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Wednesday, 15 March 2000
Page: 12843


Senator PATTERSON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) (3:07 PM) —I just find Labor's behaviour totally unacceptable when it comes to issues of nursing homes. If you go back through their record and you go back through the crisis state that Labor left nursing homes in when we came to government, it is evident that this is opportunistic, populist nonsense they are going on with. I do not blame Senator Chris Evans. He was not here in 1994 and 1995, but he was here later on. Labor over 13 years left us with a legacy in nursing homes that was totally unacceptable.

Throughout 1994 and 1995, when Labor was in government, there were serious problems in nursing homes across Australia. They were revealed in press report after press report. They included incidents resulting in mistreatment, mismanagement, pain and suffering for residents. In two cases fires resulted in the death of residents. None of us likes that sort of thing to happen. None of us would want to put in place a system where that occurs. But there are always problems, and there will always be problems.

Labor did not have an appropriate complaints mechanism. Labor did not have an appropriate mechanism for inspecting these places. We saw, for example, in the Herald Sun of 3 July 1994 a report of fires in aged care facilities. There were reports that in March 1994 two women were killed in a fire in a special accommodation home in Melton. The Sunday Herald Sun of 3 July 1994 also stated that an elderly man had died in a Warrnambool home in December 1993.

When Professor Gregory did his report, commissioned by the Labor government, he actually indicated that nursing home funding needed $540 million to bring nursing homes up to standard. The Labor government had no plans, no way of addressing that issue, no way of raising capital, other than most probably adding to the $10 billion black hole debt that they left us. Professor Gregory said that there were appalling conditions in nursing homes, that places were not up to scratch in terms of fire safety, that building stock had run down. His report was an indictment of Labor's 13 years in government.

When these reports came in—and there was a number of them; I have just mentioned one of them, but there was another one—about various incidents of mismanagement in nursing homes, and particularly mismanagement that meant that some residents were not as well cared for as they ought to have been, did we run around scaring old people? No. We did not run around. There were reports in the Age. There were reports in the Herald Sun. There were reports in the Sydney Morning Herald. No, we highlighted some of the issues that needed to be addressed, but we did not run around highlighting and repeating, repeating, and repeating the problems in order to scare everyone, in order to degrade and downgrade the large number of providers who give very good care to people in nursing homes, despite the legacy that the Labor Party left us.

As I said, when we came into office four years ago 75 per cent of homes did not meet building standards; 13 per cent did not meet fire safety standards; and 11 per cent did not meet basic health standards. The Labor Party have a hide coming in here, when they were the ones that overturned the legislation that would have given us the funding which would have enabled us to upgrade at a faster rate nursing homes. They had the guts to bite the bullet to provide funding through ingoings for hostels, but they did not have the guts to assist in working in a bipartisan way—a way in which we worked in the policy on hostels—with nursing homes. Their legacy continued, because we inherited ramshackle, run-down capital stock in nursing homes.

The Labor Party can come in here and they can bleat all they like. They can go on about what has happened. You cannot turn the Titanic around in four years. There have been enormous changes made to accreditation. Only the other day I went out to one of the first nursing homes that has been accredited under the new system. They are introducing innovative programs in staff development and training. They are very proud of that accreditation. They are very proud that they have been leaders in the field—that is a nursing home out in Dandenong—in the accreditation process. The Labor Party did absolutely nothing to remedy the appalling state of nursing homes, the lack of training in nursing homes, the facilities that were run down and put older Australians at risk. (Time expired)