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Wednesday, 6 June 2001
Page: 27414

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Minister for Aged Care) (3:54 PM) —I was asked what it is that I do. What I do is fix up the mess of 13 years of Labor Party neglect, and the member who has just spoken was the architect of that neglect when she was working out of Brian Howe's office. She is truly the mistress for misery of 13 years of neglect, which we have had to clean up. She had an interesting turn of phrase. She seemed to be interested in facts. Well, let us get a few right.

First of all, for the first time ever, after our reforms were put in place, over 14 months every home in Australia—all 3,000 of them—was not only visited but audited. The result of that process was that 190 homes were either closed or relocated because they would not or could not meet the new standards. The closure or relocation of those homes means that residents are now getting better care. The important thing about the structure we have put in place is that for the first time we have legislated standards. We have an act which sets out the standards that must be met. We have a whole mechanism of systems in place to keep visiting them and to keep them up to the standards. In order to reach accreditation, they had to pass the four standards with 44 substandards. Under the 44 substandards, if there was some remiss, they had to put in place a plan to come up to the standards and they had to give an undertaking to the agency that that would be done.

We set up an agency to make this a transparent process. We set the agency up so that it not only makes the reports on the visits but actually publishes them, which is why we know what is going on. Under the Labor Party it was all swept under the carpet, but we have chosen to lift that carpet. The Gregory report was indeed commissioned by the Labor Party; but did they respond to it? Never! It was left to this government to respond to that report and to put in place mechanisms to provide sufficient capital for aged care homes—a high level, for them to have sufficient money to keep that capital stock up. As a result of those policies, $8.3 billion will be made available over a 10-year period to the industry for rebuilding and refurbishing purposes, and the estimate of need is $7.9 billion.

The system works. Those people who thought that they could get an accreditation and that they then would not be visited for another three years can have another think. There is a complete system of support audits, of spot checks—both random and targeted—and of RCS visits. The RCS nurses look at the care plans, which are the very essence of delivering care, to ensure that what is written is in fact being delivered. They also have the responsibility to report if they find things amiss. Nursing homes have to have a new site audit to become reaccredited.

In the case of the Yagoona home, there was indeed a series of spot checks and of support visits. A review audit was done. The assessors recommended that the accreditation be revoked. Revocation would mean that subsidy would cease. The state manager, who, under the act and under the subordinate legislation, is obliged to look at a whole range of other issues, as well as the assessors' report, determined that he would give a downgrade as opposed to a revocation. He downgraded the accreditation from three years to 18 months.

I bothered to go and have a look through some of our records to see whether this was something that was done from time to time, and indeed it is. I point out to the member that, if she had bothered to properly read the review audit report, she would find appendix 1, which is a part of the report, which says:

Where the report indicates an unacceptable or critical rating for one or more standards, the agency will continue to work with a service until a satisfactory rating is achieved.

That is the purpose of the act: to bring homes up to standard so that people can have proper quality care. The other home I found that had four critical ratings across the four standards, as recommended by the assessors, was in Victoria. They said, `The review audit team recommends that the accreditation period be varied.' The state manager said:

Following the presentation of a report on the review audit of the service, consideration of submissions by the Department of Human Services ... and having regard to the expiry time for the current accreditation decision, I have decided in accordance with section 3.241 of the accreditation grant principles of 1999 not to revoke the accreditation and not to vary the period of accreditation.

That home is owned and run by the Victorian state government. They had exactly the same treatment as the Yagoona home, and I do not hear you making any allegations that the Victorian state government had been making donations to the Liberal Party. There are, in other words, a number of occasions where the state manager exercises his authority, as he is meant to do under the act, to take into consideration such things as what the approved provider gives in undertakings to improve. Indeed, in Yagoona, the things that were found to be wrong were undertaken to be improved and the agency and the department continue to visit that home to ensure that the undertakings are fulfilled. They include things like an adequate supply of continence aids. They include proper functioning hot water service. They include making sure that the bells work.

Ms Ellis —How quickly?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —How quickly? I will come to that in just a moment. In order that we have proper accountability, we also have due process, something the Labor Party know precious little about. They were very good at giving ministers freedom to intervene in all sorts of things, like Ros Kelly and the whiteboard and sports rorts: there was no due process, no arm's length. Well, I am afraid due process is important to this government, and I do not apologise for it.

