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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Page: 5600

Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (18:38): The Aged Care Amendment Bill 2011 introduces a number of amendments, which form part of the government's health and hospitals reform agenda. This bill plans to improve arrangements for complaints handling of Commonwealth funded aged-care services and to strengthen consumer protection for accommodation bonds paid to aged-care services. The history of this bill is an interesting one and for once demonstrates that those on the other side sometimes consult and listen to key stakeholders. Especially on an issue as important as aged care, we would expect the government to undertake consultations. The issues paper on enhanced prudential regulation of accommodation bonds, released in October 2010, resulted in a consultation paper released in February this year, which was followed by a number of industry, consumer and regulatory stakeholders meetings with the government to work through the issues raised.

In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society elders are consulted because of their knowledge, wisdom and life experiences. Their guidance helps to shape our future and teaches us humility, compassion and understanding. Ageism is not a factor; nor is age. Members of this House need to fully appreciate that if we apply the same approach in our wider society then we are more likely to provide the level of aged-care services and facilities that reflect aged people's needs, including staying in their own home. It is that generation that built and continued to build this great country of ours and the lifestyle we enjoy; therefore, we should take care of them.

The current regulation around the use of accommodation bonds is not consistent throughout the industry. The Department of Health and Ageing has identified, through monitoring and compliance activity and financial reports from a range of providers, that the lack of consistency of interpretation as to the permitted uses of bonds has led to many providers misusing them. The Aged Care Act provides that if an accommodation bond is charged to the care recipient by the aged-care provider then the provider must not use the bond for a purpose that is not related to 'providing aged care to care recipients.' It also stipulates that where a bond is charged then the provider is entitled to the income derived from the bond and may also deduct retention amounts from the bond principal. However, there are restrictions on how these amounts can be used. As mentioned before, the Department of Health and Ageing has found that a number of providers are using bonds to make loans to related parties and meet operational costs, making loans to related entities and to individuals with variable practice in documenting the loans, repayment arrangements and interest charges, and failing to meet the existing prudential standards relating to bonds. Since the prudential requirements were introduced in 2006, over 15 per cent of the aged-care industry has been found to be noncompliant.

Our aged-care system is a mess under this government. According to a Grant Thornton aged-care performance survey in 2007, over 40 per cent of all providers were operating in the red. I find that fascinating in this day and age. The Aged Care Industry Council stated in its 2011-2012 budget submission:

… 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.

This is important, because in my own electorate I have a large demographic, but part of that demographic are retirees and ageing Australians who will remain in their homes for a period until such time as they are unable to continue in independent residential living and move into a facility that will provide the levels of support that they require. In some instances those who need more intensive care move from my electorate into two other regions of the metropolitan area because the aged-care facilities that are established in our electorate do not have the capacity to meet the numbers.

This industry needs urgent help. No-one knows this better than Mr David Fenwick, in my electorate of Hasluck, who I work extremely closely with on the issues that impact on the industry. Mr Fenwick is the Chief Executive Officer of Amaroo Village in Gosnells. Amaroo provides independent living units, 92 high-level care places and 81 low-care places. Amaroo is an outstanding example of how the industry is making it work. They struggle to meet operating costs but recognise that there is a need in the area and continue to work towards the best outcomes possible for the residents.

Back in January, my colleague the member for Canning and I were presented with petitions from aged-care providers in our electorates of Canning and Hasluck. The aim of the petitions was to 'let Canberra know about the needs of Older Australians—their right to quality care and support they deserve now and in the future'. Their voices deserve to be heard. The pity is that the petitions did not meet the rigour of the requirements for petitions to be tabled in the House. Nevertheless the message was quite strong.

The management and care team at Amaroo are passionate about their work and they deserve to be supported by governments. This is consistent in all of the aged-care facilities that I have visited in Hasluck. Instead, the government has broken its election promise to repeal one regulation for every new regulation. Red tape and bureaucracy is holding the industry back. The burden of growing regulation is a disgrace. The coalition is committed to reducing Commonwealth regulation by at least $1 billion per year. Unlike those on the other side, we want to see industry encouraged to innovate, grow and provide the best possible services to those who need them the most.

