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Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Page: 23971


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (6:03 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

AGED CARE AMENDMENT BILL 2004

The amendments in the Aged Care Amendment Bill 2004 are not extensive. They are however important measures which need to be considered in the context of the 2004 Budget initiatives in aged care, which in turn, should be considered in the context of our ageing population.

As the number of Australians over the age of 65 increases, so will the demand for aged care. The challenge is to find the appropriate balance between public funding and government regulation, the responsibilities of the aged care providers and individual responsibility. Older Australians have worked hard, they have raised families, paid taxes and contributed to our community. They deserve to be cared for and supported as they age.

The majority of older Australians want to stay in their own homes, in their own communities, or with their own families for as long as they can. If the time comes where staying in their homes is not possible, we need to ensure older Australians have access to the best available care delivered by qualified people. This care must be of high quality, affordable and accessible.

Growing demand, as the population ages, means that we must ensure that the aged care sector is sustainable over the long term. The challenge is to balance cost-sharing with equity of access, while continuing to improve the quality of care.

The Australian government is committed to meeting the challenge. We have made strenuous efforts over the past eight years to improve the quality of care for older Australians, introducing accreditation, improving access to residential and community care, boosting support for carers, and paying special attention to needs in rural and remote areas.

Funding for aged care has increased from $3 billion in 1995-96 to more than $6 billion today. Since 1996 the Australian government has allocated more than 55,600 new aged care places and is on target to meet its commitment to 200,000 places by June 2006. Funding for Community Aged Care Packages has increased by more than 820 per cent.

The government, providers of aged care services and the community must ensure older Australians continue to receive a high standard of care. This care must include choices in accommodation and services that are all well resourced, well run and well staffed.

Every element in the government's 2004 budget package, Investing in Australia's Aged Care: More Places, Better Care is designed to maintain and improve access for older Australians to high quality and affordable care.

Over the next four years, the government will provide an extra $2.2 billion to build on the progress we have made since 1997 in establishing a world class system of aged care.

The budget package will bring the Australian government's total investment in the care of older Australians to $30 billion over the next four years—$6.7 billion in 2004-05 rising to $8.2 billion in 2007-08.

By the end of the four-year span of these latest initiatives, the Australian government will have spent $67 billion on securing better aged care since coming to office in 1996.

The budget funding and initiatives are a detailed response to Professor Warren Hogan's Review of Pricing Arrangements in Residential Care. This extensive review, commissioned by the government in 2002, examined the longer term prospects of residential aged care with particular respect for private and public funding, performance improvement in the industry and longer term financing.

The government has responded to all of the recommendations for immediate action and has fast-tracked its response to some of the medium term recommendations to create a sustainable industry.

Through Investing in Australia's Aged Care: More Places, Better Care, the government will encourage a cooperative working partnership with both aged care service providers and the community at large.

A central element of this partnership is working with aged care providers to ensure the most efficient use of aged care funding. Greater efficiency holds the prospect of lower costs. As the Hogan report noted:

If all residential care services were to operate at optimal technical efficiency then the combined public and private cost of residential care could be reduced by 17 per cent ($1.1 billion in 2002-03).

In the alternative, the level of output of the sector (the number of people cared for) could be expanded by 17 per cent (23,100 in 2002-03) at no additional public or private cost.

The government's package provides a firm foundation from which the aged care sector can grow and increase their efficiency and sustainability while ensuring that older Australians can receive the care they need—at the right time and in the right place.

We will provide $877.8 million over the next four years for a conditional adjustment payment which will increase residential care subsidies by seven per cent by 2007-08, in addition to the annually indexed basic care subsidy.

The average annual Australian government subsidy per resident, currently $30,500, will rise to around $35,380, including the effect of indexation, by 2007-08.

The payment is conditional on aged-care providers meeting certain requirements, including encouraging workforce training, making audited accounts publicly available annually, and participating in a periodic workforce census.

It will give homes an immediate boost in income so they can continue to improve the quality of care they provide, including assisting in paying more competitive wages to nurses and other staff.

The government recognises the unique problems that homes in rural and remote areas often face. We will pay an extra $14.8 million in viability supplements over the next four years from 1 January, after aspects of the viability supplement are reviewed.

The government is increasing the number of aged care places it subsidises—from 100 places to 108 places per 1,000 people aged 70 or over.

We will do so at a cost of $468.3 million over the next four years, including $58.4 million in new spending provided in the budget package.

This is the first increase in the aged care provision ratio since it was introduced in 1985.

This will double the number of places offered in community care to 20 per 1,000 people aged 70 or over, reflecting the preference of older Australians to receive care in their own homes.

In total, around 27,900 new aged-care places will be allocated over the next three years, including 13,030 this year.

These are on top of the 35,371 places allocated over the past four years.

Among the total are up to 2,000 transition care places over three years to help older people return home after a stay in hospital.

Investment is needed over the next decade to ensure the supply of aged care homes grows in line with the increase in the number of older Australians who need care.

