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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3151

Mr WRIGHT(9.01) —Prior to the adjournment of the debate last night to allow the Treasurer (Mr Keating) to bring in what was an excellent economic statement, I pointed out that the purpose of the Nursing Homes and Hostels Legislation Amendment Bill was to enable the introduction of new recurrent funding arrangements for nursing homes, and also to enable the introduction of a new quality of care standard in nursing homes and improve the arrangements for granting capital assistance to non-profit organisations. The Minister for Community Services (Mr Hurford) did say, and I echo those comments, that these measures will improve the quality of care and the quality of life provided for aged people, and will achieve greater efficiency in Government funding of nursing homes. Honourable members will recall that I made some comparisons between our attitude and commitment to the aged and the attitude and commitment of those on the other side. I also mentioned the proposals put forward by the National Farmers Federation, by economic groups at universities, the New Right and the Liberal and National parties, to slash Government expenditure, particularly in relation to welfare and education, by something like $12 billion.

I note this morning that Ian McLachlan of the National Farmers Federation said that, yes, he welcomes the economic statement and that he realises that the Government is heading in the right direction, but that it could have gone further and cut another $8 billion or $9 billion off Government expenditure. My point is that, if that occurred, it would be the people in the nursing homes and hostels, the aged, the disadvantaged and the people in low income groups who would be affected. It is not the high-faluting Tories out there on properties worth $5m or $6m and whose incomes are some hundreds of thousands of dollars a year who would be affected; it is the ordinary people. It would affect nursing home subsidies, so it would be the aged people whom we care for who would be affected if such savage cuts were made. I will be interested to hear tonight the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) as to what he intends to do.

However, the point is that the whole attitude put forward by the Liberal and National parties is to attack the aged and those in the low income group. Government expenditure for aged people would end. We spend some $1.1 billion just in the provision of care for the aged, and a lot of that money is spent on people in nursing homes. It would also mean an end to the Government's new home and community care program, a special program which arose out of all those studies and reports. The Government realised that some 93 per cent of our aged people live in their own homes, and yet we are spending only about 7 per cent of the money on them. So a new approach, a new thrust, was adopted by this Government. It was an approach to give those people who needed to live in their own homes, who needed that independence, a new level and a new quality of life.

Mr Hodgman —You have declared war on the grandparents of Australia.

Mr WRIGHT —That is nonsense; we do not believe anything that the honourable member for Denison says, as we know the nonsense that he goes on with. This Government has extended the total area of care to the aged. It has extended the range of hostel subsidies; it has agreed to annual indexation; it has introduced a hostel care subsidy of $13.65 a week per bed; and it has introduced a respite care subsidy of $52.50 a week. Further, there has been a 150 per cent increase in the personal care subsidy, from a miserable $30 in 1982-83-when the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) who interjected before, was a member of the Fraser Government-to $77 under the Hawke Labor Government. It is in this area of the nursing home subsidies that this Government has continued its generous funding program because we now have a strategy; not like the hotchpotch that the Liberal and National parties were involved in. Their political attitude was that Liberal and National Party electorates got funding. This Government has a strategy and a plan that involves all the aged-those 1.4 million people who need assistance. This is done by achieving efficiency in expenditure and, more importantly, a quality of life that means that those who are in need get assistance.

Bed subsidies are being increased annually. Expenditure has increased from $734m in 1982-83 to an estimated $1,072m this financial year. In the area of capital funding, the number of hostel places has doubled since the Hawke Government was elected in March 1983. The Opposition members talk about looking after the aged. In government, they had no understanding whatsoever of the needs of people who wanted to stay in their own homes or did not want to be institutionalised but wanted, instead, hostel care. This Government has doubled the number of hostel places in just under four years. More than $200m was allocated in our first three-year program. Now we have a major expansion plan for our capital works program over the next three years. What is our objective? It is not as the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) said, to forget about people in nursing homes; it is not to forget about people who want to live in hostels; but, rather, it is to meet everybody's needs with a domiciliary care program for those who stay in their own homes and with the provision of more hostel places and more beds, the objective being to provide an additional 12,880 beds, most of which will be hostels.

