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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3551

Mr HAASE (Durack) (17:07): I rise today to speak to the Aged Care (Living Longer Living Better Bill) 2013, just one of the five bills that make up the suite of bills, which this government has put forward in their attempt to address our aging population. There is a saying: old age is a privilege granted to few. A few Australians has grown to many, and this government needs to take care of our aging society in a manner that provides care with dignity, care with respect and, perhaps most importantly, care that is affordable.

We have endured five years of this government—five years of reform promises—and still there is very little evidence of real change on the ground. During the 2010 election Julia Gillard said aged-care reform would be a second-term priority. I do not expect anyone to be too surprised that very little has been achieved in the aged-care sector by this government. After all,    during the 2010 election campaign the current Prime Minister had to defend herself against claims she had not supported big increases to the age pension because, 'old people never vote for us.' Although the Prime Minister denied she had said 'old people never vote for us', she did admit to questioning the size of the pension rise.

Who knows what the Prime Minister really said—not you, not I—but I do know that the Prime Minister has been caught out fibbing on many occasions, perhaps the most memorable being: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' As the saying goes, a leopard does not change its spots.

We have seen this government undertake a litany of reports and reviews—reports and reviews which were either ignored or responded to with more inquiries. As this government sits on their hands making no decisions to secure aged care into the future, they are neglecting the very people who made this great country what it is today. I wonder if there is something they are not telling us. Are they perhaps on the verge of announcing a miracle anti-ageing pill? That announcement would be the only saving grace for the deplorable behaviour shown by this Prime Minister in her treatment of the elderly.

It was only last week that I was approached by a constituent asking why prisoners were treated better than the elderly. The gentleman claimed the prisoners received three square meals a day, had education and rehabilitation classes provided and enjoyed gym equipment and claimed that some had access to television and the internet. Whether these claims are true or not is irrelevant. Public perception is what counts here and, if the people think Julia Gillard and her cronies treat prisoners better than our elderly. 'Where there is smoke there is fire' I say.

The aged-care sector in Australia is in crisis, and at a time when there is increasing demand for services, providers are walking away from the sector due to the lack of viability of providing high-care beds and the increasing compliance demands of the government. It has been reported that up to 60 per cent of aged-care facilities are operating in the red and providers are handing back licences, causing senior Australians to wait longer or travel further to find a bed, thereby placing extra pressure on the public hospital system and on their families, not to mention the emotional pressure they suffer being displaced from family.

We, the coalition, have been advised that aged-care nurses spend, on average, a third of their time on paperwork. Under this package, things are only going to get worse as one of the great failures of this suite of bills is the missed opportunity to reduce red tape.

Around nine per cent of our population is aged 70 years or older, and this is expected to rise to 13 per cent by 2021 and to 20 per cent—around 5.7 million people—in 2051. With fewer people generating taxation revenue, care options of concessional and assisted aged care residents, those with the least resources, will be jeopardised. Consequently, social structures will be eroded and services we have taken for granted will no longer be a given. The Australia we know will no longer be if we allow this Labor government to continue on their path of destruction. If we allow them to bypass proper structural reform of the sector, the care and wellbeing of senior Australians is at risk.

Currently, over one million older Australians receive aged-care services subsidised by the Australian government, and by 2050 over 3.5 million Australians are expected to use aged care each year. Over-85-year-olds, which are the main users of aged care services, will increase from 400,000—1.7 per cent of total population—in 2007 to 1.6 million—5.6 per cent of the population—by 2047. As you can see from the figures I have just quoted, aged-care requirements are only going to grow, and the problems we have now are going to be compounded if we do not implement a sound structural basis for this sector to grow upon.

We as a population are far more transient than previous generations. Generally speaking, no longer do we have our parents or grandparents living with us, helping us to raise the children. No longer do we have built-in babysitters. Now most families have both parents working with little or no immediate family help. Rather, 'family' has become friends in a similar predicament. Children are deserting the farms and leaving the rural communities in search of better opportunities, leaving behind their aging parents. This is not a criticism of the younger generation; every generation is entitled to seek fame and fortune. It does, however, I believe, create a greater problem in the rural areas of Australia, Durack in particular because of its sheer remoteness.

Aged care in rural and remote areas is, for the most, severely lacking. Take for example the Shire of Northampton, a shire in Durack located about 480 kilometres north of Perth covering an area of 13,738 square kilometres—a shire with no aged-care facility. The Shire of Northampton has commissioned an aged-care plan, and in it they have recognised the catchment area has experienced significant growth in the 85-plus population from 43 persons in 2006 to 64 persons in 2012. This growth will continue with an estimated 120 persons aged 85-plus by 2027—an increase of 98.5 per cent.

