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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Page: 5578

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (16:47): I speak in support of the Aged Care Amendment Bill 2011. I take issue with what the member for Dickson was saying about what we are doing on aged care because we are strengthening protections for accommodation bonds paid by care recipients to providers of residential and flexible aged-care services. We are taking steps in a massive way to support the aged-care sector. The aged-care sector has never received such a large sum of money in any budget than it has in this budget. We are providing assistance to the aged-care sector in a big way. We are supporting a review on aged-care services in this country. The Productivity Commission handed down its draft report on 21 January this year and we are seeing significant interest in that and from the aged-care sector.

We are making sure that we have a sustainable sector. We are making sure that we have opportunity for people in their senior years to get the best quality care, that people have choice and that people have decency and support from good qualified nurses, nurse aides, doctors and care workers in that sector. We are also very committed to making sure that the workers in that sector have decent and affordable wages and conditions.

The member for Dickson was very critical of our performance on aged care. He quoted the Grant Thornton analysis of aged care. It is interesting because back in 2006-07 Grant Thornton examined what went on under the Howard coalition government. The member for Dickson pointed this out, failing to tell those who might be listening that the coalition government was in power at that time. Grant Thornton prepared a financial analysis based on data obtained from financial information from the Department of Health and Ageing. Grant Thornton found that 40 per cent of all providers of aged care reported a loss in residential aged care. Net profit per bed fell by 30 per cent from 2005 to 2006—those opposite were in government at that time—and the annual average net profit per bed was around $1,700, a return of less than 2.5 per cent.

So let us not come up with this furphy that somehow there was some sort of aged-care nirvana during the time they were in government. In fact, the aged-care portfolio was a bit like the Northern Ireland of politics in the UK because Prime Minister Howard took the view that he would put people like the current member for Sturt in the portfolio—people he did not really like. We saw plenty of people over there who are not really too au fait with the portfolio. We saw a revolving door of about seven different ministers across about 11 years. The aged-care sector was up in arms about this.

I can recall meeting with the Aged Care Alliance in Queensland before the 2007 election when they were just absolutely livid with the performance of the coalition government. A number of backbenchers opposite were clearly of the view—they knocked on the door of the then member for Bennelong, the then Prime Minister John Howard—that more support should be provided. This was a constant refrain in the Courier Mail and the media back home in Queensland. So let us not perpetuate and perpetrate a myth about the commitment to aged care from the coalition. I look forward to what the Productivity Commission has to say when it releases its report at the end of June this year because the draft report was creative and innovative. I see the member for Ryan across the chamber. She and I both spoke at an aged-care breakfast in Brisbane about this topic some months ago where, as she would know, people from the aged-care sector were looking forward to the liberty and to a more sustainable, flexible and financially viable sector. We welcome the Productivity Commission's draft report. I have to confess I actually have read that report, all 507 pages. The Productivity Commission has made it clear that we need to make reforms in this area. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing have made it clear that this item is very high on the second term agenda of the government.

The legislation that is before the House today will make a number of important reforms that I think go towards transitioning aged care to the point where we look at, act upon and take seriously the suggestions of the Productivity Commission and its recommendations. The bill will make amendments which limit the permitted uses for accommodation bonds taken after 1 October 2011, such that providers of aged care may still use bonds for capital improvements to aged-care services and prudent financial investments but may not use bonds for operational purposes. The bill provides a two-year transition period to allow time for the sector to adjust to the new arrangements. Bonds are of course paid in low care and not in high care, which is a more hospital-like environment for people who are suffering from severe illness and disability.

The average person who goes into a high-care facility is about 84 years of age. We have about 170,000 people in residential aged-care facilities across the country, but a million Australians interact with the aged-care sector and we are putting about $50 billion into that sector across the forward estimates. A million people often get home and community care. On the Extended Aged Care at Home Dementia packages: I have been arguing for some time, in my electorate for a start, that there should be more aged-care packages. I am pleased to see that recently my representation has been successful with further packages for Blue Care in the upper part of the Brisbane Valley around Lowood. I warmly welcome the representation from Peter Conaghan in relation to that. Peter has been a terrific advocate as the Service Manager, Community, at Blue Care in Lowood.

