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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7124

Mr BUTLER (Port AdelaideMinister for Social Inclusion, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform) (17:59): I thank the member for Gippsland for his interest in this question. I thank the member for Deakin for his advocacy for better aged-care services across the country, but particularly in relation to his electorate. He has outlined the importance of that just in demographic terms to the Federation Chamber. The Prime Minister made a commitment before the last election that aged-care reform would be a priority for this term of government, and this budget delivers on that commitment. That commitment by the Prime Minister does not deny the quality of aged-care services and the contribution that our aged-care system has made to the wellbeing of older Australians for many years. We are proud, and should be proud, of the aged-care system that we work with now and have worked with since the mid-1980s, because it has served this country well. It was largely put in place in the mid-1980s by the Hawke government and it was built around the idea of residential care, or nursing homes and hostels then. It was the Keating government that started the system of Community Aged Care Packages, as they are called at the moment.

The Howard government, when the member for Mackellar was the Minister for Aged Care, extended the in-home care system to a high-care system with the introduction of EACH packages. This is a system that has evolved over time, but it seems that, from feedback I receive from the sector—from aged-care providers, consumer groups and, most importantly, from older Australians themselves—it is one that is not serving the needs and preferences of older Australians as well as it should.

After we asked for an inquiry by the Productivity Commission into Australia's aged-care sector, the report on which was received mid last year, I conducted a series of conversations across the country in capital cities and regional areas—including the parliamentary secretary's electorate in Ballarat, among many others—to hear from older Australians about their expectations of and their experiences with aged care. If there was one message that was repeated in every single conversation, it was that older Australians want a system that supports them to stay in their own homes for as long as possible and if possible, for the whole of their lives. The system we currently work with just does not do that sufficiently. So the central theme of the Living Longer Living Better package is to expand opportunities, expand support systems for people in their retirement, in their older age, to enable them to stay at home for as long as possible and—as I said—if possible, for the whole of their lives.

As the member for Deakin outlined, there is significant reform proposed for the Home and Community Care Program. Some of that extends from the National Health Reform Agreement, where all the states, except for Victoria and Western Australia, agreed essentially to hand over control of the HACC Program to the Commonwealth for people over the age of 65, and which will be consummated, I guess, in its entirety from 1 July this year. We will be consolidating the HACC Program, along with the National Respite for Carers Program, the Day Therapy Centre Program and others, to form a new home support program that will be flexible, will involve a review of service type for the first time since the mid-1980s and, importantly, will be grown in the forward estimates by six per cent in real terms to ensure that an expansion of these services tracks the expansion in demand that goes with the ageing of the population.

The member for Deakin also talked about home care packages or what we have previously called Community Aged Care Packages and EACH packages. Again, there is a substantial expansion of those packages in this policy, to the tune of around 40,000 additional packages over the coming five years—an expansion by about two-thirds on top of the existing supply, or an expansion of about 110 per cent since we came to government. Not only are we expanding the numbers; we are also introducing two new levels of package. There is one to reflect the fact, as outlined by the Productivity Commission, that the gap between the Community Aged Care Package and the EACH package is too significant and there needs to be a package in between; and there is a lower-level package to smooth the path from the home support program into more complex community care. We have also taken up the learnings from the consumer directed care pilot that was conducted over the last 12 or 18 months, and all new packages from next year and all existing packages from about July 2015will be transitioned to a consumer directed care model. So there are substantial reforms in the package, particularly for those older Australians who want more options to stay at home for longer.