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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Page: 5594

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (18:07): I took great interest in listening to the member for Longman read his speech to this parliament. There were a number of items in his speech that I think really need to be dealt with. His speech demonstrated to me that he was unaware of what happened in the Howard government era. He was unaware of the lack of spot checks, the people in aged-care facilities being given kerosene baths and the total lack of receptiveness of the Howard government to the needs of older Australians. He talked about the aged-care sector struggling. It was struggling as it was under enormous pressure at the time of the Howard government. As for reviews, we had the Hogan review. What happened following the Hogan review, a review which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was so proud of at the time?

And what of operating in the red, as he suggested? Well, I know that in the Howard government era aged-care facilities were really struggling. Time and time again the facilities people came and talked to me about the need for compensation, workers compensation, electricity, water and wages—all the issues that the Howard government ignored. As for 'unsustainable', he talked about people waiting for aged-care beds. In the Howard government era one out of every 10 beds in the Shortland electorate only existed on paper—phantom beds! I think it is beholden upon me to remind the House of the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing report about the blame game that was brought down in the parliament in, I think, 2007. As a member of the committee, I spoke to a number of people who were involved in aged care and the one thing that was pointed out to me by those people was the number of people waiting for aged-care beds who were languishing in hospital because the Howard government refused to act.

Here we have before us today legislation, in the form of the Aged Care Amendment Bill 2011, that is bringing about real change, legislation that strengthens protection for accommodation bonds paid by care recipients to providers of residential and flexible aged-care services—something that is good for the aged-care facilities and good for those people that make those facilities their home. I am really pleased to say that the minister at the table was previously the Minister for Ageing who was responsible for the reviews that have been bringing about the changes that we are seeing now. If it were not for her efforts, we would not have this really proactive good legislation before us today. Legislation limits the permitted use for accommodation bonds taken after 1 October 2011, so that providers of aged care can still use these bonds for capital improvements to aged-care services. That is really important for those facilities. I talk to the aged-care facilities people in my electorate on a regular basis, just as I talk to the people that live in those aged-care facilities and those people that may need those facilities in the future.

Shortland is one of the oldest electorates in the country—it is the 11th oldest electorate—and this is an issue that is very dear to my heart and I need to know that the aged-care facilities we have, and also the care that those people who choose to live in them will receive, will be outstanding. This change to the use of the bonds is really important. The fact that bonds cannot be used for operational purposes is a very important change. The introduction of the new criminal offences where there has been a significant misuse of bonds is about the government facing up to and dealing with the problem, not burying its head in the sand and hoping it will go away and not acting and so ignoring the needs of older people and the needs of the aged-care industry. This is a government that actually deals with the problem and does not mouth platitudes or make statements that just sound good. We act, we do and we address the problem. The legislation is introducing new information-gathering powers to enable the Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing to better monitor approved providers that may be experiencing financial difficulties or using bonds for non-permitted uses. This will allow the department to help these aged-care providers. It is about making sure that there is continuity of aged care and making sure that older Australians have security about where they live. There is also a move to remove restrictions on the use of income derived from bonds, retention amounts and accommodation charges. This gives aged-care providers an unrestricted source of income, offsetting the proposed restrictions on the bonds. That is a really good news story. It is about making the aged-care providers more viable and, by doing that, making aged care safer and more secure for those older Australians who will require aged care over a period of time.

I referred earlier to the Parliamentary Secretary for Trade, who is at the table. On 12 April 2010, when she was the Minister for Ageing, she announced that the government would increase protection for aged-care residents' savings. She made that announcement as part of the announcement entitled 'More support for older Australians in the National Health and Hospitals Network'. She has always been committed to the needs of older Australians, and I know she also represents an electorate in this House that has an older population.

This legislation has been subjected to extensive consultation with the industry, community, government and stakeholders on the options for enhancing prudential regulation of accommodation bonds to identify the best means by which to ensure as far as possible that the financial interests of the residents are protected; to maintain effective regulatory safeguards for accommodation bonds; to provide a regulated source of capital funding for investment in aged-care infrastructure; to provide a regulatory framework that is commensurate to the risk associated with the exponential growth of accommodation bond holding; and to promote public confidence in the aged-care system. I emphasise that that last point, promoting public confidence, is very important.

Unlike the previous government, this government believes in consultation. We believe in talking to the people who will be operating the aged-care facilities. We believe in talking to those people who will be using the aged-care facilities. We also believe in talking to those people who will be regulating the facilities. This is a far cry from the type of consultation that took place in the last parliament, where there was cover-up after cover-up after cover-up, no spot checks—and now spot checks are regular occurrences—in aged-care facilities and a culture that enabled elderly people to be given kerosene baths.

As a result of this consultation process it is proposed that there will be changes to the act to strengthen the accommodation bond. This will address the lack of clarity in the act, which I think is really important, and introduce new criminal offences where misuses of bonds are identified. Once again, that is a really important change to the legislation. It is dealing with a problem that exists. It is proposed that the changes will take place from 1 October this year. There will be a two-year transition period to allow the sector to become more familiar with the new requirements, and I think that that is very important.

The other major change in this legislation involves the proposed amendments to the complaints scheme. It is proposed to amend the act to enable investigation principles which currently describe the investigation process in relation to complaints to be replaced with a complaints principle. This means that concerns relating to the delivery of residential, community and flexible aged care subsidised by the government can be investigated. They will be investigated. There is going to be a strong focus on resolution of complaints rather than investigations of complaints.

Investigating a complaint is all very well. Like me, all members of this parliament would have been visited by a constituent who had a problem with an aged-care facility. You would ring the aged-care complaints line. They would investigate it. And still that person who came to see you, more times than not, would be unsatisfied with the result. It was about investigation; it was about looking at it. It was not about dealing with the issue. It was not about resolving the issue.

These changes will allow those issues to be resolved rather than an investigation taking place that will deliver no outcome whatsoever to the person who has lodged a complaint. I think the fact that this legislation brings about a change that focuses on resolution rather than investigation is a very proactive and good change. The bill shifts the focus of the system from investigation to a more flexible scheme where the department can employ a range of mechanisms to assist to resolve a complaint, including early resolution, conciliation, mediation and encouraging the departments to resolve the issue themselves.

The changes that are outlined in this bill are essential. They come out of the government reviewing the system, looking at it and then, after consulting widely with the community and the sector, putting in place changes to the 1997 act that was introduced by the Howard government. Changes have caused quite a few problems within the community. We only have to look back to the time when the member for Mackellar was the Minister for Aged Care to see the kinds of problems that can be caused if governments do not consult widely with the community. The community and the aged-care sector need to have input into the direction of legislation, because good legislation is not imposed on a sector or on the community; good legislation is developed in consultation with all parties. I congratulate the minister for developing legislation that builds on the work of the previous minister and brings about legislation that is workable, that takes account of the interests of all parties and that will benefit those vulnerable frail aged people in the electorates of each and every member of this parliament. I commend the legislation to the House.