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Wednesday, 21 September 1983
Page: 1071

Mr BRUMBY —I direct my question to the Minister for Health. In relation to the Stella Anderson wing of the Home and Hospital for the Aged in Bendigo, what progress has been made in discussions with the Minister for Social Security and the Victorian Minister of Health in resolving the funding stalemate? Secondly, can the Minister provide an assurance to the people of Bendigo that the wing will be officially opened this year?

Dr BLEWETT —In answering the question I would like to make two preliminary comments. First, I would like to commend the honourable member for Bendigo. Certainly, if we are to resolve this issue satisfactorily much of the resolution will result from his determination and perseverence with this problem.

Mr Fisher —Who is responsible for the problem?

Dr BLEWETT —I will deal with the responsibility question now. Secondly, the problem of the Stella Anderson wing results very much from the chaos and confusion in aged care policy in this country which we inherited. The Australian Labor Party has a very clear commitment to a comprehensive frail aged policy which has received remarkably widespread community support. It has two essential characteristics. The first is that we will begin to shift emphasis away from nursing home care and have greater emphasis on hostel and domiciliary care. Secondly, we will seek to deal with the kinds of confusions which have resulted in some of the problems with the Stella Anderson wing by concentrating all frail aged services in a single administration, thereby avoiding the duplication, confusion and waste of the present system. The specific problem with the Stella Anderson wing is that it is really a project somewhat in advance of its time, being really a halfway house between hostel and nursing home provision. Unfortunately, there is no legislative provision for recurrent funding for such organisations. Indeed, it was very much the result of ill-conceived and opportunistic decisions by previous State and Federal Liberal governments.

It is not possible to finance the provision at the Stella Anderson project from the personal care subsidy. That would be inadequate to fund it for what it provides. We are looking at the possibility of reclassifying it as a nursing home and, therefore, bringing it under nursing home funding. But there are some problems in relation to that. First, the building would need to be fitted, furnished and staffed as a nursing home before approval could be given. Secondly , there are already too many nursing home beds in the area. We have to be concerned with the fair and equal distribution of nursing home beds across the country. Thirdly, there may be some legal difficulties in classifying as a nursing home a building which has secured capital funding as a hostel.

I do not believe that those difficulties are insurmountable. If we have reasonable assurances about the development of nursing home beds in that area I think we may be able to carry through that reclassification. Anyhow, I point out that in many ways the Government would prefer, if possible, that the Stella Anderson project function, as it was originally intended, as a high level project providing hostel care for the frail aged. Let me finally say to the honourable member for Bendigo that the Government is fully aware of a very fine institution being not properly used because of the total inadequacy of the present funding arrangements. We are making every effort to reach a speedy conclusion of that problem.