We need to be supporting the aged-care industry now because we remember that, one day, we will all most likely need to access the services provided by the aged-care industry. When we grow old and need support, the aged-care industry, and the carers and providers, who are extremely passionate, will be looking after us. Unfortunately, only when that day comes for those opposite will they realise that they should have been much more supporting of the aged-care industry than they are now. The aged-care industry is becoming financially unviable and the number of providers going into liquidation has increased. However, many are being absorbed by larger facilities, thus not giving an accurate representation of the state of the industry.

The changes proposed by this bill strike a balance between explicit regulatory requirements and a risk based approach. It is difficult to accurately quantify the regulatory impact of these proposed changes due to the lack of available data. The changes include the provision of a regulatory framework that is equal to the risk associated with the strong growth of accommodation bond holdings and the increasing of incentives for bonds to be used in a prudent and sustainable way to meet the policy objective of allowing providers to charge bonds. Further, any costs to providers due to changes to ensure that bonds are only used for permitted purposes will be minimised by removing current restrictions on the use of income derived from bonds, retention amounts and accommodation charges and giving providers complete flexibility over how such income is used. There will be a transition period of two years, which will allow approved providers time to comply with the new arrangements. The changes also ensure that the financial interests of care recipients are protected.

These proposed changes will take effect in relation to accommodation bonds taken by approved providers on or after 1 October 2011 and the new complaints principles will take effect on 1 September 2011. A two-year transition period will conclude at the end of September 2013 to allow the changes to permitted uses of accommodation bonds to take effect and to allow the sector to become familiar with the new requirements. A post-implementation review will take place in 2014 or 2015. This review will be extremely important to the industry and I certainly look forward to seeing the outcome and what the challenges are.

Another key element of this bill is the management and resolution of complaints about aged-care services. The bill proposes that the investigation principles be replaced with new complaints principles. This will provide greater flexibility for complainants and will result in a range of options being available to assist in resolving a complaint, including early resolution, conciliation and mediation. I support this measure as people accessing the industry deserve to be looked after.

In my electorate of Hasluck, there are 22 approved aged-care providers providing a total of 321 community care places, 313 residential high-care places and 610 residential low-care places. I have been privileged to visit a number of these providers and they provide outstanding service to those in Hasluck who need it. I will always fight for the needs of the aged-care sector because it is an important part of the Hasluck community. We all know someone who is accessing aged-care services and, as such, we all have a duty to stand up and argue to improve the quality of the industry. This is a passion of mine. As I stated in my first speech to the House:

Elders within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies are revered and respected, and hold a special place—they do not go away but remain as wisdom-givers and guides in our future. The same concept has to be applied to all seniors and retirees, and the support they require should be accorded to them.

In the short time I have represented the electorate of Hasluck I have enjoyed the privilege of meeting people within residential care and, equally, those who have made the decision to remain living at home. The level of support provided in the home has been welcomed; what is disappointing, though, is that where there are increasing numbers there is not the financial capital to build the infrastructure required to provide the number of beds that are needed. I hope that in the future the Productivity Commission report and the work that we do on this side will help contribute to solutions that will make a difference across this nation for our elders, who will need the services and opportunities that are provided, both socially and from the point of view of accommodation at secure facilities that provide them with a bed and the comfort of support.

I revere our seniors. I believe that they provide opportunities for us to learn of the past, to take their knowledge and use it for the future and to understand our history in this nation. When I was teaching, the school had a relationship with an aged-care home and I saw many children enjoy the relationship with older people. Those who did not have grandparents enjoyed the relationship with seniors in those villages. They liked the fact that they were talking to people who had lived through a history, where they had seen the transition from horse-and-cart days to the types of vehicles and technology that we have in this day and age. I just hope that this government gives due attention to the needs of our elderly and to aged-care services.