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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4959

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (19:56): In speaking to the private member's motion by the member for Shortland and while not doubting her sincerity, because she is a good friend of mine, I cannot congratulate her or the government or the two ministers who were responsible for the new package, nor will I call on my fellow members to support the reforms, as the motion asks.

When the government announced its new measures, one particular item, to my way of thinking, gave the whole plan away. That was the increase in the number of home care beds from 60,000 to 100,000 over the next five years. It was even more extraordinary that no home care packages were announced in Queensland in the government's last round of allocations. How could something be so urgent in one year that you have got to announce 40,000 places when, in the previous year, you did not announce one? Quite frankly, the increase in home care packages was the clearest possible signal that the government was winding back on the troubled residential section of aged care.

In the Wide Bay statistical region, which essentially covers the Wide Bay and Hinkler electorates, we have virtually had no residential beds for four years. In fact this year, from a notional allocation of 180 places, not one bed was applied for. That clearly says to me that the government has lost touch with the realities of aged care and the industry is switching off. Since the government has come to power successive ministers have taken their eye off the ball. There will also be a need for residential care regardless of how desirable it is to keep people in their own homes, and in my area we are down 610 beds over the last four years. That is a lot of residential beds to make up. Home care packages are always welcome and they do serve to help people live happy and productive lives in their own homes, but they are not substitutes when people reach that critical time in their lives where they need residential care.

When you look at some of the government's ideas in its new package, you really start to see how potentially draconian this new program can be. For example, in future only fully funded pensioners will be exempt from the means test and copayments will be charged for other home care packages. So, if you are a part pensioner, you are going to be up for $5,000 and if you are a self-funded retiree, $10,000, and you can be asked to keep contributing to this until you reach a limit of $60,000. However, when it comes to residential care, the government has ducked a serious consideration of methods, including the family home. I know it is not pleasant, but a reverse mortgage might have been a much fairer way of doing this. The means test and charging regime is quite marked, even for residential care. Not only will pensioners be paying 85 percent of their single pension, they will not be means tested, but others will be, and there will be an annual cap of $60,000 again.

The government's lack of sincerity in this matter can be seen by simply reading between the lines. Let me explain. Although the package is sold as $3.7 billion over five years, it is essentially a recycling of the forward estimates, with a measly $577 million of new money being added. The rest is recycled from previously announced programs. The second feature is the appalling lack of commitment to a transitional scheme to boost aged-care places for residential customers. So where will we be in the Hinkler area, in the Wide Bay area? Will we be down 800 beds, 900 beds—who knows? In the most cynical move of all, the new scheme will not come into operation until July 2014, well beyond the scrutiny of the next election.