints from residents or relatives of residents have left a little bit to be desired. Many people, particularly the relatives of residents, even though there has been a process in place—and I have been involved in the process a number of times and I thank the people in the department who have been involved in the process—from time to time feel as though the process has not served them terribly well. In some cases that may well be because of a fear of reporting alleged incidents through the complaints arrangements, or it may well be that the relatives feel there might be some form of retribution.

Some people feel from time to time that, when an inspection of an aged-care facility is asked for because people feel there might be some problems of cleanliness or whatever, there are warning signals sent out and then the aged-care facility is in tiptop shape when the inspection comes along. I am not saying that happens terribly often, but I think this legislation will assist to overcome some of those issues—hopefully in a much more transparent arrangement—so that residents who have genuine concerns about their future have a process in place, because it is a very trying time for many people to see their parents becoming older and having to be placed in an aged-care residence, particularly in high care. The Aged Care Commissioner that is mentioned in this bill and the various complaints arrangements and how they will be carried out I think are to be commended.

There are a number of other aged-care issues that I would like to raise while I have the opportunity—and I am pleased to see that the Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing is now in the chamber, because I know he has had an interest in the particular issue that I am about to raise: young people in nursing homes. I know the Australian government and the state governments have been engaged in a process looking at this issue concerning young people who have had accidents and are disabled to a certain extent being placed, in the main, in old people’s homes. I think we all recognise that is not appropriate accommodation. That is not a criticism of aged-care facilities. It is just that they are not the appropriate form of accommodation for young people who are likely to live for many decades. Obviously, there are a whole range of other issues that revolve around the needs of those young people in terms of their social outlets as well as their physical and care needs. I would encourage the government, particularly the new minister, to proceed as fast as they possibly can because there are 6,000 people out there who need some form of care and are classified as young people in nursing homes.

I know there is the normal banter between the states and Commonwealth as to what can be done over the funding arrangements, the red tape and the bureaucracy that has been put in place, but I think we have got to look a little bit past that and try to engage with these young people who really do require accommodation better than what we have been providing for them and their lifetime needs. I do not issue any criticism of anybody in relation to this. I think we are all aware of it and governments are attempting to come to grips with it. But I would urge some degree of pace and some degree of additional funding as well, because the funding packages that have been put out in recent years for discussion at the state and Commonwealth level have clearly been inadequate. They are a start to fixing the problem, but we will require much more, bearing in mind that, if specialist facilities are put in place for young people who are currently housed in nursing homes, that actually frees up a bed for an older person who may be waiting for accommodation in an aged-care facility.

Another of the issues that I want to raise concerns our smaller communities, and I know that the assistant minister, who is in the chamber, and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, who is at the table, are well aware of this issue—and I do not want to be too complimentary of the government as I might be struck down with some disorder! I refer to the multipurpose service arrangements issue. I have raised it before but I think it is worth raising it again, because consideration of the multipurpose service arrangements that have been put in place is an ongoing process. I again congratulate a former member for New England, Ian Sinclair, who did a lot of work on the process at the time to come up with a resolution to the problem of old people who were not sick being housed in small country hospitals. Obviously, there was a funding dilemma: if they were in a hospital the state should pay but if they were not sick they really should not have been in a hospital.

The way of overcoming that problem—through the Sinclair report, and an aged-care specialist in my region, Paul Cook, was involved in that particular report as well and I congratulate him and the others involved—was in fact to put in place what are called multipurpose services, or MPS. I think that is a dreadful name and that the services should be renamed, because I do not think it actually describes what they do. For those who do not know, the system is a combination of health services as we know them—hospital services—and aged-care services in smaller communities. The health side of the MPS is funded by the states, as are the hospitals, and the aged-care arrangements—the actual beds—are funded by the Commonwealth. This is a really good example of how you can actually achieve a very good outcome for smaller communities and do it so that there is some degree of cost-effectiveness: if the Commonwealth and the states concentrate their minds on the end result. I refer back to the young people in nursing homes issue; both the state and Commonwealth governments should be congratulated on that particular issue.

I will always remember a lady from a little place called Emmaville. Emmaville is not the biggest town in my electorate; I think there are only five, six or seven hundred people there, although it is within a surrounding rural area. Their hospital, which was called the Vegetable Creek hospital, was going to be closed down by the state government some years back because it was an old facility. Members of that community, particularly some ladies including one called Ellie Seagrave, did not want their hospital closed down because in a sense it was their health provider, their hospital, and also because many of the older people in the hospital were not sick but were using the hospital as an aged-care facility. Ellie Seagrave—or She Who Must Be Obeyed, as many people in the area referred to her—took on the state government at the time. It was at the particular time that the Sinclair report was being discussed and, to cut a long story short, Emmaville became one of the first MPSs. It has been an extraordinary success.

I went back to Emmaville about two years ago, I had a little meeting there and Ellie Seagrave said to me: ‘We need more beds. You’re the local member—go and get some more beds’—which one had to comply with of course.

Mr Pyne —Easier said than done.

