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Monday, 20 August 2001
Page: 29712

Mr BEAZLEY (3:11 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Aged Care and follows her previous answer. Minister, why did you allow the provider of Templestowe Nursing Home, CIS Holdings, to sell their bed licences, gaining about $2 million as a reward for their shocking record of care? Why did you allow the Templestowe licences to be sold to Croft Health Care, with no guarantee that they would keep the nursing home open? Why did you also allow Croft to transfer 60 normal bed licences to extra-service places, enabling them to charge accommodation bonds of $150,000 and higher fees? Do these decisions have anything to do with the fact that Croft Health Care and the head of the Croft group are both donors to the Liberal Party? Isn't this just another example of you looking after the top end of town at the expense of old and frail Australians?

Mr Ross Cameron —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The imputation in the latter part of that question is unparliamentary and should be withdrawn.

Mr SPEAKER —I invite the Minister for Aged Care to respond to the first part of the question.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. By what precedent or criterion, Mr Speaker, do you contend that the second part of that question is out of order? It did not name any individual, nor did it raise any matters that are not on the public record. By what criterion and under what standing order do you contend that the second part of that question is out of order?

Mr SPEAKER —I indicated that the offensive part of that question was the part that implied that a group already named in the question had influenced the way in which it was treated by a donation to a particular political party. The imputation was the reason I ruled it out.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, the only reference that is made to that company is that they are donors to the Liberal Party. That might be a comment on their intelligence, but not on their principles or morality.

Mr SPEAKER —The Minister for Forestry and Conservation!

Mr McMullan —You would like to hit me with a lump of wood, would you?

Mr Beazley —No, an iron bar.

Mr SPEAKER —The Minister for Forestry and Conservation and the Manager of Opposition Business are, as they know, both not assisting the chair; nor are they adding to the dignity of the parliament. I have, in fact, indicated that it was a question of imputation that—

Mr McMullan —Imputation of what? You say that it refers to those people, and all that it says is that they are donors to the Liberal Party. Are you saying that that is an imputation and that that is a connection? Are you saying by your ruling—

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Manager of Opposition Business has the call.

Mr McMullan —Are you saying by your ruling that it is not possible in this parliament to ask whether people have donated to political parties and whether that has had any impact on the action of the minister? Do you think that that is no longer an accountability point that we should be able to pursue in this parliament, Mr Speaker?

Mr SPEAKER —I will take up the matter raised by the Manager of Opposition Business and look at what has been the precedent in the past. Given recent experience, I believed that I was ruling fairly in the interests of the people so named.

Mr Beazley —To go to the same point of order, Mr Speaker, because perhaps you have forgotten the character of the question before that particular phrase came in, a series of extraordinary beneficial decisions are being taken on behalf of this group—extraordinary. Then the question comes: do these decisions, which have been enumerated—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. I have already indicated—

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —I take singular exception—

Mr SPEAKER —The minister will resume her seat.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Withdraw.

Mr Beazley —Withdraw what?

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —What you just said.

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —When the House has come to order, lest it escape the attention of members in front of me: the minister had not been denied the call; she had simply not been recognised as addressing the House prior to the fact that I had recognised her. I was in fact responding to what the Leader of the Opposition had said. By his comment about the preferences allegedly given to this particular nursing home, the Leader of the Opposition was himself making the imputation which had prompted my action. I have indicated to the Manager of Opposition Business that I will look at the precedent and the way in which former Speakers have dealt with questions like this and I will be happy to report to the Manager of Opposition Business. For the purpose of question time, the latter part of his question does not stand. I call the minister.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition is making precisely the same mistake as the minister. He has not been recognised.

