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Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Page: 50

Mr GEORGANAS (12:08 PM) —I appreciate the opportunity to continue what I was saying on Monday night about aged care and the importance of the Aged Care Amendment (Residential Care) Bill 2007 to my electorate. On Monday night we talked about the availability of community care packages and the availability of aged-care beds. I gave examples of some of the constituents within the electorate of Hindmarsh who come and see me regularly. We know that the availability of community care packages is questionable at the time people seek them. For example, one of my constituents—a woman aged 99 years who is a few months off her 100th birthday—was quite well and able to look after herself. She contracted a slight illness and had to go into hospital. She was of sound mind and a bit frail but was happy to look after herself in her own home and be in her own community. We tried to get her a community care package, but we could not find anything at the time she needed it—which was when she was due to come out of hospital. There is a waiting list. People do not get the services they require. This woman’s option was to remain in a public hospital bed and stay there, keeping her fingers crossed that something would come up so that she could leave hospital and spend the rest of her life, her twilight years, in dignity at home. The waiting list is so long that the options are not good for her to receive assistance on returning home.

This is the story of a woman aged 99 years, months off her 100th birthday. She has done voluntary work in the electorate for many years. She has worked all her life, paid all her taxes and gone through world wars. This is the way we treat her and other elderly people. It is a sad story of a very proud woman—as I said, she is of sound mind but unfortunately has a frail body—living out her last months in a public hospital bed. She is not alone. I regularly hear of other cases within my electorate of people trying to find aged-care accommodation or care. Every time we talk about aged-care beds the government is quick to say that we want people to stay in their community—and rightly so; we all want people to stay in their community, amongst their loved ones and in a setting that they are familiar with—but there are not enough packages for those people who make the choice to stay home. It is obvious that many public hospital beds are being taken up by people who should not be there. Either they should be in an aged-care facility or they should be receiving some form of aged-care package to assist them at home.

What faith can the community have when, according to the Productivity Commission, the time people wait to access a bed in aged care has doubled in the period from 2000 to 2005? What faith can the community have in this administration reaching its target when, in six months, the shortfall has ballooned out by as much as 10 per cent? That was in my electorate of Hindmarsh. How can any concerned observer or future service recipient have any faith in a government or take any comfort from its record of turning a national surplus of 800 aged-care beds in 1996 into a 4,613 shortfall by June 2006? With the ageing of the population and the increasing levels of frailty that go along with ageing, when someone needs a bed or an aged-care package they need it straightaway, not in a month or three months or six months or 12 months. The likelihood of those people getting packages straightaway is very slim. As I said, we hear of these cases every day. I am sure many other members of the House would see examples of what I see in my electorate.

The objectives of this legislation look to facilitate the independence of, and choice available to, those recipients and carers. The treatment of our elderly is not such that it can be classed as respecting independence. The example of my constituent who chose to stay at home but was unable to do so because the waiting list for the package was far too long is a prime example of this. My constituents face constant difficulties in getting into residential care within their community or getting into places which are close to relatives or the community in which they have lived for decades. If they need to be looked after in an aged-care facility because they need support, they cannot get an aged-care bed in the western suburbs or the south-western suburbs of Adelaide. It is impossible to do so. Some homes have a list of 300 people waiting to get in. There may be beds available 100 kilometres away, but these people want to remain in their communities. Sometimes they have only one remaining relative—it could be a daughter, a son or a sister—and they want to remain close to them. Those people themselves are ageing and find it difficult to travel to visit relatives. So what happens? We put them 80 kilometres, 40 kilometres or 50 kilometres away and they become isolated. They have no contact with their remaining family and, therefore, their condition deteriorates. We need to facilitate independence. The only real way of doing this is to give them the care that they need within their communities, whether it be an aged-care bed in the community where their loved ones live or a care package in their home. This will give them independence. This will give them sound mind and good health.

The residents of Hindmarsh and all Australians in their golden years deserve much better support from the government. They should not be made to wait extended periods for the urgent care they need. This care is not something that can wait; they need care immediately. We should be able to put the packages in place to assist people to find the accommodation they require in their community, if they have high needs. I believe we owe it to our senior Australians to do all we can, as legislators, to assist them to enjoy their later life in satisfactory surroundings, with appropriate support.

We are constantly seeing the effects of this government’s policies on ageing constituents and their families—the grief on their faces when they come to see me. As recently as Friday I had a call from a constituent about their mother-in-law, who was in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital because there was no option of respite care or an aged-care facility.

People make much of the baby boomer generation, whose retirement is rapidly approaching in the near future. The problem is going to be exaggerated. Governments need to grapple with this issue. Elderly and frail people look to the future with approaching dread, but also with something akin to a sense of inevitability, especially concerning failing financial security. This government should do something— (Time expired)