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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 997

Senator NEAL (4.44 p.m.) —I thank Senator Patterson for providing the opportunity to discuss the issue of aged care. As all honourable senators would agree, aged care is becoming an increasingly important issue in our community with the increasing age of Australia's population. This year 11.7 per cent of our population are aged 65 or more. By the year 2001, this will increase to 12 per cent—that is about 2 1/2 million people. A large proportion of these aged persons will suffer from dementia or some other age-related illness as they grow older and as medical advances continue to extend the life span of Australians.

  The honourable senator is right in saying that dementia is a terrible disease. I have had personal experience dealing with an older person who has lost the experience and wisdom with age, rather than having this increase as one is entitled to expect. These people often lose contact with their relatives and the community which they grew up in through this terrible disease.

  The challenge facing the federal government is to provide an adequate level of care but at the same time to recognise and give the fullest support for methods of maintaining the ongoing independence and dignity of the individuals affected. To help meet this challenge the federal government has implemented the home and community care program, which is particularly concerned with the residential, home and community care of the frail aged, including those suffering from dementia.

  The HACC program was introduced in 1985 in response to a variety of reports which recommended a change in balance between institutional and community-based services for the aged and disabled. The experiences and opinions of the persons actually affected, the aged, have had a major influence over the resulting scheme. The report emphasised that there should be a correction of the imbalance between institutional and community care which was leading to premature or unnecessary admission to institutional care with a consequential loss of quality of life; the expansion of the types of care available to individuals; the improvement of the assessment of individuals for care; and an increase in the total resources available for care.

  Senators that have had an interest in aged care would remember that prior to the implementation of this program there were four disparate and fragmented schemes in operation, schemes that clearly did not adequately deal with the needs of frail elderly members of the community. It is worth noting that the stopgap schemes were all introduced by coalition governments. Each of them had worthy intentions in their introduction and implementation but, under Australia's coalition governments over the years, there has never been a serious attempt to address the entire field of aged care and dementia services. The only government to review this entire field, and to put in place policies covering every aspect of aged care, is this government.

  In 1985 the Hawke government began a thorough analysis of Australia's aged care services. This review led to the establishment of the home and community care program. HACC is a program operating through cost sharing with the states and territories. Financial assistance is provided through HACC for services to support frail aged persons and those with a disability living at home who are at risk of premature or inappropriate admission to long-term residential care. The program also aims to provide support for their carers. That means that frail aged people can stay longer in their homes, maintaining their dignity, their independence and their contacts with their families and communities.

  The stated objective of the HACC program is to `enhance the quality of life of the frail aged and younger people with a disability and their carers, by providing high quality and cost-effective care in the community'. Appropriate services are provided according to the assessed needs of the individual, with services targeted to avoid the poor direction and accuracy of HACC's predecessors.

  To achieve these objectives the federal government has been pursuing the following objectives: the provision of a comprehensive and well-integrated range of basic support services for the frail aged; help for these people to assist them to be more independent at home and to more easily be able to live their own lives, thus reducing the impact of their frailty or illness on their daily lives and therefore avoiding the risk of inappropriate admission to residential care; and a greater range of services and more flexible service provision to ensure that services respond to the needs of the users.

  I find it interesting that earlier there was reference to a report prepared by a House of Representatives committee titled Home but not alone, because the report clearly makes an assessment of the HACC program. In fact, that was a very positive assessment. (Time expired)

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McGauran)—Order! The time allotted for the debate has expired.