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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19297

Mr DANBY (12:49 PM) —Aged care has been one of the most conspicuous failures of this government. The member for Pearce, the member for Mackellar and the former member for Bass, Mr Smith, all grappled unsuccessfully with that portfolio and it now falls to the member for Menzies, who, because of government policy and probably not because of his own efforts, is also struggling with it.

There will be a significant increase in the demand for nursing home services as Australia's population ages. That is the changing population profile of the Australian public. There will be a similar rise in demand for in-home care as elderly people seek to maintain their independence. Rather than going into institutions, these days in-home care or `ageing in place' is considered the best way for people to look after themselves as they go into their senior years—something that I certainly support and I think most members in this House support.

The basic problem is that there is a conflict between the increasing need for quality aged care in our community and the rapidly increasing number of elderly people. You then have the determination of this government to cut spending in social policy areas and to shuffle responsibilities on to the states and the private sector. Frankly, this is an equation which does not add up. In my electorate, as in many inner-city areas, there is a high proportion of elderly residents. I have one of the highest numbers in Australia of single people living alone, with 65,000 homes out of 90,000 constituents. Like many members on this side of the House, I am constantly being made aware of the severe funding squeeze that this government has imposed on nursing homes and the effects it is having in practical, day-to-day terms on quality care for residents. This is causing great distress not just to the elderly people involved but to their families and those working in aged care, who mostly have a very caring attitude to the people they work with. They are all struggling to provide quality services with reduced funding.

Let me give some examples from my electorate. The Southport Community Residential Home in Albert Park is one that I have been familiar with for many years. It has a long and proud history of high-quality service to the aged in my electorate. Southport is currently trying to raise $10 million to $12 million to expand its capacity from 20 beds to 60 beds. Unless it undertakes this work, it will not meet the government's accreditation standards. Southport is forced to try to raise this money from the local community, with the assistance of groups such as Rotary—and I praise Rotary for the work that it does on behalf of this nursing home. I do not think that it is acceptable, however, that the standard of care for our elderly citizens should be solely dependent on community fundraising of this kind.

The House would be aware that my electorate also has a high proportion of Jewish residents, many of them elderly. They have all kinds of problems that the ethnic aged have, such as reversion in their senior years to languages other than English. The JewishCare welfare organisation finds itself in the position of having to raise a large amount of money—in this case, $50 million—to build a new residential facility and to upgrade its existing facilities. It has a number of very big operations, including the Montefiore Homes, which it needs to upgrade. It is currently running a significant deficit every year, having to rely on past savings, investments, donations and bequests to supplement the recurrent funding it receives from the federal government.

I recently met with Muriel Arnott and Patricia Tracy, volunteer board members. They are really caring people who spend so much of their time making my electorate and other electorates better places, particularly with their participation in Napier Street Aged Care Services, a not-for-profit hostel for the frail aged. Napier Street Aged Care Services is a well-run service that has been operating for 10 years. It includes a day care centre and a dementia-specific wing.

The funding and future planning of aged care issues are of increasing importance and concern. The two volunteers I mentioned explained to me that there have been significant increases in costs, and the recurrent funding that this government provides is not sufficient. Year in, year out, they are dipping into donations, savings and investments, which are decreasing over time. They are also faced with increasing paperwork and the demands that this government has imposed on them, demands which are not matched by increasing funding. Most of us support higher standards in aged care and therefore accreditation, but there should be some consideration of the extra work that staff have to put into this. There is a desperate need for more funding, both recurrent and capital.

On behalf of my friends David McCarthy, of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, and Adam Pickvance, of the ALSO Foundation, who are visiting Canberra at the moment, I conclude by saying that I am disappointed that recent changes by the Attorney-General mean that the care of aged gay people is even more inequitable than it was before. (Time expired)