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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 7052

Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:57): I have to say, I give it to Senator Fierravanti-Wells. I said to Senator Collins that I did not think she would be able to tie Craig Thomson to this one, but I was wrong! She drew a bow so long—to think that the workforce compact is there to support workers in the aged-care sector, and all Senator Fierravanti-Wells wants to talk about is some conspiracy theory that she has concocted in her own little world. So what we will see—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells interjecting

Senator CAROL BROWN: I went—supported by the HACSU actually—and did a Walk A Day in My Shoes day down at an aged-care facility in Tasmania. It is a facility that is very well run; Tasmania has some of the best facilities in Australia, in my view, and I am sure the Deputy President would agree with me. I did a Walk A Day in My Shoes day down there, and it was clear that what the workers really needed was support in terms of their wages and in terms of their conditions. They were on quite low wages, which you often see in this sector—particularly with carers, the majority of whom are female. Sectors that are worked in by a majority of women tend to be on the lower side of the wages equation. As I said, I did not think Senator Fierravanti-Wells would be able to do it, but I take my hat off to her! Conspiracy theories at large!

I rise proudly in today's MPI debate to put on record the Gillard Labor government's strong commitment to aged care. Earlier in the year the Gillard Labor government announced landmark changes to the aged care system which will mean that more people will be able to keep their home, and more people will be able to stay in their home as they receive aged care support. The $3.7 billion Living Longer Living Better aged care package will provide more choice, easier access and better care for older Australians.

Before I go into detail about the Living Longer Living Better package, I want to go back to where this reform agenda for the aged care sector began. The Gillard Labor government knew that after 11 long years of neglect under a coalition government the aged care sector needed reform. That is why in 2010 the government asked the Productivity Commission to develop detailed options for redesigning Australia's aged care system. The government released the final Productivity Commission report Caring for older Australians in August 2011 and since that time, through the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mr Mark Butler, we have been consulting and meeting with the community, with consumer organisations and with the aged care sector. The minister met with over 4,000 older Australians, their families and their carers as well as with industry stakeholders through their peak organisations, the National Aged Care Alliance and the Ageing Consultative Committee. I had the pleasure of hosting a consultation forum in Hobart with Minister Butler. It was extremely well attended, with over 100 people in attendance. They were very impressed by the minister's commitment to reforming the aged care sector.

The consultations found that after 11 years of neglect from those opposite the aged care sector was in need of urgent reform. So, after the Productivity Commission report and the consultation process, we set about building a sustainable aged care system that would stand the test of time. In putting together an aged care package it is vitally important that the sector, unions, carers, consumers and importantly the opposition all jump aboard and support the push for reform. Prior to the Productivity Commission report, there was an inquiry by the Community Affairs References Committee that supported the need for reform, and out of that inquiry came evidence that the sector was under severe pressure and had enormous challenges to meet in the long term. This had come about during the coalition's term in government.

The only way we will deliver long-term, lasting aged care reform is through political goodwill and everyone working together; that is why it is so disappointing to be presented with this motion today. The last thing anyone in the aged care sector wants is for this issue to become a political football—the aged care sector wants its elected representatives to work together and deliver sustainable long-term aged care reform. I would urge those opposite to put away their attempts to score cheap political points and join with the government on working to deliver a sustainable aged care sector. That is what the sector wants. As I said, consumers expect this and providers expect this; they do not want to see their elected representatives playing politics with such a vitally important issue. But that is what the opposition are doing today with their MPI on aged care.

To go to the crux of the opposition's MPI, I am happy to report that since the introduction of the Aged Care Funding Instrument—ACFI—in 2008, government funding per resident has been growing at a rate that is significantly higher than occurred under the previous funding classification scale. Let us look at some of the figures that back up that statement. Between 2006-07 and 2011-12 the growth in aged care subsidies was an average 6.5 per cent per annum above indexation compared with being 2.8 per cent above indexation per annum between 2002-3 and 2006-07 under the previous classification scale. The ACFI changes that came into effect on 1 July 2012 were made to bring the rate of future growth in funding back to the long term trend rate, and it is also worth noting that these changes were made after a period of intense consultation. These changes are not designed to reduce funding for aged care subsidies; in fact, average daily subsidies will increase from $131 to $149 per resident in today's dollars between 2011-12 and 2016-17.

This is such an important issue because our population is ageing. Over the next 40 years the number of Australians over 65 will increase from one in six to one in four and the over-85 population will grow from one in 200 to about one in 20. This will obviously result in increased demand and pressure on our aged care system—that is why we need to ensure the reforms we put in place now are well considered and are sustainable in the long term. That means, whilst it is important we address the challenges currently facing the aged care system, it is also important that the changes be sustainable for the next 20 years. That is why earlier this year the Gillard Labor government announced the $3.7 billion Living Longer Living Better aged care plan to deliver more choice, easier access and better care for older Australians and their families. Our landmark reforms to Australia's aged care system will begin to reshape the system from 1 July this year, and these changes will begin to lay the foundation for longer term reform—the first such reforms in 30 years.

A major part of our aged care reform package is to make it easier for Australians to stay in their homes longer through a major expansion in home care packages. This will be delivered through a $955 million funding investment to expand the number of home care packages from 59,000 to almost 100,000. There will be two new types of home care packages—one for people with intermediate care needs and one for those with more basic care needs, allowing for a flexible response as an individual's needs change. We will also implement new fee arrangements for home care packages to ensure a consistent approach to the way older Australians contribute to the cost of care they receive in their own home.

We want to deliver a long-term sustainable aged care system that can best support our ageing population, so I urge those opposite to stop trying to score political points on the issue of aged care and support the government on the implementation of the Living Longer Living Better package. (Time expired)