As well as building new homes, existing aged care homes need to be upgraded to provide quality buildings, furniture, fittings and equipment that are needed for the comfort and safety of residents. To ensure that services deliver high quality care in appropriate surroundings, homes will be expected to meet the new privacy, space and amenity standards, developed in consultation with the aged care sector, by 2008, and appropriate fire and safety standards.

The Hogan report noted that significant levels of investment in new buildings and upgradings were being undertaken.

It was reported that in 2002-03, $821.4 million of new building, refurbishment and upgrading work in aged care was completed, involving an estimated 22.8 per cent of all residential aged care services.

A further $941.7 million of work was under way as at 30 June 2003, involving about 11.7 per cent of services.

The government recognises that over the next decade there will be a continuing need for capital funding so that existing homes can be well maintained, new homes built and existing facilities refurbished.

To address these medium-term needs, the government will provide $438.6 million over the next four years to increase its capital contribution to the providers of care.

We will lift the top rate of the concessional resident supplement from $13.49 to an indexed $16.25 per resident per day from 1 July this year.

Other concessional resident supplement rates will be increased proportionately from the same date. The rates of the respite supplement will be increased in line with the residential increase—that is, by $2.76 per resident per day. The transitional resident supplement rate will be increased to match the new concessional resident supplement rate.

In addition, this financial year the government will make a one-off payment of $513.3 million to aged care providers, amounting to $3,500 per resident, to ensure that all homes have the means to meet 2008 certification standards, in particular fire and safety requirements.

In line with the principle that those who are able to make a contribution to the cost of their accommodation should do so, the government will increase the maximum rate of the accommodation charge for new high-care residents who are able to make such a contribution.

This means that the maximum accommodation charge for new residents from 1 July will be no more than $16.25 per day.

We will also remove the five-year limit on accommodation charges for new high care residents, so that a capital contribution is made for the duration of time spent in a residential care service.

This is the subject of our proposed amendment which I will refer to shortly.

We have also invested in the aged care workforce. The government recognises that the global shortage of nurses and other care staff makes a major investment in education and training imperative.

In order to attract and retain staff, it is important that staff receive training and that caring for the aged is a rewarding career path.

A recent survey found that Australia's residential aged care sector employs over 116,000 direct care workers who are, overall, highly skilled and motivated.

It found that around 12 per cent had not had sufficient education and training opportunities.

New funding of $101.4 million over four years in this budget will significantly raise the skills and career opportunities of the aged care workforce.

We will fund 400 more undergraduate nursing places each year, rising to 1,094 in the fourth year. This will enable 1,600 students to commence nursing education over the next four years.

Funding will also assist 15,750 aged-care workers, up to Enrolled Nurse level, to obtain formal qualifications, up to 5,250 Enrolled Nurses to be trained in medication management; and up to 8,000 workers to improve language and literacy skills.

One of the critical issues we have identified and addressed is to ensure that caring for older Australians in aged care homes is made easier for nurses and care workers by simplifying administrative requirements. This will allow them to spend more time caring for older residents and less time on paperwork.

Funding of $81.9 million over four years will be used to simplify administrative requirements.

The Hogan report recommended a single assessment service for community and residential care, and increased funding for Aged Care Assessment Teams to help people access the services best suited to their requirements. As part of the budget package, the government will boost funding for the teams and extend their role so that they give older people support to access suitable care.

The government will introduce a single assessment service for residential and community care.

The Resident Classification Scale funding tool will be simplified from eight categories to three, making it less complex, with two supplements for dementia and palliative care.

A new $2.1 million web-based information service will simplify choosing a residential care home, and encourage providers to consider the particular needs of older Australians.

We will introduce progressively e-commerce for funding and information transfers between government and providers.

After 1 July 2005, providers will no longer have to undertake asset testing for new residents. This function will be carried out by Centrelink and the Department of Veterans' Affairs in the case of veterans.

We will also provide additional funding of $36.3 million over the next four years to maintain the activities of the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency.

ACATs provide a `gate-keeping' role to ensure that the individual care needs of older Australians are met.

There will no longer need to be an ACAT assessment as the care needs of a resident remaining in the same home increase. This means residents will more quickly receive care matched to their needs. This initiative responds to a specific recommendation in the Hogan report and requires an amendment to the Aged Care Act (1997) in particular the repeal of paragraph 28-1(3)(b).

Residents and their families and the providers entrusted with their care will benefit from this amendment. Removing the need for an ACAT assessment will allow residents to move quickly from low to high care within the same aged care home as their care needs change, meaning that people will receive the higher level of care they need more quickly. There will be appropriate funding review processes.

The second amendment to Division 57A of the Aged Care Act 1997 gives effect to the government's response to the Hogan report's recommendation on the removal of the five-year limit on payment of accommodation charges.

It will affect only those residents who enter high level care after 1 July 2004 and who can afford to contribute to the cost of their accommodation. This amendment recognises that it is reasonable for residents who can afford to make this contribution to pay a charge for the duration of their stay in an aged care home. Existing residents and new concessional residents will not be affected nor will those going into low level care or extra service homes.

