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Thursday, 2 June 2011
Page: 5735

Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (11:42): I rise today to address the Aged Care Amendment Bill 2011, which proposes changes to the Aged Care Act of 1997. This bill is designed to strengthen protection for those who pay accommodation bonds to aged-care providers. It is also designed to improve complaints handling processes when it comes to aged-care providers that are funded by the Commonwealth. If passed, the amendments will take effect later this year.

One of the functions of this bill is to ensure that accommodation bonds paid to our aged-care providers can be used to support the sector itself. It is right that this government should do something to help support our nursing homes because it is a sad reality that our aged-care providers are struggling to survive, despite their vital role in our community. In fact, a Grant Thornton aged-care performance survey in November 2007 found that almost half of our nursing homes were operating in the red. Almost half were in debt.

That rings giant alarm bells for my electorate of Paterson, where we have a large number of older residents. According to the 2008 census, there are almost 25,000 people aged 65 or over in my electorate of Paterson. That is one-fifth of the entire population of Paterson. Now, of course, not all of these people will rely on aged care. However, many of them well. And many more will choose to retire to our area because of all the wonderful things we have to offer. I have met hundreds of people who have moved to the Paterson electorate from Sydney and other areas after their retirement. It is vital that we get this right now so that the problem does not continue to grow.

The aged-care system is struggling to meet the demand as it is. As we know, Australia's population is rapidly ageing and the demand on aged-care services will continue to expand with it. This crisis was highlighted in the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 February this year. Mark Wetherell wrote:

Baby boomers taking a seachange in their dotage face the prospect of widespread shortages in aged care, revised projections of the impact of dementia show.

Australia will be 279,000 aged care places short by 2050 without significant policy changes, and hardest hit will be coastal areas popular with retirees, a study by Access Economics has found.

Paterson is one of those areas that Mark writes about—on the coast and popular for retirement. As a consequence, it promises to be one of the hardest hit by a shortage in aged-care places. As the article goes on to explain:

The expected growth points in elderly populations show that sea-change locations such as Port Macquarie, Tweed Heads and the NSW south coast would experience shortages of 2000 or more aged-care places by 2050 without a change in policy. In the Paterson electorate in the Hunter region, the shortfall would be just under 3000 places.

When I was first elected to this parliament in 1996 there was already a crisis in aged-care accommodation. If my memory serves me correctly, there were not much more than 500 aged-care beds in the electorate of Paterson. Since then, through government support and the allocation of bed licences to my electorate, that list has massively grown. We now have Great Lakes Nursing Home in Bulahdelah which expanded its operations under the coalition; Regis The Gardens, formerly known as Port Stephens Gardens, based at Corlette, a new facility opened by the now Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop; Lara Aged Care at Dungog, a great community facility which has grown but is addressing all of the challenges that are faced by a community aged-care facility; the Bill King Aged Care Facility at Fingal Bay, a great facility which combines retirement living and aged-care provision and which has grown and developed since the coalition government came to power; the BCS Kularoo Centre at Forster, locally known as Kularoo, which has also grown an expanded; Barclay Gardens in Forster; the Myall Lodge, which started off as a community facility but had to be transferred to much larger management because of critical mass considerations and the cost of providing care—it does a tremendous job at Hawks Nest; Largs Lodge at Largs; Raymond Terrace Gardens Nursing Centre at Raymond Terrace, a nursing home that was pulled down, totally redeveloped and expanded; Salamander Bay Aged Care Facility at Salamander; Harbourside Haven Nursing Home and Hostel at Shoal Bay; Stroud Community Lodge, which was built by the community with community support and is still run by the community of Stroud; Tanilba Bay Hostel, formerly started by the local government at Port Stephens but sold and passed on to Catholic aged care; Beaumont Terrace, another site at Tuncurry, which has been completely redeveloped an expanded; and Glaica House at Tuncurry, another project which has expanded its operations.

With all these expansions there are still not enough beds to cope with the demands that will be coming in the future. One of the sad things for nursing homes is that immediately after they expand their operations they spend an awful lot of time with empty beds until the demand grows in that local area. But, as the article I quoted says, Paterson's shortfall will be just under 3,000 places. The article also says:

In Victoria, similar shortages would be experienced in the Mornington Peninsula-Flinders area, the Gippsland coast and districts along the Great Ocean Road. In the Flinders electorate, the shortfall would be 2870.

