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Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Page: 3502


Senator SHERRY (TasmaniaMinister Assisting on Deregulation and Public Sector Superannuation, Minister for Small Business and Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) (11:14): I welcome the opportunity to sum-up debate on the Aged Care Amendment Bill 2011. The bill seeks to amend the Aged Care Act 1997 to increase protection for accommodation bonds and strengthen complaints management in aged care as part of the government's commitment to providing better health and better care for older Australians through the national health reform agenda.

Since the introduction of the Aged Care Act in 1997 there has been strong growth in the value of accommodation bonds held by the aged-care sector. As at 30 June 2010, approved providers held more than $10.6 billion in bonds. The effect of this bill is to clarify the original intent of the accommodation bonds system, which was to provide a crucial capital funding stream for the aged-care sector. It will provide greater transparency about the use of these funds and strengthen the accountability of approved providers by proposing the introduction of offence provisions for the significant misuse of bonds. The bill also removes regulatory restrictions on the use of income derived from the bond principal retention amounts and accommodation charges.

The bill will enable the investigation principles to be replaced with new complaints principles, which will describe an improved complaints scheme for aged care with a stronger focus on resolution of complaints. This will provide consumers with a more flexible scheme with a range of options available for assisting to resolve a complaint, including early resolution, conciliation and mediation.

I thank senators for their contributions to the debate on the bill and their interest in aged care. In particular, this debate has highlighted the importance of achieving a balance between effective regulation to protect the elderly and the reduction of the regulatory burden on the aged-care sector.

The government does not agree to the second reading amendment proposed by the opposition. The amendment does not address the effect of this bill, which is simply to clarify the original intention of the accommodation bonds system and strengthen protection for consumers. The bill actually removes the regulation around the way that aged-care providers can use the income they derive from bond principal retention amounts and accommodation charges. It also removes a range of redundant provisions, including two pieces of redundant legislation. So, overall, the bill improves the protection of our most vulnerable and reduces the regulatory burden on providers.

In the broad, in my responsibilities as Minister Assisting on Deregulation I provide oversight of what is known as the Council of Australian Governments' seamless economy reform project—some 27 deregulatory policy proposals that are currently being enacted. To date, of these 27 deregulatory priority reforms, 13 are well advanced and close to completion or completed. Obviously this is important for small business more broadly. The opposition amendment goes to the impact of regulation on business, and small business in particular.

But there has been more done in reducing regulation in the seamless national economy projects in the last three years than in the previous 12, and I will cite a couple of practical examples. Australian Consumer Law, which commenced on 1 January 2011, replaced 20 separate acts across Australia and provided new protections for consumers. It is estimated by the Productivity Commission that it will provide a net gain to the community of between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion a year, including significant economic cost reductions for business.

I will give you another example. Standard business reporting, which commenced on 1 July 2010, allows business to quickly and efficiently prepare and lodge business information electronically to a range of Commonwealth and state and territory agencies. Once fully operational in 2014, it is estimated to save $800 million per annum. I could go on and on. There are a significant number of projects.

As I say, more has been done in the last three years than in the previous 12. Yet we continue to get this nonsense from the coalition. Their latest—there are not many of them—grand promise is to cut small business red tape by 50 per cent in the first term of a Mr Abbott led government. I seem to have heard that promise somewhere before. I have been in this place for 21 years, and I seem to remember this claim being made back in 1996, prior to the election of the former Howard government—they would cut red tape by 50 per cent. That was a very simple claim to make, but what happened in reality? The GST and superannuation choice; I could go on and on about the increase in regulatory red tape imposed on business by the former Howard government. They are at it again; they promise they are going to cut it by 50 per cent. Where is the detail? If we look at their form, the previous Howard government lamentably failed in cutting red tape.

We got the runs on the board in that area. I can cite factual cases of our reductions in red tape over the last three years—factual cases of economic gain to business and the economy by reductions in red tape. So the second reading amendment moved by Senator Fierravanti-Wells, with due respect to the senator, is just utter nonsense. It is the usual trivial garbage that we get from the opposition. They have finally come up with a policy: they will cut red tape by 50 per cent. Well, look at their record. Where is the detail? Where is the costing on the policy? They have broken out from their usual negative approach of opposing everything the government does and actually come up with a scintilla—a positive policy for once. Unfortunately, their history, their form, shows it means nothing for business. So this absurd second reading amendment moved by the opposition to this legislation should be rejected for what it is.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Fierravanti-Wells's) be agreed to.

The Senate divided. [11:25]

(The President: Senator Hogg)

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.