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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1336

Aged Care

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (14:55): My question is to the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Fifield. I refer to the fact that the Intergenerational report has highlighted some of the demographic challenges associated with Australia's ageing population. Can the minister inform the Senate of the government's approach to managing these challenges, particularly when it comes to the provision of services that older Australians are likely to need?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:55): Thank you, Senator Smith, for your question. We have heard a lot, of late, about Australia's ageing population, and we will be hearing more, certainly, in the wake of the Intergenerational report. I think it can sometimes be difficult to comprehend the scale of the demographic change that the nation will face. At the moment, the proportion of the population aged between 65 and 84 is 13 per cent, or around 3.1 million people. The IGR projects that by 2055 that proportion will have grown to 18 per cent, or around seven million people. But I have to say that the statistic that most struck me when I first came into this portfolio, and still does, is the fact that there are currently 3,000 centenarians in Australia and that by 2055 there will be 40,000 centenarians.

Our ageing population—and the number of centenarians that we have—is unequivocally a good thing. It is a great thing. It is a great national resource. Probably too often we hear about the problems that an ageing population will bring, but I think we can all agree that we never want to hear about people talking about our ageing population as though it is anything other than extremely positive. As a community, as a society, an ageing population living longer and living better is something that we have striven for for decades, but we do obviously need to be cognisant of the challenges that an ageing population represents. We should be optimistic about the future at the same time, but it is important to note that the ageing population is driving a significant increase in demand in services that older Australians will want and need, particularly when it comes to aged care. The Chairman of Estia Health, Pat Grier, a former Ramsay CEO, has compared the aged-care sector now to where the private hospital sector was 20 years ago: on the brink of a great new era of possibility. (Time expired)

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (14:57): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister advise the Senate how recent changes to the aged-care system affect the aged-care industry and whether these changes will help the industry prepare for the increased demand that aged-care providers are beginning to experience?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:58): At the outset, can I acknowledge that aged care has been an area that has essentially been of a bipartisan nature, and can I also acknowledge the recent public comments by the shadow minister, Mr Neumann, and also his private comments that this is an area where he is willing and would like to work in a cooperative manner. I think that is a good thing.

You will recall that in July last year there were significant changes that came into effect in the aged-care system, legislated by the previous government and implemented by this government. They included new means-testing arrangements so that those who had the capacity to make a contribution could do so. We are also significantly increasing the number of home care packages because people want to have support at home to live there longer, and we also are encouraging greater consumer information through the My Aged Care gateway. This is all designed to make sure that we have a good service system accessible to our ageing population.

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (14:59): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister advise the Senate what further reform directions the government is considering to help ensure that our aged-care system can meet a significantly higher demand for these services over the next decade?

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:59): We are keen to see much more of a consumer led sector when it comes to aged care. From 1 July this year, all home care packages will be delivered as consumer directed care. That is a good thing. There is a legislated review into the aged-care changes, which is due by 2017, but I am keen to move a little more quickly and certainly to start thinking now about how we might further move in the direction of greater consumer care. We know that, at the moment, the number of places are offered on a geographically defined basis. But where people want to live is changing. I think within the existing taxpayer envelope, we need to look at how we can open up supply to residential service providers so that they can make business decisions based on market intelligence about when and where to build their services, and then allow them to attract consumers through price and through service. We want to see individual, older Australians at the centre and in charge.