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Tuesday, 28 September 1999
Page: 9059

Senator CHRIS EVANS (5:44 PM) —I will not delay the chamber by having this debate about what is a bit of a rewrite of history. Certainly the government at the time used the sort of rhetoric that Senator Herron used then, and then said, `We need to provide capital to meet the capital needs of the sector.' He is now saying to me that the concessional resident supplement is not about capital; it is about care.

Senator Herron —Mr Temporary Chairman, I object. What I said will be on the record.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I am not trying to verbal the minister—as he says, it will be on the record. But I do not think that his answer is all that clear because it seems to me this was very much about the capital needs of the sector, and now the minister is saying the government's position is that this need not be used for capital. Of course, the intent of the Labor opposition's amendment is very much to quarantine this payment for the use of capital. That is what it is about. We seek to insert provisions in the act that set out the use of the concessional resident supplement and ensure that the taxpayers' dollars allocated to the supplement are used for capital improvements in the aged care sector, because we think there is a glaring hole in the government's approach with their failure to direct the use of the supplement in that way. Our amendment attempts to put some accountability into the system to ensure that the millions of dollars of taxpayers' money spent on the supplement are spent appropriately and, where that does not occur, the amendment would ensure that the funds be returned to the Commonwealth.

The government's original estimate was that 27 per cent of residents would be covered by the concessional resident supplement. Last week, as I saw it, that was at 47 per cent. This is a payment that is supposed to cover the capital needs of half of the residents of nursing home facilities in this country, and we simply do not know what the providers are doing with the money. Most are doing the right thing and putting it into funding their capital improvements and ensuring that they meet accreditation—the sort of point that Senator Herron alluded to. I concede that. We are trying to deal with those that are not doing that. We are trying to make sure that there is some accountability for the millions of dollars of taxpayers' money spent. Minister, I want to know what accountability there is. What is to prevent nursing home proprietors leaving the industry and pocketing the concessional resident supplement payments that you have made to them?

We have always understood that there was a clear and strong link between the supplement and capital improvements. In fact, the industry recently put out the HESTA report, which said that the current capital needs of the sector will not be met by the accommodation charge and the concessional supplement. I will leave that argument to another day, but clearly they think there is a link between the concessional supplement and the capital needs of the sector. That certainly was my understanding. I want to know what there is to prevent a provider who intends getting out of business before certification comes in from pocketing thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of dollars in concessional supplements—not improving the facility, not spending it on more care for the residents and leaving the industry. We have had a number of examples already; more are expected to follow.

Why are you handing over taxpayers' dollars to these providers with no assurance that they will spend the money—even under your scenario—either on capital or care? There is no provision at all that they spend that money on anything. We are trying to quarantine it to the use of capital. Your defence is to say it is a more general pay ment, which is an interesting development; I thought the funding of that was covered by the daily care charges, but apparently not. What guarantee can you give that that money is not pocketed by people leaving the industry?