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Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Page: 155

Mr NEVILLE (7:15 PM) —I am pleased to speak to the Aged Care Amendment (Residential Care) Bill 2007, because I believe that the provision of aged-care facilities and services is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government. Australia has an ageing population, which clearly means that we have to alter the way we think and react to the challenges of caring for older Australians. The coalition are rising to that challenge by boosting the number of fully funded aged-care beds available via community, residential and flexible care services. We are also regulating the aged-care sector to ensure that the highest standards apply, to ensure funding for training of the aged-care workforce and to ensure that there are respite services for carers.

In 2007-08, the coalition government will implement the first stage of the $1.6 billion Securing the Future of Aged Care for Australians reform package, which will see a significant increase in the number of community care places available and will mean even more respite opportunities for carers. The government will also provide extra capital funding and payments to support people going into residential aged care. But the initiative that will perhaps help aged-care providers the most is the introduction of a simpler fee system.

I have earned a reputation as a member who vigorously pursues additional aged-care beds and services in my electorate. I make no apology for that fact. In the old Hinkler electorate—in Gladstone, Boyne-Tannum, Bundaberg, Bargara—we had 24,000 people in the Burnett Shire and no aged-care facility. I pursued that relentlessly, and now two facilities have been approved. In the redistribution I will inherit Hervey Bay—and that too has challenges. The new look Hinkler will incorporate popular retirement centres. These attract people who come for lifestyle and climate, and eventually we will have quite a deal of old people in Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, the Burrum coast, the Coral Coast and individual centres like Woodgate. This means that the electorate will necessarily experience the associated pressure on its aged-care facilities.

Earlier in the year I wrote to ACPAC to provide input into the upcoming aged-care assessment round. My conversations with local aged-care providers highlighted just how pressing the issue will become, particularly in Hervey Bay. Hervey Bay’s rapid development has led to a significant backlog of council approvals and completions allocated to aged-care places. Nevertheless, the region’s demographics indicate the current and ongoing need for more aged-care places in the Hervey Bay subregion, even beyond those actually needing completion. A quick perusal of the ABS figures indicates that in 2006 more than 7,500 Hervey Bay residents were in the 70-plus age bracket. That equates to approximately 15 per cent of all residents. However, the projections put the population of this group at 9,500 by 2011—a little over three years away. There is a big challenge there to pick up that slack. Even more telling, according to the ABS, the 80-plus age bracket for residents of Hervey Bay is projected to grow by 32 per cent, or nearly 800 people, in that time frame—another big challenge.

In my letter to ACPAC I also raised the matter of an alarming drop in the number of people working in the health services sector in Hervey Bay. I examined the various categories of all the employment sectors of Hervey Bay. Given that Hervey Bay has only one public hospital and two day surgery hospitals, and the medical and allied workforce of Hervey Bay is fairly stable, the proportionate drop in health and community care services would seem to be pointing towards aged care. Of course, I hear from the aged-care community itself about the problems of retaining certain staff. Obviously, if the proportion of facilities to population is up to scratch, the employment level will rise in response. So there is a plus factor for Hervey Bay if we can get aged-care facilities right up to scratch. When I say ‘up to scratch’ I am not talking about standards so much as numbers. I have no doubt that, in the very near future—if it is not already the case—Hervey Bay will experience a serious shortage of aged-care beds, which could develop into a chronic problem if we fail to keep pace with this extraordinary growth not only in the city itself but also in those sectors of the senior population.

As a case in point, let me talk about Fraser Shores Retirement Village. It would like to develop a complementary aged-care facility in its current retirement facility. This two-stage retirement village has an extraordinary 760 independent living units, which is quite remarkable, and every year has 30 to 40 of its residents moving into other aged-care facilities, hostels or nursing homes. That is the equivalent of one medium-sized nursing home or hostel every year from that one facility. There are great synergies in developing a stand-alone aged-care facility at such a massive retirement village. I understand that the proprietors are already well advanced in planning the project and intend to apply for a significant number of aged-care beds in future rounds. I stress that that is just one example. As you know, Harvey Bay has some really nice retirement villages. Imagine how many who come through their doors every year go into hostel and nursing home facilities. So we can see that there is a great challenge—a challenge that we must meet soon.

