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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4997

Mr FLETCHER (Bradfield) (19:41): I am very pleased to speak on this motion regarding the government's reform agenda for older Australians. Aged care is an issue that affects all of us. We may have parents or other older relatives and friends needing aged care, either now or prospectively, or we may ourselves be at a stage of life where we need such care, either in our own home or in an aged-care facility.

I want to speak for a moment about the many fine retirement villages and aged-care facilities in my electorate of Bradfield. Just in the last few months I have had the opportunity of visiting Fernbank Retirement Village in St Ives, Christophorous House retirement village in Hornsby, the BUPA retirement village in Roseville, KOPWA aged care in Roseville, which stands for the Ku-ring-gai Old People's Welfare Association but now is just KOPWA, the Presbyterian Aged Care Northern Sydney Community Care Service, the Adventist Retirement Village in Normanhurst, the Southern Cross Residential Care Retirement Village in North Turramurra and the Rohini retirement village in Turramurra.

I regularly find myself very impressed by the quality of the facilities I visit—the caring staff, the cleanliness, the high physical standards and the facilities—but achieving this outcome is not easy. I regularly hear from those who operate aged-care facilities in my electorate about the difficulties they are facing in maintaining the economic viability of those facilities.

This motion before the House this evening speaks in glowing terms about the current government's enormous investment in aged care, an investment that was purportedly manifested in the Living Longer Living Better package announced in April 2012. But it very soon became clear, after that package was announced, that its immediate effect was in fact to reduce funding to many aged-care facilities; indeed, there was a total reduction of $1.6 billion in the aged-care funding instrument. I received many complaints—as did many other coalition members—about the fact that the government sought to achieve savings of $500 million from this instrument in one year, starting from 1 July 2012. One local aged-care provider had this to say, in response to the statement in the minister's press release of April last year that the new package would 'set stricter standards, with greater oversight of aged care' in a letter he wrote to me:

The aged-care industry is one of the most highly regulated industries in Australia. The requirement to meet the four accreditation standards and 44 outcomes, with two annual audits and a major one every three years, and with numerous regulations and requirements of all kinds, begs the question: why even more scrutiny? What is prompting these kinds of statements?

The frustration which is evident in that letter speaks volumes for the mismatch between the approach that this government has taken and what is likely to be required to solve the difficulties that, we all agree, are facing the aged-care sector. There is a significant constraint on the availability of places in aged-care facilities where Australians of older years can go, to receive the care that they rightly expect and that we would all want them to have and that we would all want for ourselves when we come to that stage of life.

Let me quote from a letter I received from the major aged-care provider Bupa, which has a number of facilities around Australia including a facility at Roseville in my electorate, which I visited last year. Bupa had this to say:

In our view the Living Longer Living Better reform package ... largely ignored the Productivity Commission's recommendation for a personalised care entitlement system that would enable improved customer choice and flexibility. We believe our Older Australians and their families should be able to pick and choose where they receive their care. We therefore urge the Government to proceed with a single entitlement based funding system and to start this process of reform now; not 5 years hence as suggested.

The reality is despite the glowing assessment of this current government's approach to aged care, which is implicit in the words of the motion before the House this evening, the reality is that in this area as in so many others this Rudd-Gillard government has made sweeping promises in relation to reform of aged care. But in fact, the reality has fallen troublingly short of those bold promises. By contrast, the coalition has a clear plan for the aged-care sector, which has been well articulated by our spokesperson, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. We intend to establish a four-year aged-care provider agreement to deliver vital certainty in this sector.