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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4915

Senator WEBBER (6:50 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise to take note of the report of 2001-02 on the operation of the Aged Care Act 1997. As most members would be aware, this act forms the basis of the structural reform package introduced by this government in 1996-97. The report outlines that there are over 172,000 operational places and in 2001-02 there were over 7,000 new residential places. Given that the report outlines these facts, one would expect that this rosy picture painted by the report means that aged care in Australia is excellent. All these extra places and new schemes, like the community aged care packages, should have resulted in a golden age descending on the retirements of older Australians. If that is the government view, I would like to be able to share their rose coloured view of the situation.

However, in my view the report fails to make mention of the way in which these places are allocated across the country. It fails to mention the disruption to the lives of older Australians when the facility they are resident in closes. It fails to talk about the loss of experienced and skilled aged care workers when a facility closes. This report in particular provides cold comfort to the residents and staff of the Geraldton RSL War Veterans' Home in Western Australia that closed in August of this year. The report does not mention that the 15 staff that worked at that facility are now working outside the aged care industry, and this is an industry that has massive shortages of skilled staff. It does not talk about the disruption to residents; it merely mentions that they can now access a community aged care package instead. I trust the report is at least accurate about the provision of those new services.

Although the report talks at length about the extra support for people in rural and regional Australia, we see that a facility in Geraldton has now closed. Geraldton is a large regional centre in Western Australia and it is not that isolated. It is only some five to six hours drive from Perth, and it has lost an aged care facility. Instead, from this report, we are told that there is a new Internet web site. I am sure that we all know in this place that the Internet, although it is a very useful communication tool for most of us, is not that widely used by older Australians. Instead of extra nursing home beds and secure accommodation facilities for some of the older residents of Geraldton, they now have an Internet site that can help them. Is there anything more ludicrous than the minister and his department coming up with a solution to provide information to a target group than to use a medium not widely used by that target group?

But do not worry, because the report goes on to inform us that there are 90 access points around rural and regional Australia that have free phones. What happens if an older Australian does not have access to the Internet or has difficulty in reaching one of these access points? On that matter, the report and, indeed, the entire government are silent. Older Australians need to be aware that this government is adopting, slowly but surely, a new strategy when it comes to dealing with our aging population. With the increase in the age of our population and a falling birthrate that has been a matter of much debate, it would seem that the Minister for Employment Services has let slip the government's new policy. Instead of providing income security for our older Australians and secure accommodation for those who are in need and do not have family support, he thinks that the strategy should be to raise the retirement age. Apparently that is the government's new answer. It seems that ultimately this government wants to solve any future problems with aged care by making all of us work until the day we die. They hope that at that point aged care will become a non-issue.

Question agreed to.