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Monday, 18 June 2007
Page: 117

Mr BAIRD (8:30 PM) —I rise in support of the Aged Care Amendment (Residential Care) Bill 2007. This bill demonstrates the commitment of this government to aged care in Australia. There is no question that Australia’s aged-care system faces a number of long-term challenges, with the number of Australians aged 70 or over expected to double in the next 20 years. In response to this increase, the federal government has made and is continuing to make the largest ever investment in this essential area. In my electorate of Cook, in the Sutherland shire of Sydney, approximately 21 per cent of the population is aged 65 or over. I am part of that demographic. I would point out that this percentage is very high, even by Australian standards. When you compare this to the national average of around 13 per cent, you can see why a secure aged-care system is of such importance to my constituents.

Just in the last six months, I have had my own experience with the aged-care system through putting my mother-in-law into aged care. I have found out about the challenges that exist. That is one particular reason why I support the bill. Classification delays the move of people from hospitals into aged care. In the case of my mother-in-law, she lay in a hospital bed for six weeks awaiting classification. This was a hospital bed that could have been used by others. This slowness in the classification of older people’s needs is holding the system back and delaying them entering aged-care facilities. For those who have not experienced the placing of a loved one into aged care, it is full of challenge and heartbreaking in many ways. That makes it all the more important to look at the aspects of this bill.

I was extremely pleased to see in the recent federal budget that this government has delivered even further assistance to older Australians. The most notable investment has been the $1.5 billion securing aged care package, which will help older Australians stay in their own homes as well as further assist our aged-care facilities. This record investment is having a profound impact on the quality and availability of aged care in the Sutherland shire. As you can guess by the demographics that exist in my electorate, whether one has the ability to stay in one’s home is an oft asked question. In the last financial year, two aged-care providers in my electorate received funding for a total of 44 residential places worth an estimated $1.6 million. Amenity, in Sutherland, and Juliana Village, in Miranda, received the funding for these 44 places, with 32 of them being for high care and 12 for low care. Fifteen places have been particularly reserved for war veterans and another 20 for dementia patients.

I have regular community consultations on Saturday mornings. I write to people in the area and ask them to come up and see me if they have issues. Finding beds for parents with dementia must rank in the top five issues that people raise with me, so I am very pleased that these additional dementia care beds have been made available. There is also provision in this funding for six places for people of a non-English-speaking background. While that is very welcome, I will point out that 93 per cent of my electorate is Anglo-Celtic in background.

The Australian government is committed to delivering world-class aged care in the Sutherland shire. I was recently able to attend the opening of the Woolooware Shores aged-care complex, a real five-star complex. This is a new complex servicing the shire. The government is funding 119 low-care residential places there. These places in Cook form part of a national allocation of $208 million and 7,815 places for residential and community aged-care places to be funded by the Commonwealth this year. I am sure that with this kind of investment residential places will continue to increase as further funding rounds are announced. Aged care is a major concern for seniors and their families in my electorate and these funding boosts certainly provide them with some peace of mind for their future.

Because of this government’s strong economic management, the 2007-08 budget was able to deliver even further assistance to older Australians. My electorate office has received a lot of enquiries from pensioners who will now quality for one-off bonus payments of $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples. This financial assistance will alleviate some of the costs associated with staying at home and running a household on the pension. While this kind of payment may help those in immediate need of financial assistance, the government recognises that it is important to also invest in medical research for the future. We are continuing our strong support for carers. For those who are receiving the carer allowance, we are providing a one-off bonus payment of $600. This is the fourth successive year we have paid the bonus to carer allowance recipients. Also, in July this year, the veterans’ special rate disability pension will increase by $50 a fortnight. The government will also make one-off payments of $25,000 to Australians who were prisoners of war in Europe. I have a large number of returned soldiers from the war in Europe in my electorate, so that will be received very well. These measures were all announced in the recent federal budget.

