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Wednesday, 15 March 2000
Page: 12846


Senator McLUCAS (3:23 PM) —I would also like to take note of the answers given by Senator Herron on aged care in question time today. I would like to first of all note the compliments that Senator Herron paid to Senator Evans for his work over the last six months or more in raising the community's concerns about aged care. He was very generous, and I must say I concur with him. I also congratulate Senator Evans because I believe he has given the serious concerns raised by this community over many months the public prominence and the public discussion that they deserve. It is because of the work of Senator Evans that the community now has knowledge of the mismanagement of this portfolio by Minister Bishop and is much more informed about the components of aged care.

I note Senator Herron today said in an answer to a question that the minister's actions were `impeccable'. I found that comment rather extraordinary. The residents of Riverside and their families would not agree. They do not agree because it took three separate reports before the minister responded to the concerns of community members and in particular to the concerns expressed by the nursing staff at Riverside. Those reports might still be coming except that Senator Evans raised these issues both in this parliament and in the media. It took Senator Evans alerting us to these matters to make the minister respond.

I do not think that the residents of Riverside and their families would agree that the minister's actions were impeccable. They have not at all been comforted by the minister's comments on the activities at Riverside. They are also not comforted by the minister's comments on spot checks or the complaints line. Senator Herron referred at length today to the accreditation process, telling us that over 330 homes had been inspected for accreditation and had been accredited. There are over 3,000 nursing homes in Australia. I do not know that 330 is a very good record. I might also add that the inspection process has very little to do with the ongoing monitoring process. The inspection process is basically to benchmark the aged care home's structural components. It has very little to do with the quality of the care provided. It looks at the components and the physical arrangements at the aged care facility and the physical facilities that are provided. It does not look at the quality of care that is being provided on a day-to-day basis.

We are now aware through the raising of these issues that no spot checks were done until we raised the issue in this parliament. In fact, there is no commitment, in my view, from this government to monitoring aged care on an ongoing basis and no commitment to providing comfort to the community members who have made the big decision to place their loved ones in an aged care facility. This government is providing no comfort to those people that their aged relatives will be cared for properly. The spot check process should work well. It should provide excellent support and comfort to family members but, if it is not working, it is not going to happen.

Senator Herron also referred to the complaints line. I was astonished that he seemed to hold it in some sort of esteem. The complaints line has just not worked. It is no comfort to people, especially nurses, who want to know that they can anonymously provide details of the mishandling of aged care facilities, to know that their complaints will not even be heard. Nothing happens at all when people ring up the complaints line. That is what we have heard over the last few months. Concern is growing in the community because the systems that are being trumpeted in this place are in fact not working. There is no safeguard or support for families who have made the decision to place their family members in an aged care facility. I note Senator Herron did not answer the question about entitlements to staff members at all. That raises the quandary that nursing staff are left in if they are in a position where they are knowledgeable about inappropriate care provision. They are left with a personal conflict. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.