I note that under this year’s regional distribution of aged-care places, the Wide Bay statistical region, which includes the Wide Bay electorate and the Hinkler electorate, or parts thereof, is one of only two to have its projected bed allocation more than double between 2007-08 and 2008-09—going from 110 places to 230 places. I doubt that even that is going to be enough. I applaud that commitment to providing more aged-care beds for the Wide Bay region. It sorely needs them. When more beds become available, I encourage providers to apply for stand-alone facilities near these retirement villages.

Of course, another challenge for many aged-care facilities is operating in rural, regional and remote areas. I do not think the problems there are always appreciated. One such facility in my old electorate is the Ridgehaven Retirement Complex in Monto. Monto, I might say, has been in and out of my electorate a number of times. Earlier this year, the Deputy Prime Minister and I had the honour of turning a sod on the home’s new extension, which will give it six more low-care residential places and therefore help it to cope with the shire’s ageing population. In the past two years, Ridgehaven has received around $2.75 million to help with capital works, in recognition of the difficulty it faces in providing a high-care/low-care facility. The overriding priority when allocating funds to such facilities is to allow local people to stay in their own community and receive the care they need surrounded by their family and friends. It is a tragedy to see people having to live 100, 120 or even up to 200 kilometres away from where their family lives and where their roots are. It is a very lonely existence. No matter how nice the facility is, that loneliness really impacts on a lot of people.

I consider Ridgehaven to be one of the best aged-care facilities in regional Queensland. A lot of that comes down to its board—they are all volunteer community people—its excellent management and staff and the support of the wider Monto community. I can honestly say that I think equally highly of the vast majority of aged-care homes in my electorate, and I make a point of visiting every one of them at least once a year—which I find a salutary experience. You can tell a good nursing home the second you are in the door. Good schools and good nursing homes are instantly obvious when you walk through the door.

I also try to canvass every existing aged-care facility in my electorate when it comes to getting the ACPAC figures together, because that is the pool to which they can apply later in the year. This year I touched base with close to 30 different aged-care facilities in the current and new areas of Hinkler and what became clear was the exponential growth in administration requirements for each facility. Proprietors told me that they had no issue with complying with the new quality, care and compliance standards that the Australian government has introduced, but, nevertheless, these requirements add further to the workload of the professionals caring for residents in their facilities.

I welcome this bill because it will continue the government’s agenda of streamlining the administration of the aged-care system. The one complaint that I invariably get from any facility is the amount of paperwork. Ministers know my view on this. I think we really have to seriously work on that issue. The bill will cut the number of funding levels in residential aged care without compromising standards and provide supplements for residents with complex health-care needs, including palliative care, and residents who have mental or behavioural conditions, including dementia.

In recent years the government has worked hand in hand with the residential aged-care industry to produce an assessment and a funding instrument that can reduce the administrative burden and costs for aged-care providers. The new system that has been developed for the aged-care sector went through a thorough national trial in 2005, resulting in the government having a better insight into what was required. The bill will also reduce the number of times residents have to be assessed for funding purposes. As it now stands, a resident’s classification expires after 12 months, which has meant that staff have had to go through this reassessment process every year. The bill removes that requirement and will cut at least 60,000 instances of reappraisal every year which invariably result in no change to the amount of funding. To make sure nobody falls through the cracks, the bill will also allow residents moving to an aged-care facility from a hospital to be reappraised after six months in residence to make sure that their needs have not changed. In cases where people move from one aged-care home to another, the bill will give the new service providers the power to either accept the classification based on previous appraisals or submit a new appraisal.

So, all in all, it is a good bill, a bill that I hope will be beneficial to both the Hinkler electorate that I have represented in this term and the one that I hope to represent in the next term. Both have remarkable challenges and I am up to them.

Debate interrupted.