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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 38

Senator EGGLESTON (3:15 PM) —The question of aged care, if I were on the Labor benches, is one which I would not be very happy to speak about. The reality is that, under the last Labor government—the Hawke-Keating government—the aged people of Australia suffered very badly. Very little money was spent on aged care, and nursing homes were appalling. There were enormous problems with overcrowding and the standard of buildings. Health and safety standards, including those on fire hazards, were not met, and in general there was inadequate nutrition and care for the aged of Australia.

Senator McLucas —Eight and a half years you've been in charge.

Senator EGGLESTON —You can say that we have had 8½ years to do things, Senator McLucas, and I assure you we have. We have transformed the aged care sector in 8½ years and made its management something that Australians can be proud of.

If you go back to 1995-96, you will see that the Labor government spent just $3 billion on residential aged care. In 2004-05 the Howard government will provide $6.7 billion for aged care homes, which is an increase of 123 per cent. The increase in funding of 123 per cent compares very favourably with the growth in the over-70 population during the same period, which has been just 17.2 per cent.

Under the Howard government there are now more than 178,000 operational aged care units or places in Australia. The Australian government will increase the total number of aged care places—that is, residential and community packages—to 200,000 by June 2006. That means that the Australian government, the Howard government, is recognising that Australia's population is ageing, that the ageing or greying of Australia is a reality and that the government has a responsibility to address the need for the care of the increasingly aged sector of our population. We cannot ignore it, as Labor would have done, and not recognise that the population is growing older. We have to recognise that the people of Australia who have become aged are people who have paid their taxes over the years. They deserve to be looked after in a dignified way in their older years.

One of the most important innovations which the Howard government introduced quite early in the piece was accreditation for aged care homes. We heard in the answers given to questions today that Bronwyn Bishop, during her time as minister, closed down nursing homes which were substandard—and quite rightly so. That was a very brave political decision for a minister to make; but, nevertheless, it was a correct decision to make. A system of accreditation of aged care facilities was put in place which assessed the quality of the buildings, the kitchen services, the general and the medical care, and the activities provided for the people in these homes.

I remember a while ago, when I was a general practitioner, visiting aged care homes in the southern corridor of Perth. I was quite appalled by the conditions I found. I think the status of the aged care sector in Australia at that time was something we all should have felt very ashamed of. But under the Howard government things have improved greatly. We have special programs to look after people with dementia. We are providing respite care for carers of aged people. In general, the overall quality and standard of aged care facilities in Australia is now very high by world standards and something which we as a nation can be very proud of. It should be acknowledged that this transformation has been at the hands of the Howard government. Due respect and congratulations should be given to the Howard government on its policies in the aged care sector.