Mr WINDSOR —Yes, but you can’t say that to Ellie Seagrave. I said, ‘But, Ellie, there are the formulas and everything’—because it had only been open a few years; I might be getting my years mixed up. ‘How many old people over 70 in the region, subregion et cetera has determined the number of aged-care beds in the facility. Why do we need more?’ ‘We’re full,’ she said, ‘and we need more.’ Then she made a statement to me that I will never forget. I had said, ‘Why is there increased demand?’ She said: ‘We’re getting people who were raised in Emmaville and left Emmaville because they were worried about the facilities but who want to come back in their twilight years and live in Emmaville. That is an additional demand and we need more aged-care beds.’

That brought home the point to me that this is an issue beyond health and aged care. Some people are leaving their country communities because they are planning for their twilight years and are worried—in the Emmaville case, at least—that not enough health and aged-care facilities exist in their communities, so they are removing themselves at an earlier time rather than staying. In that sense, even though we see it as an aged care and health funding issue, the MPS is very important for people making decisions about their regional locations—especially those who live in country towns.

Another issue that I would like to raise briefly is pensioners. We have heard a lot of talk over the years about the debt of the nation being reduced, and I congratulate the government on doing that, even though I do not agree with some of the asset sales made to achieve it. With the resources boom and surplus budgets we are awash with money, in a sense. But I constantly see in my electorate—and I am sure others do in their electorates as well—that pensioners and older people who are not in nursing homes but are not working any more are really struggling under the regime that exists at the moment. I make this plea to the government: if there are surpluses and additional funds available, do not forget those people who have made a contribution to the development of this nation and have put us in a position where these surpluses can be generated. I think most of us recognise that the arrangements through indexation that currently exist are not keeping up with the real world of a pensioner. There are other issues as well. If a husband and wife are living at home and one of them dies, there are issues of the cost of keeping up their house—electricity and so on. I think it is time to revisit what we are doing for our older people and pensioners. There is no better time to do that than when there is a surplus that has been partly generated through the circumstances of—

Mr McGauran —Good management. Say the words: good management.

Mr WINDSOR —Did Hansard get that?

Mr McGauran —It would be nice to hear you say it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The honourable member for New England will not encourage the minister by way of inviting him to get comments in the Hansard because, as the minister knows, all interjections are out of order, even when a member is sitting in their appropriate place.

Mr WINDSOR —It is very pleasing to see an active sign come from the minister. I am not afraid to say the words. In many senses, there has been good economic management, and there has been a resources boom. The minister has woken me up now. There have been a whole range of activities out there, but it is not all about good management; it is also about the secure nation that we have had for many generations that has developed an environment where investment and a whole range of other things can take place. Those older people that I was talking about are part and parcel of that creation. If we do have a set of circumstances where there are good times, then our older people should be included in the equation.

The other issue I will raise briefly is Meals on Wheels. I congratulate the Prime Minister once again on the $1.5 billion announcement of last week. He recognised that a lot of people are staying in their homes longer and that, when they do go into aged-care facilities, the degree of care is much higher—even though it might be for a shorter period—and hence so is the cost of those people going into care. Meals on Wheels is a very important ingredient for some of those people staying in their homes, not only because of the food but also, in my view, because of the spirit of the volunteers. That is probably just as important as the food.

Within Tamworth, for instance, the president of Meals on Wheels, Laurie Beattie, and his committee have been working very hard to establish a new kitchen. I am pleased to say that Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile announced some funding for that in recent weeks, but there is a shortfall and I hope that the government would look favourably at any further application, as I hope the state government would as well. I raise the Meals on Wheels issue because I think it is a very important part of what the Prime Minister addressed in his announcement the other day about how older people will be staying in their homes longer. We are encouraging them to do that and obviously nourishment is a very important part of enabling them to do that. So Meals on Wheels is a critical ingredient in many of our towns.

The last thing that I would like to mention is in some way a criticism. I have raised on a number of occasions in this House the need to look after our older veterans, particularly those who served in the Second World War but did not have what is called ‘qualifying service’. They did not have an angry shot fired at them. The treatment that has been meted out to these people is quite different to that meted out to someone who served overseas where there were angry shots fired and who had ‘qualifying service’. I have argued a number of times in the parliament—and others have as well—that the gold card be extended to those people.

That group of people is dying at the rate of 800 a month. I think it is time that we recognised those veterans. The other day the Minister for Defence talked about encouraging people into the defence forces. We are putting in place a ‘try before you buy’ type of program and a whole range of encouragements. Young people enlist in our defence forces, but we have this very distressing and awful arrangement at the end of some veterans’ lives where they are being treated differently because, even though they may have given up five years of their life to be trained to defend the nation, they have participated in the war in Australia rather than under gunfire or by having bombs dropped on them.

I would like to recognise, very briefly, a man who absolutely fought for this issue, a man called Ken Coulton, who recently passed away in his 90s. Ken fought to be recognised. He was an extraordinary man, but he had in a sense a guilt complex that he had been treated differently to others. He spent five years willing to defend the nation. My father was in the Middle East. If the Japanese had kept coming, my father in the Middle East would have been useless in defending people on Australian shores. The people who did not leave our shores were the ones who would have been here to defend us, and I think they should be recognised in the same way that other veterans who did serve overseas are currently recognised.