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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3563

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (18:03): I appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight on the Aged Care (Living Longer Living Better) Bill 2013 and cognate bills, which concern so many older Australians. I remember when these bills were foreshadowed in a number of reports some years ago. They were trumpeted loudly. So many in the industry, unfortunately, were prepared to stand with the government for the government's photo opportunity. Unfortunately, all were deceived, as what the reports of the past promised has not been delivered in these bills.

As we know, in 2010 the federal government engaged the Productivity Commission to look at the aged care system and their report, Caring for older Australians, was released on 8 August 2011 by the Prime Minister and Minister Butler. It was then around eight months later that the government responded with Living Longer, Living Better. As I understand it, there were 500 submissions to the Productivity Commission and another 500 in response to the draft. Despite this huge volume of submissions and responses, the government picked up fewer than 10 per cent of the recommendations. It really does say something, doesn't it, about the feeling or the concerns within the sector, that so many are prepared to make submissions regarding this important sector? It was, however, highly unfortunate, given that the Productivity Commission was well-supported by the sector—those who are involved in the day-to-day operations of the industry and know it best—that whilst the report was so well-received, so little of it came to fruition in this legislation before us.

To take up the realities of this government's failure in aged care, I begin by questioning the cut of $1.6 billion last year from the Aged Care Funding Instrument. As I understand it, that $1.6 billion was justified by the Gillard government on the grounds that there was widespread rorting by providers. There was a bit of media on that; the ABC's 7.30 ran it. And despite allegations being made I have not actually heard of a single prosecution that has been made in the last five years. The ABC has, however, allowed the government to withdraw that money, yet amazingly the Workforce Compact was then introduced—funding to the tune of $1.2 billion supporting a union membership drive in aged care. So they take away from the sector and give it away to the advantage of the union movement. To me it looks more like shoring up support for the Prime Minister through the faceless men of the union leadership. Of course, Minister Butler also has links to one of the beneficiaries of the compact, that being United Voice. It is a win-win situation for the Prime Minister and the minister, because, as we know, those opposite are beholden to their pre-selectors—the union movement—and are increasingly paying back that support by using the tax dollars of every Australian to pay for that support.

So, what has happened as a result of this so badly and falsely named Living Longer, Living Better Gillard government policy? The government should pat itself on the back for presiding over $3.5 billion in shelved aged care development projects! I am being facetious of course, because in August last year it was suggested by a peak aged-care body that over the following 2½ years the providers will face a black hole of $750 million and that only 40 per cent of providers are now even making a profit. The government should not congratulate itself for backing their union preselector mates and sending the industry into a crisis. It was on 5 March this year that the Workforce Compact was announced and required providers with 50 or more beds to enter into union agreements if they wanted access to a share of the $1.2 billion of the compact. Yet in reality many providers will be unable to pay these wage increases and ongoing costs such as administration and superannuation. Smaller providers in country and regional areas are the worst hit and are becoming even less viable due to this Labor government, yet it is also the case that providers operating in my electorate are struggling more and more. Given the low take-up of bed licences in Western Australia, you would have thought the government would acknowledge that there was actually a problem and at least try to put in place a solution to address that problem. But no: yet again, the Gillard government has made it worse by its 'we know better' attitude and response.

We should recall that back in 2007 Kevin Rudd campaigned on a new direction for frail and older Australians. However, just like the WA infrastructure fund, he failed to deliver it—just like this Gillard government has failed older Western Australians, preferring to back their union bosses at the cost of older people in Cowan and elsewhere. The providers in Cowan tell me that they are suffering and that their ability to provide services for the elderly is being reduced. Elderbloom, who operate in Wanneroo and in Kingsley, Bethanie in Warwick and Meath in Kingsley are all doing it tougher due to this government and its priority of their personal political careers over the interests of the aged and infirm in Cowan. It is of course not surprising that the Gillard government acts this way. As was leaked out of cabinet a few years ago, the now Prime Minister was against pension increases because 'older people never vote for us'. No wonder she redirects money out of the sector to the benefit of her union mates.

I do also want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the efforts of one man in Ballajura, in the East of Cowan, who is trying to create an aged-care and independent living facility to meet the desperate needs of one of Perth's biggest suburbs. I speak of Councillor Mel Congerton of the City of Swan. A local in Ballajura, he has been working hard on meeting the needs of the people in the area. He has been working up plans, while the Labor councillors and the Labor MLA in the area periodically seek photo opportunities on the site without doing the real work that Mel does. As Mel tries to get this project up, the viability-sapping policies of increased costs and regulations—the Labor way—will make the challenge even harder. I wish Mel all the best and I will continue to back him strongly as we try to get Ballajura looked after, in spite of the obstacles Labor puts in the way.

More broadly, I will take this opportunity to speak about the challenges to the aged-care sector in Western Australia. I thank Steve Kobelke of Aged and Community Services WA, Ray Glickman of Amana Living and Beth Cameron of Leading Age Services WA for coming to see me about these bills. I also thank the local providers for letting me know their views.

