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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4957

Dr STONE (Murray) (19:46): I commend the member for Shortland for moving a motion that is related to the wellbeing of our aged in Australia. After all, they created this nation. They made many sacrifices, particularly those in their late eighties who went through the Second World War. I commend the motivation behind the aged care reform motion, but unfortunately I have to agree with the previous speaker; this is only a down payment on what is needed for us to have a comprehensive and adequate aged-care resource. We know a growing number of people will live to a very old age in Australia. A child—particularly a girl—born today might very well live to be over 100, and this package simply will not cope with that.

I want to quote from the expert Judith Sloan, who recently wrote in the Weekend Australian about the Living Longer, Living Better package:

After a bit of slow thinking, reading and discussion with a number of interested parties in aged care, I have now changed my mind about the worth of the overall package. Not only is the package inadequately described, the immediate changes are likely to induce short-term problems that will thwart the realisation of the longer-term structural reform necessary for the industry. The introduction of a form of price control in relation to accommodation bonds and charges arguably makes the situation worse relative to the current arrangements.

She went on to say:

There is a lot of smoke and mirrors to the LLLB package. While the gross size of the package is put at $3.7 billion over five years ($2.2bn over four years), there are very significant offsets, in terms of redirected funding and means-testing.

In particular, she said:

… the alteration to the Aged Care Funding Instrument, which with means testing is estimated to save the government some $2bn over the next five years.

This should not be about cost cutting; this should be about how we can make it most comfortable for many of our elderly Australians, often the most vulnerable sector in our population. The Gillard government's $3.7 billion aged-care package over five years is only some half a billion of new money in each of those five years. Unfortunately there is also a lack of detail and the changes will not start until 1 July 2014, which will be after the next election. You have to wonder why that date was chosen. It sounds a little suspicious to me. Does this government really think they will have to implement what is in fact not an adequate policy?

Comments from one of the CEOs of the largest Shepparton residential retirement village or establishment really put it into perspective for me. My staff spoke with him this afternoon. He is concerned that the government is to reduce industry funding by $1.6 billion over the next five years. For a local provider with his sized agency or institution, this means a reduction of $2,136,000 over the next five years. He does not think he can do it. In relation to low-care retention bonds, under the changes, instead of paying residential bonds, people will pay lump sums or make periodic payments. Unfortunately this is a further cut to providers' incomes from 2014, because they will no longer be able to retain any of the funds from the low-care retention bond. This will have a financial impact on the Shepparton residential facility of some $450,000 that is to be taken directly from their bottom line.

There will be a new My Aged Care website to provide older Australians and their families with centralised information about aged care, including ratings for services. I am very suspicious of these websites. How do you evaluate or enumerate the quality of caring? The interactions, one-on-one between a professional staff member or volunteer and the most vulnerable of our elderly—perhaps someone with dementia? It is very hard to enumerate. It is easier to cook the books and simply refer to how many rooms you have, how many meals you serve, whether you have a pet or not and what your programs look like. I am worried about that website.

There are also to be three new public service bodies created to micromanage the providers: the Aged Care Financing Authority, the Aged Care Quality Agency and the Aged Care Reform Implementation Council. We all know about the stifling red tape already oppressing the sector. We do not need any more of that, but that is what is going to happen. The new workforce compact between government unions and the aged-care providers is also being flagged. We do not know the detail, however, if the provider agrees with the compact and signs up, they will be given additional funding. In other words, they will get back some of their funds that have just been taken away. But is it, in fact, an effort for a new entry point for unions or greater union penetration? We have to watch this very carefully.

More funds are to be allocated for providing care in homes. However, I have to say that elderly women, in particular, do not have a home. They do not have a carer, particularly in remote rural and regional areas. How are we going to make do with these new regulations and legislation? It is simply not enough— (Time expired)