The agency has been established to be an independent body. The department is there to make sure if there is serious and immediate risk—as was the case in Riverside—that action is taken. There are a number of things set out in the act. If the member bothered to read it, she would see that there is a comprehensive system in place for when the department can and does impose sanctions. If there is serious and immediate risk, sanctions can be applied immediately. If there is no such serious and immediate risk, as there was not in this case of Yagoona, the department has a due process to follow, which it is properly following. It has written to all the residents, it is continuing to monitor the home, it is continuing to see that the undertakings to upgrade are carried out and, furthermore, it is now considering whether or not sanctions can or will or will not be imposed and, if so, that they are in accordance with the act, which is what any serious person would do.

Now I bring you to the question of timeliness. Yesterday we saw—and I am disappointed to say we saw—a politicisation of a veteran. We heard in this House a question asked about a letter that had been written to me on 25 May. The said member then put out her own press release which contained her notes about this particular veteran. These were taken on 21 May. This was so urgent she did not bother to write to me till 25 May—and then she sent it by snail mail.

Mrs Gash —Snail mail!

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Then she sent it by snail mail. This morning I rang the member to ask her for the phone number of the daughter of the person concerned. She told me that that was the only phone number she had. That phone number has not been answered today, because I subsequently found out the daughter does have a part-time job, so I had a lengthy conversation with the secretary of the sub-branch of Liverpool RSL, because I am concerned about this veteran, a veteran who has been made a political item, who is now being besieged in Lady Davidson Hospital by the media trying to get access to him.

This gentleman was taken from the nursing home, where he should never have been sent in the first place. He was admitted on a number of occasions to Liverpool Hospital. He was a man in need of medical treatment—acute medical treatment. He should never have been sent from that hospital to a nursing home or an aged care home. In fact, Mrs Keane, I am told by Veterans' Affairs, consulted with her GP and he was moved to Lady Davidson Hospital because he needed that medical care—and he is getting that medical care. It is hoped that he can go home.

Mrs Keane has not had any help in her home, and she is entitled to it. She is entitled to have a community aged care package. She would be entitled to have visiting nurses from Veterans' Affairs. She has been coping on her own, and I totally understand why she has been feeling in need of respite. But the gentleman concerned needed medical treatment in a hospital, and that is what Lady Davidson is: a hospital, with two wards put aside for veterans. I would point out that the member could have picked up the phone and rung me, just as I rang her this morning. The member had seen me in this chamber; she could have crossed the floor and talked with me. If her real concern was to get some attention and something done about this situation and for this person, she could have picked up the phone and rung me. We would have acted immediately, as we do in so many other cases.

You ask me what I do. I fix up the mess you left behind—the mess that was left behind that gave no proper services to rural and regional Australia, which we have been fixing up; the mess that was left behind and identified by the Auditor-General when he said that the Labor Party had failed to issue 10,000 places and the only way we could fix it up was by having an additional injection of 10,100 places. Here it is, all laid out in the Auditor-General's report. I have followed that report: I have issued those additional places. We have put in more money, more places and better care for those frail Australians who are in need of it—and to hear the cant and hypocrisy of the mistress for misery is too much. This is the architect of the plan that failed older Australians for so long. For 13 years we had no proper care for older Australians and we had reports which you did not respond to. Indeed, we have not only introduced the reports—

Ms Macklin —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask the minister to withdraw those statements, which she knows are unparliamentary.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—I call on the minister to refer to the member for Jagajaga by her correct title.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —I will refer to her as the member for Jagajaga.

Ms Macklin —What about withdrawing?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —We also put in place a two-year review—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I have not asked her to.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —I was not asked to. We also put in place a two-year review of our system to make sure that it is working. In the words of Professor Gray, who conducted that review:

It is my conclusion, on completion of the review, that the reforms have delivered substantial improvements to the aged care system. The finetuning undertaken to smooth the implementation of the reforms and address unanticipated anomalies has been largely successful.

Further to that, we are now having a `lessons learned' exercise from the accreditation process to ensure that we can make even more improvements as part of our continuous improvement program. One of the most innovative ways we have been doing this is to talk to residents and families. Right across Australia, we have invited them to come and talk to us, to give them the empowerment to make their own statements, because at the end of the day we want them to have choices about what is best for them—not just to be put into any home but to have a choice, to have a choice to be able to stay home. With the Carelink line, people can ring up and say, `They want to put me in a home. What services have you got to keep me in my home?' They are the sorts of programs that we are putting in place—not neglect, where you failed to issue beds, where you did not have any system of community aged care packages. You had 4,000 of them; we now have 24,000 of them. At every point, success has come to this program. (Time expired)