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Tuesday, 28 November 2006
Page: 30

Senator McLUCAS (2:41 PM) —My question is to Senator Santoro, the Minister for Ageing. Can the minister confirm reports that an approved provider of aged care has allowed a person convicted of fraud to be involved in the day-to-day operation of a number of nursing homes? Wasn’t this person jailed for defrauding the Commonwealth in 1999 over nursing home payments to the same nursing homes? To this day, don’t she and her husband continue to own and profit from those nursing homes, and did so even while she was in jail? Separate to any action against her, which is a matter for the DPP, what action will the Department of Health and Ageing be taking against the approved provider in relation to this case? Will the provider have its right to operate nursing homes revoked?

Senator SANTORO (Minister for Ageing) —I note that Senator McLucas did not name the provider in this chamber. The reason why I think Senator McLucas did not name the provider is because, as she knows, and as I have advised both her and the Senate as a whole, the matter is under very active police investigation. However, I did expect the question, and I would like to again be very clear and very precise about issues relating to key personnel, and I will also refer to the specifics. As I have informed the Senate, the Aged Care Act 1997 sets out requirements for approved providers and their key personnel. Key personnel are those persons responsible for the management of the approved provider’s business in aged-care services. Approved providers are required to notify the department of changes in their key personnel.

Under the Aged Care Act 1997, it is an offence for a disqualified individual to be key personnel of an approved provider. If the department receives information that a person who is known to be a disqualified individual appears to be participating in the management of aged-care services, the department investigates the matter thoroughly. I therefore reject Senator McLucas’s comment, as reported in the press, that the department adopts any lax procedure. The act does not prevent persons who are disqualified individuals from beneficial ownership of an approved provider or from being employed by an approved provider in a role that is not considered a key personnel position. I have said that previously in this place, but I again iterate it for the benefit of senators who may have forgotten it.

Returning very specifically to the question asked by Senator McLucas, the Australian Federal Police executed a search warrant at Peninsula Aged Care Service at Kippa-Ring in Brisbane on Tuesday, 21 November 2006. The execution of the search was part of an ongoing investigation into allegations that the person is involved in or taking on the management or executive decision making of an approved provider, Peninsula Aged Care Service, in contravention of the Aged Care Act 1997.

There is no suggestion that the care provided at Peninsula Aged Care Services or any other services operated by Peninsula Care Pty Ltd is not meeting the standards required under the Aged Care Act. The Department of Health and Ageing has advised that those conducting the search were briefed thoroughly on the need to be sensitive to residents and their families and the need to allow staff to maintain the normal care routines. The investigation did not involve the taking or examination of any resident’s records or personal details. As Senator McLucas is fully aware, as this matter is the subject of a continuing investigation it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further, and I do not intend to do so.

Senator McLUCAS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister has avoided answering the most significant part of the question, which is: what action will the department be taking against the approved provider in relation to the case? Weren’t the two individuals in this case only exposed through media reports? What action has the minister taken to ensure other nursing homes are not being operated by disqualified individuals? Will the minister now get back to the chamber, as he has twice promised to do, in June and October, on the outcome of the review he ordered into the process for checking on key personnel?

Senator SANTORO (Minister for Ageing) —I have answered questions in relation to the specifics within Senator McLucas’s questions as comprehensively as I possibly can. The department will continue to do its job in terms of investigating any allegations that are brought to its attention concerning inappropriate behaviour by key personnel. If Senator McLucas has any information in relation to any other key personnel who are behaving inappropriately, I suggest that she does not even bother giving it to me but that she provides it to the department, and certainly that will be taken care of. In terms of the specific issue as to whether it was brought to the attention of the department by media reports, that is possibly a very legitimate way for the department to learn about it. If there is a whistleblower who informs the media, and the department becomes aware of it, so be it. What happens is that the department diligently investigates, as it has done in this case. I again stress to Senator McLucas that we are on pretty dangerous ground, not because I want to avoid scrutiny, but because it is before the courts, it is before the law. (Time expired)