Clearly, from all these reports the best interests of my constituents are being undermined by this government. The industry has come to a standstill through the inaction of the Gillard government. I have been told of the stagnation in both development and provision of services. An example of the terrible situation is that there are now 3,500 bed licences that have not been taken up in Western Australia. The need remains strong, but the capacity of industry to take up the licences is just not there. They also tell me that this year, 2013, saw Western Australia allocated 80 in-home care packages out of 5,835 across Australia. Although the introduction of bonds for high care was appreciated, the sector is unhappy that so many of the Productivity Commission's recommendations were not taken up. The sector was hoping for a situation whereby consumers would have an entitlement to care, allowing providers to innovate to meet demand, all of which was to take place in a less regulated environment. I also understand that, currently, about a third of a nurse's shift in aged care is taken up with paperwork.

On the matter of the workforce wages compact, the sector does not support taking money from care and channelling it into supplementing wages. This was never agreed to by the peak bodies, and those peak bodies know that no new funding was involved. It was just ripped out of care subsidies. The Western Australian providers tell me that 75 per cent of the increased wages still have to be paid by the providers, as well as putting in place new workplace conditions. They say that if they could they would pay more in wages, but this Labor government just imposed upon them a requirement to pay an additional 2.75 per cent in wage increases. I find it absolutely bizarre that this government can make it harder for providers and still expect them to pay higher wages. The only thing this government is good at is spending other people's money—but the light at the end of this tunnel is a fast-approaching train.

I recently read a letter sent by the Standing Committee on Community Affairs to the department of health about the inquiry into the aged care package of bills. I was staggered to discover that despite the recent Senate inquiry the committee has been unable to obtain adequate information regarding the 'content of regulations and other instruments to be made under the legislation'. However, despite this the committee has decided to present its report on the legislation on 31 May 2013, rather than the date originally set by the Senate, 17 June 2013. The coalition senators on this committee opposed this change of reporting date, because they identified that this would result in reduced time for consideration of the legislation and, importantly, because key regulatory instruments that will affect the operation of the reforms are not available for consideration. The coalition senators tried to stop this report being rushed through the system but, in their usual manner, Labor and the Greens linked up to prevent thorough examination and consideration of the facts and happenings of what they are investigating.

I honestly cannot decide which is worse: the fact that the department is not able to provide the Senate inquiry with the information it needs to make informed decisions, or the fact that Labor and the Greens are effectively saying they do not need the information from the department, because they know what is required and what is best. Either way, it is a scary situation for all involved in the aged-care sector.

Having talked about how the Gillard government has chosen to betray the aged-care sector and older Australians, I do want to speak about a better future, which I hope we will have the chance to deliver after the federal election. Before doing so I would like to thank my friend and colleague Senator Fierravanti-Wells for her leadership in aged care. The senator has a depth of understanding built on years of involvement in the sector, well before entering the Senate, and that understanding and the years of involvement and experience are certainly acknowledged by the providers and the peak bodies in Western Australia. I can assure the House that our approach will be different from the Labor way. We will form a partnership with the aged-care sector. We will work with them to achieve reform. The industry can look forward to properly negotiated agreements rather than having inquiries and then an imposed decision from above. They can look forward to the first ever aged-care providers agreement framework. It will be about respect and acknowledging not political advantage but national responsibility.

As part of this process the coalition is committed to establishing a high-level aged-care provider agreement steering committee of key stakeholders to oversee the administration and implementation of the agreement and to provide advice to the minister. We will also establish an aged-care provider agreement working group which will undertake the detailed design and project work required to give effect to the agreement. The coalition understands that there is no-one else who knows the daily workings of the sector better than the aged-care providers themselves. The agreement framework will create the opportunity for the minister, government and stakeholders to more closely and effectively consider ongoing issues regarding timely and appropriate access to aged care. Our approach will help meet care needs now, and in the future we will ensure that the comfort and safety of older Australians is not compromised.

Although the future will be brighter for the industry and those older Australians that are affected, to deal with these bills I support the amendment of the opposition to defer debate until the Senate committee has reported and to then seek amendments based on the outcomes of the Senate inquiry. It is the job of committees to make sure, particularly in this case, that the information is there and that the impact of bills such as these can be properly assessed. It is not the case that there is some time frame within which the legislation has to be gotten through before the implications are known, because then the outcomes could also be entirely negative. And, as we have talked about already, so many speakers have said there are implications that are not negative and that the industry does not want.

In any case, in the future it will fall to a coalition government to clean up this Labor legacy of waste, mismanagement and, unfortunately, nepotism that defines this terrible Gillard government. The reality is that the sector will continue to go backwards until there is a change of government. I just hope that the crossbenchers will put older Australians first rather than continue to side with the government. It is clear, however, due to their lack of interest in this bill, that they will not do so. I hope that the Australian people see that Labor, the Greens and the Independents are in lock step, having betrayed older Australians and the aged-care sector. I do not think that there is any doubt that they are all the same: a threat to the sector and to the increasing number of Australians in need of aged care across this whole country. It is important that, when the time comes, Australians look at what affects them and look at the results of this parliament to make sure that they know who was responsible for what happened, and I hope that they support the right team. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.