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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 4010

Aged Care

Mr WINDSOR (New England) (14:17): My question is to the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing. Minister, do you acknowledge that aged-care workers are paid significantly less than aged-care workers in the public health system and that nurses are paid up to $300 per week less? Furthermore, Minister, do you recognise that there are no minimum staffing levels in any aged-care facility in Australia?

Mr BUTLER (Port AdelaideMinister for Social Inclusion, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform) (14:17): I thank the member for New England for his question and his ongoing interest in aged-care matters. In this place we might from time to time end up at different policy destinations, but I think we all start at the same basic proposition: that one of the truest tests of a decent society is how we treat our seniors—those citizens who for years have worked hard, paid taxes and raised their families and who in retirement might need some care and support in return from the community that they helped to build.

While our aged-care sector has served the nation very, very well over the years, we understand on this side of the House—and I imagine on the other side as well—that it is a sector that requires very real reform. That is why we asked the Productivity Commission in 2010 to conduct a comprehensive inquiry to the future aged-care needs of the nation. As the member knows, the Prime Minister and I released that report in August last year and since that time I have been engaging very closely with the sector, with all stakeholders—provider interests, trade unions and consumer interests, very importantly—to develop a meaningful response to that report.

I have also had the opportunity to talk directly with more than 4,000 older Australians at a series of two-hour forums conducted across the country to hear their experiences and their expectations of aged care. As the member knows, we conducted a session of that type in Tamworth, which was very well attended, late last year. At the same time the member for New England was able to arrange a meeting between myself and registered nurses in the electorate of New England, where they talked to me about the pay gap between public hospital nurses and aged-care nurses. I also know that the member for New England handed to me a petition this week with, I think, around 4,000 signatures from the electorate of New England, drawing the government's attention to this issue.

Those consultations have confirmed the Productivity Commission's findings that the supply of a well-trained, properly remunerated and dedicated workforce is perhaps the key supply constraint on our aged-care sector. I also note that a survey of members of National Seniors Australia released last week confirmed that members of that organisation saw that these workforce issues were the major concern that they had about aged care into the future.

As the member knows, the commission did consider the issues outlined in the member's question—the adequacy of wages and also staffing levels in aged-care facilities—and we are obviously very deeply considering those recommendations along with the 58 other recommendations made by the Productivity Commission. The Prime Minister committed her government last year to starting the process of aged-care reform in this term of government and we remain committed to that commitment. (Time expired)