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AGED CARE AMENDMENT (OMNIBUS) BILL 1999
- Parl No.
- Question No.
Forshaw, Sen Michael
- System Id
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- Start of Business
- PETROLEUM RETAIL MARKETING SITES AMENDMENT REGULATIONS
- MIGRATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (MIGRATION AGENTS) BILL 1999
- VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING FUNDING AMENDMENT LEGISLATION
- TAIWAN: EARTHQUAKE
- QUALIFICATION OF SENATORS
- PETROLEUM RETAIL MARKETING SITES AMENDMENT REGULATIONS
- AGED CARE AMENDMENT (OMNIBUS) BILL 1999
- NATIONAL HEALTH AMENDMENT (LIFETIME HEALTH COVER) BILL 1999
- CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1999
- WAR CRIMES AMENDMENT BILL 1999
- CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1999
- LAW AND JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1998
SUPERANNUATION (UNCLAIMED MONEY AND LOST MEMBERS) BILL 1999
SUPERANNUATION (UNCLAIMED MONEY AND LOST MEMBERS) CONSEQUENTIAL AND TRANSITIONAL BILL 1999
- CRIMES AMENDMENT (FINE ENFORCEMENT) BILL 1999
TELEVISION LICENCE FEES AMENDMENT BILL 1999
BROADCASTING SERVICES AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 2) 1999
- STATES GRANTS (GENERAL PURPOSES) AMENDMENT BILL 1999
- AUSTRALIAN TOURIST COMMISSION AMENDMENT BILL 1999
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
East Timor: Peacekeeping
(Faulkner, Sen John, Hill, Sen Robert)
Business Tax Reform: Employment
(Chapman, Sen Grant, Hill, Sen Robert)
East Timor: Troop Rotation
(Collins, Sen Jacinta, Newman, Sen Jocelyn)
Business Tax Reform: Retirees
(Coonan, Sen Helen, Newman, Sen Jocelyn)
Business Tax Reform: Revenue Neutrality
(Cook, Sen Peter, Kemp, Sen Rod)
East Timor: Land Mines
(Bourne, Sen Vicki, Newman, Sen Jocelyn)
Business Tax Reform: Capital Gains
(Ludwig, Sen Joe, Kemp, Sen Rod)
Business Tax Reform: Input Tax Credits
(Harradine, Sen Brian, Kemp, Sen Rod)
(Schacht, Sen Chris, Minchin, Sen Nick)
Business Tax Reform: Rural and Regional Australia
(McGauran, Sen Julian, Macdonald, Sen Ian)
Business Tax Reform: Strategic Investment Coordination
(Conroy, Sen Stephen, Minchin, Sen Nick)
Civil Aviation Safety Authority: Airspace Trial
(Woodley, Sen John, Macdonald, Sen Ian)
Australian Federal Police: Funding
(Bolkus, Sen Nick, Vanstone, Sen Amanda)
- East Timor: Peacekeeping
- ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- PARLIAMENTARY LANGUAGE
- ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS
- VICTORIA: QUALITY OF SERVICES
Thursday, 23 September 1999
Senator FORSHAW (11:12 AM) —The specific details of the Aged Care Amendment (Omnibus) Bill 1999 and the opposition's response to it have been already covered in some detail by my colleague Senator Evans and other speakers for the opposition. So I will not take up the time of the Senate by going into those matters again, but I will make a few comments in relation to the broad issue of aged care and this legislation particularly. I do so because I recall that one of my first duties as a parliamentary secretary for the opposition was to put forward our amendments to the original aged care legislation that was introduced by the government back in 1997.
I will come back to that in a moment, but I cannot let go without some comment the rather outrageous assertions by Senator Allison last night on behalf of the Democrats when she attacked the opposition over our record on aged care. I actually found it interesting that Senator Allison predicted that the opposition would have a go at the Democrats in this debate. I thought, `Why would she predict that?' Of course, when you are guilty and you know you are guilty, you can actually stand up and acknowledge that some criticism will be forthcoming; and Senator Allison knew that. Nevertheless, in relation to when the aged care legislation first came before the parliament and was finally passed, Senator Allison yesterday said:
The Democrats gave qualified support to the government's initial aged care reform package . . .
That is not quite as I remember it. What I remember was a Senate inquiry which looked in some detail at the issues and at the government's proposals, the key point of which at that time was the introduction of accommodation bonds for nursing home residents. There was extensive debate in this chamber over a number of days. Senator Woodley, who was then the spokesman for the Democrats, expressed his very serious concern and, I believe, genuine concern, knowing his long interest and involvement in this issue, at the government's proposals.
But what happened? As has now become quite a common occurrence, the Democrats rolled over at the eleventh hour and caved in on the issue of accommodation bonds. They did so because the government, forced into backtracking on its original proposals, agreed to some additional payments for concessional residents—something that we and the Democrats had been urging the government to do. But, because the government was forced to cave in on that issue, the Democrats caved in and agreed to accommodation bonds. They were not even prepared to accept our fall-back propositions that the introduction of accommodation bonds be delayed for some time to allow further examination of it. No, it came in from 1 October 1997.
Well, what happened? Within about a month—within probably about a week, from my recollection—the screams and the howls could be heard right around the country. This was an absolutely disastrous policy development and it put the aged care industry in chaos. The government's own protestations by the then minister, Mrs Moylan—who, I note, is no longer on the front bench; she was relieved of her duties because of her incompetence on this issue—and the Prime Minister were simply untrue. They were saying, `No-one will have to sell their house to find the money to put up an accommodation bond to get a spot in a nursing home.' Evidence was brought forward very quickly that people were being pressured into having to dispose of their assets and properties to get a bed in a nursing home.
