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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 3 June 2004: \nGovernment won't rule out nursing home bonds.

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Stephen Smith MP Acting Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors Member for Perth

E&OE T06/04 3 June 2004



STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the Government's being completely misleading on its intentions about accommodation bonds in aged care. It clearly wants to extend accommodation bonds in aged care to the high care level.

The Minister in Question Time, for the second time - once in Budget week and once today - again refused to rule out the extension of accommodation bonds to the Government's new proposed medium care level, which includes part of the current high care level. It’s completely disingenuous and completely misleading.

In Senate Estimates last night, Departmental officials told the truth. They said, on the basis of what the Government was saying publicly, you couldn't extend accommodation bonds to the Government's proposed new medium-level care.

The Minister today refused to confirm that approach. The reason she's refused to confirm that approach is that their intentions, if they are re-elected, are quite clear. They will extend accommodation bonds, and the fact that they have been going around, winking and nodding, to certain sections of the industry that this is their intention, underlines her refusal today to rule them out.

Labor's position on this is quite clear. This is not a road that we will go down. There's now a stark choice in the aged care area. If the Government's re-elected, they will extend accommodation bonds despite what they're saying now.

They're making that clear with their winking and nodding to the industry - or sections of it - and they're making it clear through their persistent refusal to rule out the extension of aged care accommodation bonds to the proposed new medium-care level.

REPORTER: Julie Bishop said there's no need to extend the bonds now that ... with the new funding. Is that not reassuring?

SMITH: There's a very easy way for the Minister to rule out the extension, that's to stand on the floor of the House of Representatives - she's had two opportunities to do so - and rule out the extension of accommodation bonds to the Government's proposed medium-care level.

This is where you've got to read the fine print and be aware of the devil in the detail of the Government's response to the Hogan Review. Hidden away in the documents accompanying the aged care budget is the Government's response to the Hogan Review. That response makes it clear that the Government is committed to discussing with the

industry the detail of its proposed new resident classification of low, medium, and high, and is also committed to discussing with the industry an extension of accommodation bonds and accommodation charges across the low and high care level generally. They're committed to that.

And that's why they've been going around, winking and nodding, to certain sections of the industry, saying that after the election we will extend accommodation bonds, at least to the medium-care level. Don't make a fuss of it now; if we're re-elected, this is what

we'll do. This goes to the heart of their disingenuousness as a Government in this area, and goes to the heart of the Minister's refusal to rule out the extension today.

REPORTER: How much would this cost Labor, though, to maintain or not to introduce accommodation bonds or extend them? This gets quite costly, doesn't it?

SMITH: Well, we've made it crystal clear from 1997 that the extension of accommodation bonds to above the low-level care level is not a road we want to go down. Not a road we will go down. The accommodation bonds in the low-level care

area are akin to residential accommodation. The higher up the care level you get, it becomes more akin to healthcare. And, we don't want care at that level to be determined on the basis of a person's finances rather than on the need.

I've made it clear on a number of occasions - as late as today when I met with industry groups - that we are continuing to explore other avenues of raising capital. A very good way of raising capital is a low-cost or no-cost interest scheme for the industry, giving

them access to capital. This is a proposal that we had at the last election and one that I've got great sympathy for and one that we continue to look at.

REPORTER: This would be a sort of Government supported lending facility ...

SMITH: Basically, it's a no-interest loan, low-interest loan scheme for the industry. I mean, there's no magic about an accommodation bond, it's simply a way to raise capital. We know that the industry has been under capital pressure for a number of years and the Government has, at the last minute - in a matter of weeks and months to the election - responded. Their obsession, the Government's obsession, has always been with the extension of accommodation bonds. We believe there are other public policy mechanisms and a no-interest, low-interest loan scheme is one of those mechanisms.

REPORTER: How much would that mechanism cost? Have you got any rough figures?

SMITH: If you go back to the 2001 election commitments, you'll see that it was costed in that document. If this is the road we go down, we will come forward with appropriate costings at the appropriate time.

REPORTER: When will you tell people which road you are going down?

SMITH: Well, we're certainly not going down the road of accommodation bonds. If your question is, when are we announcing our detailed election commitments -the Leader has made it clear - sometime between now and the election, he'll walk out the door and

he'll announce our election commitments in this area and in others.

REPORTER: Do you think if, on the present arrangements and financial needs of the industry, would the Government have to start considering accommodation bonds under its current approach fairly soon after the election?

SMITH: The point I'm making is, if they are re-elected, they will move to introduce accommodation bonds above the low-level care level. They will move to introduce accommodation bonds into their proposed new medium-care level. In the detail of their response to the Hogan Review, that's set to take effect from 2006.

What they are doing is try to have their cake and eat it too. They're mantra chanting that they're not proposing any changes to their current bonds approach. When you look at the fine print, when you pick up what they're saying behind closed doors - nodding and winking to the industry - and when you see their persistent refusals to rule out the extension, you know that in their heart of hearts, if they're re-elected, they will extend accommodation bonds above the low-level care.