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Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Page: 60

Mr HARTSUYKER (12:55 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak before the House today on the Aged Care Amendment (Residential Care) Bill 2007. This legislative amendment is a further example of the coalition government’s commitment to aged care and improving the standard of service delivery across the nation. This particular amendment will streamline the amount of paperwork required and allow aged-care providers to concentrate on the delivery of services to older Australians.

The debate on this legislation provides an opportunity to reflect on the substantial investment in aged care over the past decade and to detail the coalition’s commitment to the sector in the future. The Minister for Ageing, Mr Pyne, has released further details of the coalition’s $1.5 billion Securing the Future of Aged Care for Australians reform package, which was previously announced by the Prime Minister. The minister’s announcement highlights what can be delivered in such a vital sector as aged care when you have strong economic management and the commitment to invest in the future.

But before I elaborate on the minister’s announcement, I would like to note the importance of this legislation and of the aged-care sector in general to my electorate of Cowper. As members would be aware, the electorate of Cowper is located on the North Coast of New South Wales, a region which is very popular with retirees. In Cowper alone, the percentage of people who are aged over 65 is almost double the New South Wales average. Such a statistic reflects the increasing number of people who are relocating from major metropolitan centres and seeking a lifestyle and retirement in what I class as the most beautiful part of the country.

Of course, the seachange phenomenon is not something that has just happened overnight. For years Australians have been migrating to coastal areas to enjoy their retirement. However, in regions such as the Cowper electorate the real difference over the past 10 to 15 years has been the volume of people who have been moving to the coast from the cities or our western country areas. This demographic’s migration has naturally led to an increase in the demand for aged-care services.

This is where the coalition government sets itself apart from members on the other side of the chamber. In 1996, when the coalition was elected, recurrent aged-care spending in my electorate was just $13½ million per annum. Local aged-care facilities were struggling to find the beds to meet the need and the demand for their services. There were virtually no community aged-care packages which provided elderly people with the choice of remaining in their own home. Similarly, there were no Extended Aged Care at Home—EACH—packages. Aged care, under the 13 years of Labor, had been put on the backburner and many older Australians struggled to access appropriate aged care in their retiring years. This is an important point, because the legislation which is before the House today is an extension of the coalition government’s commitment to providing peace of mind for older Australians as well as excellent quality care.

I am delighted to say that the problems which resulted from Labor’s neglect and lack of compassion for the aged-care sector are well on the way to being addressed. If members on the other side of the House would like evidence of this fact then I invite them to visit my electorate, where I will guide them through some of the great achievements which have been delivered in aged care as a result of the coalition government working closely with the aged-care sector. Given that we inherited from the Labor Party an aged-care sector in the Cowper electorate which, as I said, only attracted $13½ million per annum in funding, I am delighted to say that in the 11 years that the coalition has been in power we have increased that commitment to $53 million per annum. That is almost a 400 per cent increase. It includes the funding which will come online once the 2006 round of aged-care places is operational.

The additional investment which the coalition has made to aged care is evident right across our region. For example, in Yamba we have seen the Caroona Hostel and aged-care facility expanded to cope with the increased allocation of beds. A million-dollar extension was recently completed, with a further $5 million expansion announced after the allocation of additional places last year. In Maclean, the Mareeba Nursing Home is also planning extensions and the Clarence Valley Council is providing an unprecedented number of aged-care services in the homes of local residents.

This expansion has been mirrored in Coffs Harbour. Since I was privileged to be elected to the parliament in 2001, extensions have been completed at the Woolgoolga retirement facility, Bellingen’s Bellorana and the Coffs Harbour Nursing Home. We have also seen new facilities opened by Churches of Christ and the Masons, plus the expansion of aged-care services in the home—where Mid North Coast Community Care Options is doing a fine job. A new aged-care facility is also proposed for construction near Urunga. In Nambucca the good news also continues. Plans are now well advanced to construct a $6.5 million facility at Nambucca Heads following the announcement of 60 low-care beds in that town. This follows the completion last year of Riverside Gardens aged-care centre, also at Nambucca Heads.

In February last year I highlighted to the House that, whilst the Cowper electorate had received a substantial increase in aged-care places, there still remained some areas where there was a need to be targeted. Without doubt, the most pressing need was in the township of South West Rocks. As I highlighted at that time, South West Rocks has experienced huge growth over the past five to 10 years with many new residents, many of them retirees. Despite this growth, the town still did not have an aged-care facility. South West Rocks is approximately 30 minutes drive from the nearest aged-care facility in Kempsey, and this places great strain on the spouses of those aged-care residents. With little public transport available, many elderly residents found it difficult to visit their partners on a daily basis.

