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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 78

Senator HEFFERNAN (2:45 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator the Hon. Kay Patterson. Will the minister inform the Senate of negotiations with the state and territory governments on community services?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —I thank Senator Heffernan for the question. It is a very good question because in the three areas of community service that I have responsibility for the states are dragging the chain, falling well short of the mark or just plain stonewalling. Last Friday I went along to a meeting of relevant ministers for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program, at their invitation, thinking that they would have some money to put on the table. But I was sadly disappointed that they did not have any money to put on the table. The Australian government is maintaining its funding for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program over the next five years. In fact, we are increasing it by $175 million. We are offering a total of $931 million for the SAAP V program.

Last Friday the state and territory ministers failed to accept my requests that they provide half of the funding that the Commonwealth is offering—matching us dollar for dollar. Not one minister came with one dollar extra. When I was in the meeting with the ministers, I agreed that I would look at increasing the base funding if they would match my offer dollar for dollar. I indicated that I would allow them to match the amount, aligning it over the five-year period—I thought that was reasonable—but still there were no dollars on the table. For far too long the states have shirked their responsibility, paying only 40 per cent across the country. We put in 60 per cent of the SAAP funding over the last four agreements, I think. The states are in a position to shoulder their responsibilities. They have had a windfall in GST—more than they were expecting—a windfall in stamp duty and a windfall in revenue from gambling. As we know, problem gambling is one of the factors involved in homelessness.

We will be giving the states $200 million for crisis accommodation, for bricks and mortar. That is not matched by the states. We also provide $2 billion a year in rent assistance. That is not matched by the states. I expect that most Australians would see it as only fair that the states match us dollar for dollar in the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program to provide crisis accommodation for people.

But this is not the only area where the states are falling down. In the last budget, I announced $72.5 million to provide four weeks respite care for older carers who care for their adult sons and daughters and for respite for those carers who are between 65 and 69 who may require hospitalisation for a period of two weeks. This is an area where the states should be doing something. They were not doing enough about it under the Commonwealth State Disability Agreement. I believed that providing some more money might have given them an incentive to do something. These people have spent their lives selflessly—many of them for 30, 40 and sometimes 50 years or more—looking after profoundly disabled sons and daughters, some of them looking after two children with a disability. The funding offer was subject to the states matching it. I would have thought that the states would have been lining up at the barrier to help older carers and give them some respite; but they have not. It is primarily a state responsibility, but no state has signed up.

I have to admit that there are some states that are in discussions with my officials and I hope that we sign them up soon. But New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT do not even appear to be playing ball. I feel very concerned for older carers in those states. The states do not consider that their plight is sufficient to go to their treasurers and address this issue. These are people who have cared for their sons and daughters year in and year out, many of them with very profound disabilities. The states have also failed to come up to the plate on concessions for self-funded retirees. The offer has been on the table since 2001, yet the states have failed to come to the party. (Time expired)

Senator HEFFERNAN —I ask a supplementary question. Would there be further information available from the minister on this question?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —I thank Senator Heffernan. Obviously he wants to know about what his state is doing. The offer to the states was to give concessions to older people who—

Senator Chris Evans interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Was that a reflection on the chair? If it was, I ask you to withdraw it.

Senator Chris Evans —If you took it to be a reflection—


Senator Chris Evans —I was making the point that the standards required of questions seemed to be dropping.

The PRESIDENT —I thought you were referring to the fact that I allowed it.

Senator Chris Evans —I was, Mr President. I did not think it was a valid question.

The PRESIDENT —I believed it was a reflection on the chair. I ask you to withdraw the reflection on the chair.

Senator Chris Evans —If there is a reflection, I withdraw it.

Senator PATTERSON —It is quite obvious that the Labor Party does not want to hear how their counterparts in the states are doing. They are failing to help older carers with sons and daughters with a disability. They have failed to assist self-funded retirees who, if they had not provided for themselves, would be on a pension and getting assistance with their utilities, car registration et cetera. They have failed to come to the party on assisting homelessness. In three different areas—self-funded retirees, older carers with children with a disability and homeless people—the Labor states have failed. (Time expired)