Existing accommodation bond arrangements remain unchanged.

In addition, the Australian government will ensure that residents who are in need can access a hardship allowance. Further, we will review the existing hardship allowance guidelines to ensure assistance is available to those who need it.

Both amendments are part of our overall aged care package that builds on a solid platform of reforms and our commitment to care for older Australians.

Every initiative in the new $2.2 billion Investing in Australia's Aged Care: More Places, Better Care package is designed to further the Australian government's long term vision for world class, high quality, accessible and affordable care. We are determined to ensure that we continue to meet the individual needs of older Australians and their families, by:

- investing in better care

- providing more aged care places

- building better aged care homes

- increasing skills and training and

- ensuring the right care is delivered in the right place at the right time.

—————

EXTENSION OF CHARITABLE PURPOSE BILL 2004

This bill provides a statutory extension to the common law meaning of charity.

This will allow certain organisations, which have difficulty satisfying the common law requirements, to be charities for the purposes of all Commonwealth legislation.

This includes certain child-care and self-help bodies, and closed or contemplative religious orders.

By extending the common law meaning of charity in this way, the concessions embodied in Commonwealth legislation that are available to charities will also become available to these organisations. Such concessions principally relate to taxation and include income tax and fringe benefits tax exemptions and certain GST concessions.

The provisions will apply from 1 July 2004.

Full details of the measures in this bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum.

I commend this bill.

—————

AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (EXPORT CONTROL) BILL 2004

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997 and the Export Control Act 1982 to introduce tighter regulation across all aspects of the livestock export trade.

The amendments in the bill will ensure that the legislative framework is in place to carry out the $11 million package of reforms to the livestock export trade announced by the Australian government on 30 March 2004 in response to the recommendations in the report of the Keniry review into livestock exports. The report was provided to the government in December 2003.

The government's package of reforms, with accompanying funding, recognises that the livestock export trade is important to Australia. The trade contributes significantly to the Australian economy generating about $1 billion a year in rural economies and supporting approximately 9,000 jobs. However, the trade is also controversial because of the community's concern that the welfare of the animals is not being properly addressed.

The Keniry review found that, although the industry has made genuine efforts to address animal welfare issues, the improvements have been incremental and the pace has been too slow to restore community confidence in the trade. The government has, therefore, decided to take the lead to drive change at a faster pace through legislative and other means.

The main thrust of the bill is to achieve improvements in animal welfare outcomes by moving from a co-regulatory environment and providing government with clearer powers to require the livestock export trade to meet more rigorous standards.

The move away from co-regulation for the livestock export trade is highlighted by an amendment to section 9 of the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997 which removes the requirement for the Secretary to have regard to any broad policies formulated by livestock industry bodies in exercising certain powers under the act.

The Keniry review identified a need for the creation of a set of nationally consistent principles that focus on the health and welfare of livestock during the whole of the export chain. The bill gives the minister power to determine the principles and states that they are to be known as the Australian Code for the Export of Livestock. These principles will influence all aspects of the regulatory regime applicable to livestock exports.

The Keniry review also proposed closer integration between the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act and the Export Control Act. Currently, the acts are integrated to the extent that a person must hold a licence under the Australian Meat and Live-stock Act to be able to export livestock under the Export Control Act. The bill provides for further integration of these two acts.

The success of the government's reforms and the continuation of the trade will depend to a large extent on the integrity and competence of the industry participants. Industry participation is controlled through the granting, renewal, suspension and cancellation of licences under the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act. The Keniry review identified a loophole in this act that allows an exporter to simply rely on the licence of an associate if a decision is made to deny the exporter a licence or to suspend or revoke his/her licence. To prevent frustration of the act by this behaviour, the bill provides the secretary with the power to take action, such as suspension or revocation, in relation to licences of the associates of the exporter.

Veterinarians engaged by exporters undertake an important role in the export chain for livestock, as well as for other animals and reproductive material. Under current practices, exporters engage veterinarians to undertake certain veterinary functions, such as testing of livestock to meet importing country requirements, before the livestock are loaded onto the vessel for the export journey. These veterinarians are currently accredited by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service under an administrative arrangement. The Keniry review recommended that the responsibilities of accredited veterinarians should be referenced in legislation with suitable penalties for breach.

The review also recommended that veterinarians should, in certain circumstances, accompany livestock on voyages to overseas destinations and be required to report to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service on specified matters including any matters relating to the health and welfare of the animals. In response to these recommendations, the bill contains amendments to the Export Control Act to provide a legislative basis for the accreditation of veterinarians to undertake roles both in Australia and on overseas vessels which are carrying livestock. The bill also contains offence provisions. The accredited veterinarians will continue to be engaged by the exporters.

The bill responds to current widespread criticism of the live animal export trade both in Australia and internationally. It represents an important step in the government's overhaul of the livestock export trade and reflects the government's strong commitment to rectifying the problems with the trade as a matter of urgency.

Debate (on motion by Senator Mackay) adjourned.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.

(Quorum formed)