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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Page: 5597


Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (18:23): I rise tonight to raise various points concerning the Aged Care Amendment Bill 2011. The first point I would like to address is that of regulation, which we are once again seeing. The merits of that regulation are yet to be tested and it is yet to be seen whether they will be worthwhile. But we are seeing regulation occurring without the government honouring its commitment of 'one regulation in-one regulation out'. This is a sector that is continually suffering from the stifling impacts of regulation, so we need to address that.

We also need to look at where the aged-care sector stands at the moment. The Rudd government came into power promising all sorts of things for this sector, but it delivered next to nothing. We then need to compare that with how the coalition would go about addressing the problems and issues confronting the aged-care sector. We have a proven track record on this. Ever since we introduced the Intergenerational Report and forecast what was going to occur with the ageing of our population we have had a policy that has fitted neatly with that budget summation as to where spending on aged care is going to go as Australia's population continues to age. I would then like to look at some of the impacts the aged-care sector is facing in my seat of Wannon and make some reference to Sea View House and a way forward on that issue at the moment.

This bill introduces a number of amendments as part of the governments health and hospital reform agenda. It plans to, and hopefully will, strengthen consumer protection for accommodation bonds paid to aged-care services. It also plans to improve arrangements for the handling of complaints about Commonwealth funded aged-care services. The government released an issues paper in October 2010 and, following submissions, undertook a series of industry and consumer stakeholder meetings. A consultation paper was released in February 2011 followed by industry, consumer and regulatory stakeholders in February and March 2011.

As part of the government's health and hospital reform agenda, it is committed to strengthening consumer protection for accommodation bonds and this is what this legislation seeks to do. If the bill is passed the reforms regarding accommodation bonds will take effect on and after 1 October 2011 and the new complaints principles will take effect on 1 September 2011. However, there will be a two-year transition period, until the end of September 2013, for the changes to the permitted use of accommodation bonds, which will allow the sector to become familiar with the new requirements. A post-implementation review will be conducted in 2014-15.

In its 2011-12 budget submission, the Aged Care Industry Council stated:

A snapshot of the industry at the start of 2011 does not depict a sustainable system: only 40% of residential aged care services are operating in the black; hours of service are decreasing; hours of care provided under community aged care packages have fallen; and many providers are not building new residential care beds. The situation is worse in rural and regional areas where providers face generally higher costs with less ability to manage their income streams.

This does not portray a sector that is heading in the right direction. This does not portray a sector that is ready to meet the ageing of Australia's population. This does not portray a sector that is going to deliver, especially for older Australians in regional and rural areas. What it does portray is a sector that is in urgent need of reform. It also portrays a sector that needs a government that will listen to it and address its problems, and this does not seem to be occurring. As a matter of fact, if there is a constant theme that I am hearing in my community and I am witnessing when I come into this place every day the parliament sits, it is that this government does not seem to want to listen to the Australian people. It has its own agenda and it seems hell-bent on forcing that agenda on the Australian people.

The difficult part about this bill is that we do not really have a clear understanding of the regulatory impact. Also, given that we are introducing more regulation, what regulation are we taking out of the aged-care sector to help it meet the incredible demands it is going to be facing in the coming years?

The coalition understands that the very best care, whether in the community or residential, should be balanced. We need a clearly articulated policy that balances the community care and the residential care. We put forward at the last election a clear policy that first admitted the reality that the ageing of the population is an enormous social challenge facing Australia. We have a rapidly ageing population, and we are seeing that played out more in regional and rural areas. Australians are living longer and, as a result, are facing more complex health conditions. Disease patterns are changing as a result of Australians living longer. We are also seeing a shift in the size and composition of households, which means that there is not the family support there once was to help Australians as they age.

What does this mean? It means that our budget cannot sustain Australia's demographic changes. The declining workforce will generate insufficient tax revenue to meet the health and aged-care demands of our ageing population. On this point, we have to look at where the Australian budget is at the moment. The budget just handed down has a deficit of $47 billion—a budget deficit the size of the whole of the Victorian budget. We do not have a government that is getting our budgetary position in place to deal with the ageing of our population. We have a government that has forgotten about the Intergenerational report and how it set out clearly what we need to do as a country to make sure we are ready to meet the ageing of our population.

We have a budget deficit forecast for next year of $21 billion. All this has led already to a net debt position of $106 billion, with repayments of $135 million per day. Imagine what that money could do if it were put into productive use in our aged-care sector. Sadly, though, we will see this money being used to repay debt and not to deal with these enormous challenges we are facing today in the aged-care sector.

In 2007 Kevin Rudd and the Labor government promised the world for this sector. They pointed out that there were issues about providing enough aged-care beds and people becoming 'blockers' of acute care hospital beds. Kevin Rudd announced that we were going to get a new direction. He promised the world. What has he delivered? As I quoted before from that damning indictment in the prebudget submission, we did not get that at all. The Aged Care Industry Council has stated that the snapshot of the industry at the start of 2011 does not depict a sustainable system—and we must work towards a sustainable system.

A key to producing a sustainable system will be making sure there is appropriate funding and also making sure we do not stifle this sector with regulation. Sadly, it is a habit of this government to try to fix every problem with regulation. Maybe it should step back and listen to some very wise advice, which is that trying to fix every problem with regulation often just creates more problems.

In visiting aged-care facilities across Wannon—in Ararat, Stawell, Casterton, Hamilton, Portland, Warrnambool and Mortlake, just to name a few—I see communities dealing with constant issues, especially workforce issues. This is not made easier by governments promising to deliver—for instance, promising to deliver new nurses, especially in regional and rural areas—and not delivering on those promises. These centres are dealing more and more with constraints on accessing the labour they need. Not only that but they then have to deal with extra regulation that requires them to have professionals with certain qualifications and does not allow them flexibility as to where they get those professionals and how often they can use them.

One of the key things for regional and rural communities is to ensure that as people age in their communities they can stay in those communities. One of the key components of the coalition's policy approach before the last election was to ensure that there was flexibility in the system to enable people to age gracefully in the communities in which they grew up. Sadly, we are not seeing that from this government. What we are seeing from this government are regulations that continually make this more and more difficult—regulations that seem to support large facilities in urban areas and do not have the flexibility to enable the smaller aged-care facilities to operate.

Finally, I will point to a very simple example. Sea View House in Portland is a 56-bed supported residential service that has had the rug pulled from underneath it by Portland District Health. At the moment it is trying to deal with the question of what will become of it. The community has rallied and is keen to buy Sea View House so that it can continue to provide services. I would like to take this opportunity to say how much I support what the community is trying to do to save Sea View House. Glenda Carswell, the spokeswoman from the community group which has been set up, the Sea View House Support Group, has been doing an excellent job to make sure that the facility can continue to provide its services to the people in residence there. They have provided bonds to make sure that they are in a situation where they can live the last parts of their lives in a very comfortable way and in an environment which they have freely chosen. The support group are doing a terrific job and I hope that they will be able to get a purchaser for that facility so that it can continue to provide its services. I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this bill.