These amendments will also remove restrictions on the use of income derived from bonds, retention amounts and accommodation charges. This will give an unrestricted source of income to aged-care providers. I spent 14 years on the board of Queensland Baptist Care and acted as a lawyer for many aged-care providers. In fact, when I spoke at the event that the member for Ryan also attended, I saw in the audience quite a number of the clients I represented when I was in private practice as a lawyer.

The aged-care sector is crying out for reform. The amendments in this legislation are transitional, but they make clear the sources of income. It is always difficult to invest in capital infrastructure to build the best kind of facility and to have that ready source of income. So I welcome the ACFI funding that we have put in during the last few years, which has given further assistance to those in aged care and made a ready source of money available to assist people.

The challenges in this sector are so great. By 2050 we will have 2.7 Australians working for every person over the age of 65. That is what the third intergenerational report says. The increase in costs in aged care will be three times what the increase will be in health funding. That is the challenge we face. About five Australians now work for every person over the age of 65 years. The intergenerational report indicates the rate of growth is enormous. About seven in 10 women and about five in 10 men reach 65 years of age and they are going to need some form of help for their domestic needs, some form of help with showering, shopping, mowing, ironing and those kinds of routine household chores.

The legislation we are debating today is about caring for the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. It is about honouring the contributions that they have made to our welfare and our wellbeing in this country. We believe that every Australian deserves the right to access good quality care. We believe it is appropriate and the measure of a decent society is how we treat our senior citizens. In my electorate of Blair we have made a significant contribution to our senior citizens. Of the $9 million used to redevelop the Cabanda aged-care facility in Rosewood, a community run aged-care facility, $1.5 million was federal government money. We have put in $5 million as an interest-free loan for the Milford Grange project in Ipswich run by RSL Care. Our transitional funding through low-interest loans has made a big difference. Older people will benefit from another 113 new aged-care places in Blair costing more than $6 million a year. This includes an allocation of 30 new residential aged-care beds. We are making a huge contribution. On 8 December, the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing announced that 12,272 new aged-care places worth more than $450 million a year will be allocated across the country. That is a huge number of people who will interact with the aged-care sector. The aged-care sector has been crying out for reform for a long, long time. It is not as if those opposite did not know about the need to reform the aged-care system, which the Productivity Commission has described as complex and difficult for people who interact with it to negotiate and navigate. They knew very well about the challenges in aged care because former Prime Minister John Howard instructed Professor Warren Hogan to undertake the Hogan review back in 2004. Professor Hogan urged radical change in the aged-care sector, but for three years the government sat on his report and did virtually nothing.

In 1997 the government made some significant change, which we acknowledge, but subsequently they refused to take up the mantle of change. They refused to be reformers. Their idea of aged care was to manage it as best they could, in a political way. They did not really commit themselves to the change they needed to make.

The Productivity Commission's draft report Caring for older Australians has really made it clear that the Howard coalition government utterly failed with respect to aged care. It has made clear that there is great disparity in wages and conditions for aged-care sector staff; that the system is difficult for people to work out; that we need a different model, a different method, for funding the aged-care sector; and that we need a gateway agency to allow people to navigate the system, with different methods of assessment, different methods of sanction and different methods of accreditation. There is a lot to be done—the legislation here is really transitional—before that happens.

We think that making changes to the aged-care sector will improve the lot and lifestyle of our senior citizens. We think a more flexible range of care and support services will make a difference. We want to make sure there are safety and quality standards across the sector. We want to make sure that the regulatory commissions and bodies involved in it are transparent, accountable and open. We want to make sure that there is a simplified gateway that is easily understood so that assessments of care and information can be given to consumers and customers. We want to make sure that where there are gaps in service delivery we can fix them.

The legislation here is part of that process as we transition to major reform. This is a priority of a reformist Labor government. The fact that we have to do it is testimony to the failure of those opposite who, for 11½ years, fudged and fumbled aged care because they did not have the wisdom or wit to do the reform that needed to be undertaken.