While we are intent on securing the future of Australia’s aged through these provisions, we are also looking at ways in which our existing system may be improved. The bill before the House represents our commitment to ensure that all Australians benefit from a secure, fair and accessible aged-care system. It is about looking at the way our system functions and making the necessary changes to ensure aged care is better targeted towards the needs of seniors and is not held back by unnecessary components which simply tie up the time of those working within the aged-care sector.

In 2004, following the recommendations of the Hogan report, this government announced it would review Australia’s funding arrangements for the delivery of aged care. Through these amendments this bill aims to replace the existing Resident Classification Scale, or RCS, with the improved Aged Care Funding Instrument or ACFI. The ACFI will improve the delivery of aged-care services through better targeting of funding towards the care of residents with higher needs. It will also reduce the amount of documentation and paperwork completed in residential aged-care facilities solely for funding purposes.

With the current challenges facing our aged-care system the last thing we could afford to do is allow it to become bogged down in unnecessary administration. These unnecessary costs are evident in our reappraisal system as they currently stand. Under current conditions a resident’s classification for funding will expire after 12 months, and after this time a reappraisal will be required. Aged-care providers say this unnecessarily ties down the administrators of the aged-care facilities and prevents them from doing other things, and, of course, they never know quite where they are going with the funding that is likely to occur. Last year 60,000 reappraisals were processed with no change in the funding amounts—that says it all. If you do not change it, why bother to go through it every 12 months? This means that 60,000 forms were filled out and processed by providers and staff working within our aged-care system. There is no doubt that we are much better off having these people involved in providing facilities for our older Australians rather than in completing forms.

To eliminate the need for unnecessary reappraisals, a standard ACFI classification will not expire. Instead, providers will be given the option to reappraise a resident after a 12-month period. In addition to this, residents entering aged-care facilities straight from hospital will be reappraised after six months. This is in recognition of the fact that their needs may change more quickly than other residents. It is a much more sensible system that will save time and will better target funding towards the care of residents with higher needs. The bill will also limit the amount of unnecessary administration by allowing residents to relocate from one residential facility without the need for reappraisal. Last year 12,000 residents moved from one aged-care home to another. Under current conditions, when a resident makes this move their funding classification will expire. It makes sense that under these arrangements the classification will continue.

Another way we can improve the performance of our current system is by removing any unnecessary components which may become obsolete. This can be said about the current provision which allows more than one aged-care home to be paid a subsidy for the same resident when a person is on high-dependency care leave. Now that the age-in-place provisions allow residents to move from low care to high care within the same home, this subsidy is very rarely used. This bill proposes that under the new ACFI system this type of leave will be removed due to its lack of relevance and low intake.

The government wants to encourage providers to improve their process of assessment. This is why the secretary is currently able to suspend providers from appraising residents for funding purposes if they repeatedly fail to conduct their appraisals in the appropriate manner. The problem with this provision is that it locks qualified providers out of our system when we cannot afford to do so. These amendments will allow the secretary to stay any suspension of a provider, subject to meeting certain obligations. It means that providers will stay in our system while at the same time being required to improve their internal assessment processors. This amendment allows the secretary greater flexibility to encourage providers to conduct appraisals and reappraisals properly to avoid suspension coming into effect.

Overall, the ACFI has been designed to streamline the current classification system for the delivery of aged care. Amendment trials have been a success. They were trialled in 2005 with a 23 per cent participation rate. The results were very positive, and most residential centres reported time saving under these provisions. There was a greater level of agreement between the providers’ assessments of residents and those of external assessors. The government has provided an additional $393.5 million over four years to assist homes with the change to the ACFI system and, judging by the results of the previous trials and my own assessment of these amendments, it will be money very well spent.

In these provisions we have sensible changes. Instead of the constant reassessment of those in nursing homes, once their classification has been achieved it will stay in place—except for those who come out of hospitals, who will need to be assessed after six months. It is sensible, it is appropriate, it will stop the unnecessary administration and it will ensure that nursing homes spend their time on what they are paid to do and what we want them to do, which is looking after our aged-care recipients, instead of on unnecessary administration and form filling. This bill is certainly long overdue, and I commend it to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Georganas) adjourned.