I was very disappointed when an application to establish a facility at South West Rocks was unsuccessful in 2005. However, 12 months later, I was delighted to be able to inform the community that we were successful in gaining much-needed beds which would provide for a facility at South West Rocks. More than $2.1 million in annual funding has been committed to the South West Rocks facility, which will be operated by Profke Holdings, and an initial allocation of some 40 high-care and 20 low-care places has been committed, with Profke Holdings proposing to construct a facility on the current site of the South West Rocks Motel. Once completed, this facility will employ in the order of 60 people, so not only is it providing excellent aged care for the community but it is going to provide much-needed jobs as well.

The approval of aged-care places specifically for South West Rocks followed a coordinated campaign involving many people in the local community. With the community’s support, I lobbied very hard for the allocation of these places and I was delighted when this lobbying bore fruit and we were able to successfully receive those places. I would like to thank the local community and, in particular, the South West Rocks Aged Care Committee for their support. We were all disappointed with the unsuccessful round in 2005 but delighted with our success in the 2006 round.

Aged care is set to provide many employment opportunities in the Kempsey shire, with a proposed 130-bed facility to be constructed in Frederickton. Once complete, these two facilities together, in South West Rocks and Frederickton, will create up to 180 new jobs. Many more jobs will be created during the construction phase.

So a quick snapshot of the Cowper electorate highlights what aged-care achievements are being delivered on the ground in areas of need across Australia. However, despite this expansion the coalition government continues to recognise the challenges of providing for our ageing population. As all members of the House would remember, the Intergenerational report released by the Treasurer in 2002 estimated that by 2042 the number of Australians over the age of 65 will double, bringing into clear focus the need for quality aged-care services into the future. I was therefore delighted to see the Minister for Ageing release details of further investments in aged care over the next three years. The minister announced that more than 32,000 new places will be provided over the next three years to help meet the needs of older Australians seeking fair and affordable access to high-quality aged-care services.

Once operational, these places would be worth in the order of $1 billion a year in Australian government funding. The minister indicated that a total of 10,734 places would be made available for allocation in the 2007-08 round. This will be welcomed right across the nation, but it will be very welcome in areas such as my electorate of Cowper, which has quite an old demographic. The importance of this commitment was summarised in the minister’s press release. He said:

We have raised the bar. As part of this package, the Government’s planning benchmark has been increased from 108 to 113 places for every 1,000 people aged 70 years or over. The adjustment also increases the community care component of this from 20 to 25 places.

These increased ratios are very welcome. When you consider that the previous Labor government was never once able to meet its target of 100 places for every 1,000 people over the age of 70, it is clear that the coalition has delivered for older Australians.

I know the community care component will be welcomed by many seniors in the community who require aged care but choose to remain in their own homes. The provision of Community Aged Care Packages and Extended Aged Care at Home packages has been a key priority of the coalition government. When the coalition government was elected in 1996, there were just 4,441 CAC Packages nationwide. The latest figures available show that that number has grown to some 32,588—that is, a 634 per cent increase. It reflects two things: firstly, the commitment of this government to deliver in quality aged care at home and, secondly, the desire of many older Australians to receive care not in a formal setting but in their own home.

This legislation now before the House complements the additional aged-care places which have been delivered by the coalition over the past 11 years. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Aged Care Act 1997 to introduce a new arrangement for allocating subsidies in residential aged care. The bill proposes to replace the Resident Classification Scale, RCS, with the Aged Care Funding Instrument, ACFI, as a means of allocating a subsidy to providers of residential aged care.

It is proposed that the ACFI will reduce the number of funding levels in residential aged care and provide subsidies for the care of residents with complex health and nursing needs, including palliative care, and mental or behavioural conditions, such as dementia. The ACFI has been designed to reduce the amount of documentation and record-keeping which aged-care staff generate and maintain in order to justify the funding classification for each resident. I think it is a very important point that our aged-care professionals are able to concentrate on delivery of care rather than on paperwork.

The bill also changes the current arrangements in which classifications expire after 12 months. This extends the period during which a resident’s classification has effect and it removes the requirement for providers to submit unnecessary reappraisals but gives them the option to reappraise a resident after 12 months. Also, the bill streamlines the audit process so that single questions or specific groups of questions can be targeted by review officers rather than every aspect of the appraisal. The amendments allow an approved provider to choose to accept a resident’s current classification when a resident moves from one aged-care home to another rather than being required to submit a new appraisal. I endorse this amendment. I know that many aged-care providers will welcome the streamlining of processes which can sometimes distract staff from focusing, as I said, on what they do best: caring for residents.

As I have detailed today, the Cowper electorate is a major beneficiary of the commitment of the coalition government to improve aged-care services. The growth in the sector has been in evidence over the past five years and is set to continue. This bill will certainly serve to improve the quality of residential care delivered in Australia. It provides evidence of the commitment by the coalition government to improve aged-care services. I commend this legislation to the House.