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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3479

Ms HALL (Shortland) (12:18): I rise to strongly support the Living Longer Living Better package of bills that we are debating today. These bills will give effect to the much needed aged-care reform. In saying that, I do not doubt that members on both sides of this House are committed to seeing that older Australians get the best possible care and the best possible services which will empower them to be active and live independently as long as they can. I believe that we need reform and this reform will transform aged care in Australia and replace an out-dated system.

The current system has a lot of bureaucratic requirements that stifle people providing services. It is a system that has failed older Australians. Not only has it failed older Australians but it has also failed their carers, aged-care providers and workers in the industry. It is time for a change. We need to make it better for everybody involved with aged care, whether they be a person who benefits from aged care or one who is a provider, a worker or a carer. This is very important legislation that will benefit hundreds of thousands of Australians. I urge the opposition to open their minds to the fact that we need change, so that we can have a truly person centred aged-care system and provision of aged care and aged-care services that older Australians need. I do not like the word 'system' because that sounds like institutionalisation. Aged care is about providing care and access to services that older Australians deserve.

I find this is particularly important in my electorate. Shortland is an electorate with one of the oldest populations in the country. Older residents of Shortland talk to me regularly about aged-care services and the need for a change. When a family or an older person is in a crisis you have to react very quickly to try and resolve the problem. The legislation we have before us will provide a vehicle for taking a better planned approach to delivering services to older Australians. The current system is obsolete and it is not person focused. It is a system that has passed its use-by date, unlike the legislation that we have before us today, which will deliver person-focused aged care where the person, the family, the carers and the providers are given the information that they need to make an informed decision. I think it is very important that we empower older Australians and not take away from them the power to determine where they would like their life to go and also to involve the family and all those that are important to those older Australians.

This is legislation that has been developed after wide and extensive consultation. First we had the Productivity Commission report and consultation with the National Aged Care Alliance, and the minister had a national conversation on ageing. Then experts and stakeholder groups were consulted. A detailed paper was put out, and then there was ongoing consultation. This package was not announced just before it was introduced into this parliament; it was announced in April 2012. So there has been a lot of consultation and discussion about this piece of legislation, and I would have to say that within my electorate it has been really well received.

This is a $3.7 billion package over a five-year period. It encompasses a 10-year reform program to create a flexible and seamless system that provides older Australians with more choice and control and easier access to a full range of services where they want it and when they need it. It is seamless, so an older person is not fronting up and being assessed for one thing and then having to go back and be assessed for another thing. It is about being able to access those services without having to go through the barriers and the blocks that are in place at the moment. Older Australians tell me all the time that those barriers and blocks are a problem and something that they would like to see changed, and they are something that this legislation will change.

The package also positions the aged-care system to meet the social and economic challenges of the nation's ageing population. It is delivering better residential aged care; additional support and care to help older Australians to remain living in their home; and additional help for carers to access respite and other support. It is strengthening the aged-care workforce, supporting consumers and research, providing better health connections and tackling the nation's dementia epidemic—and I would just like to say that the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing, which I chair, will be delivering a report on dementia in the very near future. As I have spoken with stakeholders, carers and people that are living with dementia, I have learnt a lot about dementia and the fact that, as a nation, we really need to take it very seriously and address issues surrounding it. That is what this government has done: it has recognised the need for us to put in place a strategy for dealing with dementia.

This legislation is also about supporting older Australians from diverse backgrounds and building an aged-care system for the future. Everything has its time and its place. We need change, and when we have change it should be developed through extensive consultation and in an inclusive way involving all those people that have an interest. The government's aged-care package was substantially informed by the Productivity Commission inquiry into caring for older Australians. There was extensive consultation, as I have already mentioned. The reforms will be implemented in stages, which gives us time to adjust to change. These reforms will ensure that Australia's aged-care system is underpinned by fairer and more sustainable financial arrangements. That is very important, because if you have a system that is unsustainable then those people that need to rely on that system will be hurt.

The reform of Australia's aged-care system is essential if we are to provide our nation's seniors with the care, the security and, above all, the dignity that they deserve. This package will make it easier for older Australians to stay in their homes. We are increasing the home care packages from almost $60,000 to $100,000 and providing tailored care packages for people receiving home care and new funding for dementia care. There are caps to the costs so that full pensioners will pay no more than the basic fees. We will be providing more choice about how people wish to pay for their care. Instead of a bond, which can cost up to $2.6 million and bears no resemblance to the actual cost of accommodation, you will be able to pay through a lump sum or a periodic payment. That, once again, provides flexibility. It is about looking to the needs of the person. It gives families and older Australians time to make a decision about how to pay by introducing a cooling-off period.

For the very first time, we will introduce fairness into the payment system. Right now, pensioners often pay more than people with hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets. This legislation will change that. From now on, the system will be fairer. It will be based on capacity to pay, and the amount you pay for aged-care services will be capped and underpinned by tightening means tests, meaning that older Australians will not be forced into a fire sale of their home. If there is any one issue that I think older Australians are concerned about it is the fact that they will be forced to sell their home. Their home is their castle. It is where their children grew up and it is their connection to their life. Even if they need to live in residential aged care, they all want not to be forced to sell their home. It is very important for older Australians, and the government has recognised this.

There will be increased funding for aged-care workers, and there is also going to be an increased number of residential aged-care places.

That is very important, because, as we have more people becoming older, we are going to need not only more packages but also more residential beds in aged-care facilities, and they need to be quality beds. I acknowledge the role that the member for Mackellar played in improving quality in aged-care facilities. It is very important that we can rely upon the fact that we have quality aged-care facilities. This legislation takes it another step. It will be providing more funding for dementia care and aged care and support for services. It will establish a single gateway to all aged-care services and stricter standards. This legislation has the scope to change the face of aged care and aged-care services, not only for the people providing the services but, most importantly, for the people who are using those services.

From 1 July, there will be a new type of care: home care. Home care will replace community care and some of the other forms of flexible care. There will be four levels of home-care packages covering basic home care all the way through to complex home care. There is an additional dementia supplement and a new veterans' supplement payout to provide for people who care for those living with dementia or people who are veterans. The existing community visitors scheme for people receiving residential care will be extended also to those people who are receiving home care. This will look at addressing the fact that many people who are older are quite often restricted in their ability to get out and about. This is designed to reduce isolation and to keep all our older Australians connected to their community.

From July 2014 there will be changes to the way home-care subsidies and fees are calculated for care recipients. Some people who are receiving care will need to contribute to their costs through income tests. People who receive home care on 30 June 2014 will continue under their current arrangements. People entering the system will come under the new arrangements.

In the time I have available I cannot touch on all aspects of this legislation. It is extensive. It will change the face of aged care and aged-care services within this country. In a society that is ageing you need to have an aged-care system that is fair, equitable and accessible to all. Any aged-care system needs to provide certainty and be designed to meet the needs of older Australians. It needs to be seamless and it needs to be a system that also looks after aged-care providers and workers, because they are pivotal in the provision of a quality aged-care system. The legislation we have before us today does that and should be supported by both sides of this House.