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Friday, 22 February 1985
Page: 73

Senator ZAKHAROV(12.35) —I did not intend to speak in this debate, but I want to pick up a couple of points that have not been mentioned by other speakers. I also wish to reply briefly to a number of points made by Senator Walters. I, too, was a member of the Senate Select Committee on Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes, but came into its deliberations late, as did other members who were appointed to the Committee after the double dissolution. Unfortunately, I did not have the benefit of visiting the nursing homes involved in the inquiry, although in the course of my work I have visited other nursing homes.

I want to mention the reactions that I have experienced to the report since it was tabled. Due to printing difficulties, the report is not yet in print. That is unfortunate because I have found a big demand in the community among people who are interested in reading the report. However, members of the Committee were supplied with a few copies of the report which we have been able to lend out to interested individuals and organisations. I have found a great deal of interest in the community, particularly from organisations concerned with care of the aged, and in general very wide support for the recommendations of that report. Incidentally, I have found among those who have read the report no objections whatever to the inclusion of the photographs. In fact, the position is quite the reverse, especially from organisations concerned with the level of care offered in nursing homes.

What has not been mentioned so far in this debate is the number of young people who are in nursing homes. It is not generally recognised, unless people have friends or relatives in such a position, that a growing number of young people-in some cases as young as the late teens and in their twenties-reside or 'live' or 'are patients in' in nursing homes, often as a result of motor car accidents, diving accidents and so on, but also as a result of slow degenerative illnesses. I should like it put on record that the Committee and its report did not neglect the needs of those residents. The report refers in one of its recommendations to the fact that nursing homes specifically set up for young people should be funded separately from other nursing homes and that they might more appropriately be put in the handicapped persons assistance program. It was also recommended that when young people are in nursing homes with a mix of ages, special provision should be made for those young people, whose needs are quite different from those of the frail aged.

In the limited amount of time that is left to me before the adjournment of the debate, I wish to mention one other positive aspect of the report before I come to a couple of criticisms of Senator Walters's remarks. A good deal has been said in this debate about nursing homes, but I would stress that the Committee also gave attention to alternatives to nursing homes, some of which were mentioned by Senator Walters in her remarks, such as domiciliary care. That is an aspect of which the Committee is mindful and would like to see taken up in some detail pehaps, not by the present Committee but by another more appropriate committee or elsewhere. Such a committee could consider not only the subject of domiciliary care and the level of community support to the elderly who wish and are able to remain in their own homes with some community support, but also the provision of help such as an effective, low cost alarm system, which is often all that is needed for elderly persons to stay in their own homes so that they can get help if necessary.

Returning to a couple of points that Senator Walters made, she seems to see it as objectionable that notification of ownership should be displayed in nursing homes and available to people who are to be admitted to nursing homes. It is not just a question of the subsidy, but I think any government subsidy implies a responsibility on the part of the people receiving it. I know that in theory that subsidy goes to the patient, but in fact it is paid to the nursing home. It also implies accountability to the taxpayers, the people who are supplying that subsidy. More importantly, it is about a responsibility to residents and their relatives, who have a right to know who owns that nursing home and who may then, if they wish, exercise a different choice if an alternative is available and they do not wish to be admitted, in light of the information on ownership. We have in Victoria similar legislation to what is proposed and it does not seem to create any problems.

The parallel was drawn with other industries. Many of us would like to see other industries which have been heavily subsidised in the past made more accountable from the taxpayers' point of view. However, we are not talking about other industries at the moment; we are talking about nursing homes. Senator Walters mentioned that there was little evidence of doctors indulging in underhand business and that the report showed that only 88 doctors were actually registered as owners. But as Senator Giles has pointed out, we were not able to find out who were the real owners behind the large numbers of students and housewives who appear on the records of ownership. I know a lot of students and housewives and none of them could, of their own account, own large pieces of real estate or large businesses, as many of those nursing homes are. Even with company title searches it was not possible to find out who were the real owners behind what I might call shadow owners-I will not go so far as to call them puppets-but I think, without knowing who those owners are, we could hazard a pretty good guess as to who many of them would be.

I think it was unfortunate that those remarks were made about Professor Opit, who has a very high standing among the organisations that I have been consulting with since this report came down as a very credible witness. We have had recent arguments in this place about degrees of proof, and I think this is another case where an unreasonable degree of proof is being asked for. Finally, I am very glad that this report has been brought down. I look forward to the second half being brought down later this year. I hope that the report will be generally available to the public very shortly.