Mr Beazley —On a point of order, Mr Speaker: it must be possible in this chamber to ask a question about a relationship between a decision—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. I have indicated that I intend to come back to the Manager of Opposition Business on this very matter. It has never been my intent, nor is it now, to thwart the opportunity of anyone in the House to ask appropriate questions. I call the minister.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Minister for Aged Care) —First and foremost, I have no idea whether or not this particular firm has made a donation to the Liberal Party, and furthermore, if I can say, presumably the Labor Party do not think that donations to political parties are immoral or they would not accept $5 million a year from the unions.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! Minister, I have ruled that part of the question out of order and I invite you to refer to—

Mr Reith —On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The fact of the matter is that the standing orders provide differently for questions and for answers—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr Reith —Those are the facts, and we attempt to run the place according to the standing orders.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the House will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr Reith —Mr Speaker, given that you have acknowledged that an imputation was made, it is perfectly reasonable in an answer for a minister to respond to that.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the House makes a valid point of order. I call the minister.

Mr McMullan —On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The standing orders say that the answer must be relevant to the question. The part of the question which you are seeking now to give the minister leave to answer is the part that you said is not properly part of the question and therefore cannot be answered; reference to that cannot be relevant. Might I add that that is exactly why I thought your ruling was wrong in the first place, because it leaves open precisely this sort of misleading reference by the Leader of the House which leads to the problem that is now occurring. May I make it very clear that we cannot have people being allowed to answer questions which you have ruled out of order.

Mr Reith —An answer has to be relevant; that is what the standing orders say. I put it to you that that is what the minister is being—entirely relevant.

Mr SPEAKER —The standing orders as they apply to questions and answers have been a matter for debate in this House for as long as I have been in the House. It is fair to say that the way in which questions are framed is determined by standing order 144 and that standing order 145 refers specifically to answers. I am sure that all members are familiar with both those standing orders. I invite the minister to come to the question.

Mr Price —On a point of order, Mr Speaker: you ruled out of order on the basis of imputation—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The member for Chifley will resume his seat.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I am not being assisted by the Leader of the Opposition or the member for Sydney. I call the member for Chifley.

Mr Price —When we raise the issue of donations to the Liberal Party, it is ruled out of order. When the minister raises donations from unions to the Labor Party, that is allowed.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Chifley will resume his seat. I have exercised the standing orders as they are provided. I invite the minister to return to the question.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Now to go to the substance of the question, which relates to the Templestowe Nursing Home, which the agency found to have serious risk and where action needed to be taken. The department and the agency had worked with the home and the management to bring it up to standard over a period of six months. It had worked with it assiduously and it was determined that, despite their good efforts, the provider would not meet the required standards. The approved provider was required to sell that business in order that the residents could have good continuity of care. The policy has remained the same under us as it was under the previous government.

Mr Martin Ferguson —We didn't have kerosene baths!

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Batman!

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —When licences are allocated to approved providers, they gain a capital gain when they sell those beds. That is the way the system has always been. Of course, it does underwrite any entitlements for employees who may leave their employ at the time.

To go to the sale to the new approved provider, the important thing is this: it has gone to an approved provider who does have a good track record within the industry. It is important, we consider, that we remove the serious risk and that we remove the impediments to good care rather than remove the residents. The point is that this particular purchaser has given notice that over time he intends to close that home at Templestowe, but under the act every resident must be placed in suitable alternative accommodation, and this will happen over a period of time. He may not merely close a home.

The second point that was raised by the Leader of the Opposition was the question of extra service. Extra service is permitted to take up only 12 per cent of all places that are allocated. In fact, it currently runs at about three per cent. Providers must apply within the round and it has to be approved within the department that there are sufficient other places available, particularly for concessional residents, before approval is given for extra-service places to be created. It is incumbent upon someone who applies for extra-service status to prove that they will in fact be giving extra service and that it is not merely what is required under the act. There are people within the community who are prepared to pay more for additional things. That is their choice, and choice is what we are concerned to see. The biggest choice we want is for people to be able to stay home as long as they possibly can, and that is why we have increased community aged care packages up to 25,000, which is an increase of 450 per cent on what you had.

I have to say that this system of ours that we have put in place, which has compliance rules and has both the agency and the department involved in seeing that compliance is met, is a successful system—one which the opposition and the Democrats voted on when it went through the Senate, when we implemented the new act. We have finetuned it since then. As I have said before, we will always find some people who fall below the standard and who need to be worked with in order for that standard to again be reached. We are concerned to remove the impediments to good care rather than remove residents.