What happened? The government was forced to walk away from that proposition, to abandon it. So we then had a new minister appointed, Mr Warwick Smith. Not only is he no longer on the front bench of the government; he is not even in the parliament. The people of the electorate of Bass certainly reflected very quickly their attitude to his handling of this portfolio at the last election. Mr Smith introduced certain proposals and legislation to deal with the changes that they were making in respect of moving from accommodation bonds to the $12 per day accommodation charge and a range of other issues.
But subsequently the government—knowing that when the spotlight focused upon that legislation there would be very serious exposure of the problems that their aged care bill had created—withdrew the bill. Throughout all of this, the Democrats—whilst I do not blame them entirely; at the end of the day this was not their legislation—did agree to the original proposal. It is only now in this bill that some of those problems are finally being addressed.
Senator Allison has also indicated on behalf of the Democrats—and I hope she really does rethink this position—that they cannot support the opposition's amendments. She said:
While the Democrats have some sympathy with the sentiment which obviously lies behind some of those changes, we will not be able to support them, because neither we nor the industry saw them until just a short time ago.
The position is really this: what is contained within the opposition's amendments reflects the views and propositions that the opposition has put forward for some time now—that is, they deal with the situation where the moneys raised from the accommodation charge, paid for by the residents, are not necessarily in all cases being used for their main purpose, which is to rebuild the infrastructure within our nursing homes and to be reinvested as capital into the nursing home sector.
We have pointed out time and time again that there are loopholes and unscrupulous operators who can basically end up taking this money and using it for their own retirement package rather than using it for the purposes for which it is intended. That is what our amendments go to. The fact that the Democrats may have received them, I understand, a couple of days ago does not detract from the fact that they and the government have been aware of what our position has been on these issues all along.
I have to go further and say this: it really is crocodile tears from the Democrats to be saying, `Oh, we can't support the opposition's amendments because we haven't had enough time to see them.' I would think that that is a reasonable point to make if it was put forward as a genuine argument, but it is not. This has been put forward by the party, the Democrats, that did a deal with the government on the GST with hundreds of amendments and then guillotined it through this chamber in the last weeks of sitting before we rose at the end of June. They gave the opposition virtually no time at all to consider the implications of those amendments. And that was for one of the most fundamental legislative changes for many years, virtually reconstructing the taxation system in this country.
We were given virtually no opportunity to properly consider their amendments, and here we have the Democrats saying, `Oh, well, we haven't had time so we're going to vote against yours.' Having not been content with doing that on the GST, at around the same time they did it on the environment bill. They did a last minute deal again with the government on the environment and biodiversity bill. They brought over 500 amendments into this chamber. The opposition had virtually no time to consider them. They were being presented to us as the debate was going on. Again, by weight of numbers with the government, they pushed them through.
Frankly, this is just a nonsense proposition. I noticed at the time that Senator Allison had a smile on her face when she was putting the argument forward because I think even she recognised the ridiculous proposition she was putting. As I understand it, at the end of the second reading stage we are likely to adjourn consideration of this bill and come back to it next week. So there will be further time available for the Democrats to properly consider our amendments.
I turn quickly to a couple of aspects of this legislation that I wanted to touch upon. As I said, the government's original legislation introduced the system of accommodation bonds. That proved to be an unmitigated disaster, as we said it would. They then changed to the system which requires residents of nursing homes after 1 October 1997 who meet the criteria to pay an accommodation charge of $12 per day. As we have pointed out—and this has been identified throughout estimates hearings and questions here in the chamber in question time and in other debates, particularly by my colleague Senator Evans—there have been instances where people who were residents before 1 October 1997 have been hit with that charge, quite contrary to the intent of the legislation.
There have been situations where the nursing home or sections of a nursing home may have been closed down and the residents transferred to a new facility or another part of the facility and then those unscrupulous operators have treated those people as new entrants or as new residents and levied accommodation charges upon them. There have been a variety of these types of unscrupulous activities. Fortunately, it is not the norm throughout the industry. Nevertheless, even when it happens only once it needs to be highlighted and exposed. This legislation does finally give some legislative weight to the promises that have been made by the Prime Minister and the minister over time—that is, those situations will be corrected and the operators will be forced to return the funds to residents who have been incorrectly charged.
The second aspect of the legislation that I point to is that there have been situations where, because of breaches of the requirements of this act and the previous act, the ability to operate should have been revoked. However, because of some technical deficiencies, albeit brought about by the government repealing the previous act and not providing for it in the current act, some operators who may have committed breaches prior to 1 October 1997 are still able to continue operating notwithstanding their past record.
I understand that the legislation also deals with a range of other issues, particularly some amelioration in the assets test, and clarifies situations regarding patients or people who enter a nursing home with a mental impairment. We welcome those aspects of the legislation that do correct anomalies and improve the position. We point out, as we have strongly pointed out throughout this entire debate over the last couple of years, that it was necessary for the government to amend its own legislation to fix up problems which it largely is responsible for.
The fact of the matter is that since this government came to office its approach to aged care has been one where its eyes have been trained more upon the interests of the operators than the specific needs of the residents. It seems that it still has a view that what matters most is the position of the operators, particularly those who treat this as a commercial business rather than this being a service which is provided by a combination of government and private sector and particularly charitable and religious organisation support.
With those remarks, I look forward to the committee stage and hope that the Democrats in particular will take the blinkers off, will pause their current rather long running romance with the government, in which they will do a deal on everything, and will properly consider our amendments.