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Thursday, 26 June 2014
Page: 4059

Aged Care

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (14:23): My question is to the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Fifield. During Senate estimates last month, the minister informed the community affairs committee that the aged care Dementia and Severe Behaviour Supplement had significantly exceeded the funding allocated to it by the previous government. Could the minister update the Senate on the government's response to this blowout.

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:24): I thank Senator Boyce for the privilege of taking her last question in this place and acknowledge not only her incredible service in the community affairs committee but also the contribution she will continue to make in social policy in the future. Today I have announced that I have taken the decision to cease the Dementia and Severe Behaviour Supplement. As I recently explained at budget estimates, the supplement was introduced by the previous government and was designed to provide additional resources for providers who give care to people with severe behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia. Unfortunately the supplement has not operated as anticipated, having gone well beyond the budget allocated to it by the previous administration. The previous government estimated that 2,000 people in residential care would be eligible for the supplement but, as at March 2014, more than 25,000 people were receiving it. This represents a twelvefold blowout in the eligibility estimates of the previous government. The supplement was budgeted at $11.7 million for this financial year; instead, it is anticipated that the cost in 2013 will not be $11 million but will be $110 million. Based on these figures there will be an almost tenfold blowout in expenditure and, according to projections from the Department of Social Services, if current claiming patterns continue, the $16 a day supplement will cost the government $780 million over four years from 2014-15, rather than the budgeted $52 million. Over 10 years it is likely to be in excess of $1.5 billion. It is clear to this government that the legacy of our predecessors is poor policy implementation leading to unintended consequences, and this supplement is emblematic of that. (Time expired)

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (14:26): Given this tenfold blowout, could the minister inform the Senate further as to why he has taken this decision?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:26): I have not taken this decision lightly, but there was no other responsible course of action in the circumstances. The status quo was clearly not an option, and I have taken this decision after consulting with the Aged Care Sector Committee and other experts. This is not a problem of the government's making, but it did fall to this government to address the situation. The government is committed to continue working with aged-care providers and with consumers in support of people with severe behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (14:27): I have a second supplementary question, Mr President. In light of this decision, could the minister explain why it is important for governments to ensure that program design is aligned with the allocated funding?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:27): I have often said that economic policy and social policy are two sides of the one coin, that you cannot have a good social policy unless you have a good economic policy. I think this supplement represents another example of where bad policy is thwarting good social policy. It is crucial that governments understand that good intentions are not enough to ensure good policy, and we on this side of the chamber are unapologetically meticulous when setting out to help people in need with taxpayer dollars. As minister, it is my intention, as I know it is also the intention of all on this side of the chamber, to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of those opposite and that programs are aligned with their funding envelopes.