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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4958

Ms LIVERMORE (Capricornia) (19:51): I thank the member for Shortland for putting this motion up for debate tonight. In the days following the budget it is easy for important measures to get lost among the headlines and the commentary. Invariably attention goes to a couple of big-ticket items and, in the meantime, the significance of other budget announcements—often those involving long-term reforms—can be overlooked. This motion reminds the House and those listening that aged care was most definitely given the priority it deserves on budget night.

The Treasurer announced in his budget night speech that the government will commit $3.7 billion over the next five years to get started on the important reforms at the heart of our Living Longer, Living Better blueprint for aged-care services. Living Longer, Living Better represents comprehensive reform to an aged-care system that is under severe pressure to meet the demands of a population that is living longer and in greater numbers than ever before, and whose expectations of aged care are very different to those of previous generations.

Although Living Longer, Living Better provides a 10-year framework for reshaping the aged-care sector, we know that there are areas that need immediate attention, so that is what we are doing. Ask any Australian how they see their old age and what they want from an aged-care system, and they will all tell you the same thing; they all want to stay in their own home for as long as they absolutely can, enjoying their independence in familiar surroundings and with the people they love. They want that home environment and they also want to know that they will be able to rely on the appropriate care they need to make that wish a reality. That is a perfectly natural thing to want, and surely not too much to ask.

In response to the unmet demand for in-home services, part of the $3.7 billion in the budget will pay for 40,000 extra home care packages over the next five years. That will take the number of people receiving care in their homes from the current 60,000 to 100,000. We all know people want to stay in their own homes, and we also know, from the people who come to our electorate offices for help, just how hard it can be for people to find their way around the aged-care system, and to know what is available, how to access that care and how much it is going to cost.

One of the recommendations of the Productivity Commission's report into a better aged-care system was to develop a single gateway for aged-care services. This is a key part of our Living Longer, Living Better package, and has also been given priority in the budget, with $192 million allocated for improving access to information and services through that proposed single gateway. From 1 July 2013 older Australians and their families will be able to use the aged-care gateway by way of either the My Aged Care website or a national call centre to access the information they need to navigate the range of aged-care services that are available, and to make choices about their care.

Ultimately, the My Aged Care gateway will be a one-stop shop for information on both home care and residential services in a local area, the relevant fees applicable to those services, quality indicators and ratings. For many people the difficulty of understanding the aged-care system, or even knowing where to start, comes on top of what is already a distressing time of their life, when they are faced with trying to get care for their husband or wife, or an elderly parent. We have to do everything we can to make the process of working out the options and finding the right care as easy as possible. People need to feel like they are making informed choices, that they have control over this next step in their life, and they need to do that without anxiety and without feeling helpless when confronted with the maze that is there at present.

The budget also acknowledges another very important point about aged care. The aged-care system can only be as good as the people working in it. As government we can improve the aged-care system all we like but it will not amount to anything without the workforce to meet the demand for care. That is why a big proportion of the budget allocation is going towards a new aged-care workforce compact. There is $1.2 billion to improve recruitment, training and, crucially, wages for aged-care staff. If we say aged care is important then it has to be important enough that we pay decent wages to the people who provide it.

In the 21st century, when people are living longer and healthier lives, of course there is much more to ageing than aged care. But even while they are enjoying their active senior years, people want to know that support will be there when they need it. That is why these reforms are so important and should be supported by all members. I commend the motion to the House. (Time expired)