The legislation also moves to address the problem of standards. We are committed to the improvement of quality of care and the quality of life in nursing homes. I believe the legislation is timely because, in my State of Queensland, the State National Party Government is moving away from awards and towards contracts. Recently I met with officers of the Nurses Union in that State. They expressed grave concern to me and to other members of this Government about the quality of care for aged people if contracts are introduced in nursing homes. Their introduction would mean that less qualified people would be employed, and the quality of care of the aged would suffer. Every person who has a relative, a parent, or someone in a home, a hospital or a nursing home at the moment would have to be concerned at what the Premier of Queensland and the National Party Government are proposing. Their aim is to cut wages; and once people start cutting wages as a cost saving measure, they start cutting the quality of service-and that service is to the aged. Fortunately, we have new legislation coming in. I believe this will mean that this Government will have some monitoring power over the quality of care; that is, the standards in those nursing homes. If those contracts that the Premier wants to introduce in Queensland bring down standards, this Government will be able to act. The important point is that that approach to contracts is a threat to the aged, and to the quality of life and the quality of care of aged people in Queensland.

We do not want a return to those days when the aged were crowded on to verandahs in large houses that some organisation purchased or some private individual got hold of and were required to pay to live there. In one Brisbane suburb old men were sleeping in beds on dirt floors downstairs. We had situations where some of the aged were being fed soup twice a day, and an egg as their main meal. There was no concern for nutrition and no concern about dietary needs. In fact a `roof over the head' mentality prevailed. That mentality prevailed because the Liberal-National Party Government that was in control in Canberra did not have a plan or a strategy; it was not really concerned. We do not want a return to those days; and I suggest that, if we go to contracts, cutting awards and not having proper nursing staff with the expertise that is required to care for the aged, that could be the ultimate result. Every person in this chamber, regardless of his or her political persuasion, must understand just that.

So it is timely that we have this legislation, legislation that will require particular standards of care in our nursing homes. I am most pleased that the Minister has seen fit to bring on this legislation. This Government has a commendable record in the area of aged care that has been developed in a matter of only four years, and that has occurred despite the economic circumstances, as we heard last night. We have had a capital funding increase of 27 per cent in the last financial year. In 1985-86 the amount spent was $42m and this year this has been increased to $53.5m. It is money being spent throughout Australia.

I welcome the latest grant that has just been announced by the Minister for Community Services (Mr Hurford) for my area-$316 960 to the Sisters of Mercy to replace 31 hostel places. It is part of the first round of funding under the Hawke Labor Government's new strategy for the provision of accommodation for the frail aged. It is part of $14m of expenditure in Queensland. It will enable voluntary welfare and church groups and local government to build 397 new or replacement hostel places, and also provide 225 replacement nursing home beds. It is all part of an approach by this Government right across Australia. The money is not being spent in areas because they are in electorates held by a Labor member of parliament; it is being spent where there is a need. For instance, last week I was in Biloela when we gave $18 000 to the Country Women's Association for one cottage. It may not sound much, but, Madam Speaker, you should have seen the pleasure on the women's faces at the CWA because it will mean one more cottage in a program of four. To them it was really an achievement. It was achieved because this Government has a plan and a strategy to care.

People are beginning to appreciate what we are about. They are appreciating that money is being spent for the aged. They realise that we have a new approach based on the social, medical and emotional needs of people; that our thrust is one of independence-to meet the independent requirements of people. It is a thrust of strategy and planning-and it is not politically inspired as it was under the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and the Fraser Government. We have a new emphasis on domiciliary hostel care and yet at the same time, despite what the honourable member for Petrie said, we are maintaining our nursing home care. This Government is meeting its responsibility to meet the needs and expectations of people. We are also accepting our responsibility of careful stewardship of very limited funds. This Government has been successful in nursing care. We are bringing about a new quality of life for the aged.