As the shadow minister for regional development, these things concern me just as much as their local member. These are shortages of both nursing home care and community care packages. The most important question is: what can we do about the shortages? Decreasing the amount of regulation in the aged-care industry would be a start—it is the common complaint that I get from the operators of nursing homes. Only through deregulation can we start the ball rolling to make the industry viable. That is why the coalition has pledged to reduce Commonwealth regulation by $1 billion a year. Our Prime Minister, on the other hand, promised to repeal one regulation for every new regulation; but, as this bill shows, that was another election promise the Prime Minister never intended to keep, just like her promise, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' It seems our Prime Minister will say and do anything to stay in government.

I am pleased to say, however, that there has been some positive movement on this issue in my electorate recently. As the Port Stephens Examiner reported on 25 May this year:

The Port's largest aged care provider is set to embark on a $21 million project that, when complete, will offer hospice, high care and villa-style accommodation.

The news comes after Port Stephens Veterans and Citizens Aged Care was recently granted licences for 60 new beds to create a state-of-the-art nursing home.

CEO Louise Watters said with each bed costing around $200,000 to adequately set up, the not-for-profit group will need to build extra villas to fund the project.

"The cost of the nursing home is going to be around $12 million because it is a unique style of care with the units above," Ms Watters said. "

So in order to do this we're looking to build 30 to 35 villas at Fingal Bay on land in front of the retirement village and 16 villas at Salamander Bay."

Conditions on the new bed licences require the nursing home to be operating by 2013, but Ms Watters said that it was likely the group would seek an extension to complete the project. The nursing home will provide high-level and hospice care as well as having units above in which partners can live.

She said the aim was to have development applications for the villas to Port Stephens Council by late July or early August with the villas built, complete and sold by the end of this year.

I am proud to report this investment in the House today. I only wish I could say that the government helped to make it happen. Unfortunately, not nearly enough has been done by the Gillard Labor government to help the aged-care sector grow in what we know is a market where demand will only continue to skyrocket. Under the previous coalition government we saw a record $2.2 billion funding packed for aged care. We opened new facilities such as Port Stephens Garden Nursing Centre, and helped regain control of the sector after Labor, having been in power for 13 years, had left Australia with a 10,000-bed shortfall. I urge the Gillard Labor government to do more to ensure that we are not left with a massive shortfall in aged-care beds and services this time around. That is why Labor must honour its promise to repeal one regulation for every new regulation and help make this aged-care sector viable.

Aged-care services do wonderful things in our community. I have visited the nursing homes in my electorates many, many times—more than I can count. I see the wonderful and dedicated staff at each and every facility. In fact, a dear friend of mine, Doreen Bradley OAM, recently lost her husband, Jack Bradley, who spent his final years in a nursing home in my electorate. Despite struggling with dementia, Jack was treated with the utmost respect and those at the home were always there to support Doreen. They tried to make it as much as possible like a real home and many of the staff provided immeasurable comfort to both Jack and Doreen, and for that I cannot thank them enough.

It is this amazing work that we need to foster and grow so that our elderly community gets the support it deserves now and into the future. They would not get such support if it were not for the dedication of those in our community, the staff that work in these facilities and in particular the volunteers who give of their time to make these people's lives just that little bit more comfortable. You see, the hardest part for those going into aged care is moving from their home, from their family, from their support networks and from their friends. That is the hardest thing to replicate. That is where I want to pay tribute to the volunteers who regularly go to the nursing homes and try to replicate that environment for them. What we must do is treat the elderly in our community with the utmost respect. In fact, society is measured not just by how we treat and bring up the children in our community but, in particular, how we treat those at the other end of the spectrum that are towards the end of their lives' journeys.

I want to commend each and every one of the facilities in my electorate. Since the time I came to this parliament in 1996—besides the break from 1998 to 2001—through to today, I can count on one hand the total number of complaints I have had in relation to all the nursing homes in my electorate. That shows the quality, the calibre and the dedication of those people to providing a quality service to those in our community, and I commend them for that.

This bill will have some flaws in some of the regulations. I was here in 1997 when a bill was put forward to raise accommodation bonds. I remember the hue and cry from members now occupying the government bench that this was immoral, that this was taking away the kids' futures. There were some epic speeches by people who now occupy the front bench as well as the back bench. And here they are now promoting this program. More needs to be done. The funds need to be managed better and there need to be greater incentives to increase the investment in aged care. As pointed out in all of the reports, there is a massive need to increase the amount of aged care in our community. Only if we make it viable can we maintain the quality of that aged care in our community.