The urgency for a residential care facility to accommodate residents in the Shire of Northampton and adjacent areas is of the utmost importance due to the increase in the community's ageing population.

For a number of ageing people, the need to relocate to a residential care facility from the familiarity of the family home can cause unnecessary emotional and financial distress, but to also have to relocate to another town or city away from family and friends is devastating. Ageing in rural areas is a frightening thought for parents and their families alike. Many of us live thousands of kilometres from families, and the only contact with elderly relatives is by phone and email. So frightening are some of the potential scenarios in our rural, regional and remote areas that shires are increasingly employing consultants to provide accurate information regarding aged care in their areas. This proactive approach has been taken by several Durack shires, and I bring to the attention of the House the report conducted by Verso Consulting for Central East Aged Care Alliance--CEACA. This group is:

…seeking to develop a holistic regional solution to allow ageing residents to remain in the region for as long as possible, within the context of Federal and State Government policy initiatives.

CEACA is made up of 11 shires from the Central East Wheatbelt in Western Australia, these are Westonia, Yilgarn, Merredin, Wyalkatchem, Trayning, Nungarin, Bruce Rock, Mount Marshall, Kellerberrin, Mukinbudin and Koorda, as well as the Wheatbelt Development Commission and the wheatbelt group of Regional Development Australia. The report shows quite clearly the projected growth of the aged population in the CEACA area, and will require additional aged-care services and infrastructure to be developed to support the projected increases.

It is believed that the 70-plus-year-old population will increase from 1,019—10.3 per cent of the total area population—in 2011 to 1,196, 11.5 per cent of the population, by 2017, and to 1,616, or 15.9 per cent of the population, by 2027. The report also found that in the CEACA local government areas, the portion of the population that is older is higher than state averages and is projected to exceed the comparable state-wide figure by at least five percentage points in 2017, by 5.7 percentage points in 2022, and by 6.3 percentage points by 2027.

During the consultation process for the report, 15 fora were conducted, with at least one forum held in each local government area participating in the development of the Central Eastern Wheatbelt Aged Care Solution. There was a common view that older people have to move away from the communities when their aged-care needs can no longer be met, and this contributes to the demise of communities. The fora showed that distance is more than kilometres, it is about reduced access to essential services. Some communities have limited access to pharmaceuticals, and there are older people who are disconnected from vital aged-care and health services, especially those on rural properties.

The challenges faced by older people attending specialist appointments are great, remembering that the majority of these appointments are in Perth, hundreds of kilometres away. The fora proved the overuse of volunteer arrangements and the underuse of shire-owned transport.

The report goes on to show the lack of services for people who have been in Perth hospitals and who are returning to the community, the consistently inadequate lack of information regarding services and the significant workforce shortages impacting on the capacity to deliver services.

More importantly, the report shows there is a severe shortage of aged cared facilities in the region. I could go on, but I am sure you understand the gist of the report. The 11 shires that make up the Central East Aged Care Alliance are not orphans in their predicament in Western Australia. I imagine you could visit any of the 46 shires in my vast electorate of Durack and hear the same problems this group is facing. Ageing in any of the rural, regional or remote areas that make up Durack is a frightening thought. We do not have public transport that will take us to the specialist in the next suburb, we do not have super pharmacies at every street corner and we do not have enough beds to put the elderly in.

The Living Longer Living Better aged-care reform package was announced on 20 April 2012, and these five bills give effect to that package. It has taken the government a year to bring legislation to parliament and now it wants to ram these bills through without proper consideration. Such is the seriousness with which we, the coalition, consider aged care, that we referred these bills to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee to examine the full impact of how these changes would affect providers, older Australians, their families and carers. A majority of Labor and Greens senators have voted to bring forward the reporting date of the Senate Community Affairs Committee on the five Living Longer Living Better package of bills from 17 June 2013 to 31 May 2013. We, on this side of the House, opposed this change of reporting date, because of the reduced time it affords for consideration of the legislation, and in particular because of important regulatory instruments that will affect the operation of the reforms would not be available for consideration.

Submissions received were quite critical of the government, primarily over the key issues of workforce, financing, bonds and information access. The inquiry heard evidence that facilities with 60 beds or fewer would be worse off financially and may be forced to close or amalgamate. The inquiry raised many issues about the complexity in the bills.

Given that most of the provisions do not come into force until 1 July 2014, I question the haste to get these bills through. The provisions which come into force on 1 July 2013 can be enacted by the government under existing delegated legislation, so once again the question is valid. These hurried bills are a sure sign of a government determined to make the impact of its dying days felt by all Australians.