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Monday, 20 August 2001
Page: 29745

Ms LIVERMORE (5:29 PM) —It is appropriate on a cold, miserable day like this one in Canberra today that I talk about one of the favourite parts of my electorate, the Capricorn Coast. The communities of Yeppoon and Emu Park are situated on the Capricorn Coast, a virtual paradise with one of the best lifestyles around. It is the sort of rapidly growing community you would think that this government would support in terms of meeting its aged care needs. Yet the Liberal Party, and let us not forget the National Party as well, have turned their backs on the Capricorn Coast. It is difficult to understand this neglect in such a vibrant community. Not even the typical coalition opportunism you would expect in a pre-election climate has spurred on this government to address aged care needs on the Capricorn Coast. I would welcome one of those prime ministerial backflips to address this problem.

Because of its lifestyle, the Capricorn Coast has become very popular amongst retirees. Retired people from other parts of Central Queensland and beyond move to the coast and establish a comfortable retirement surrounded by people with similar interests and supported by many community groups catering to retirees. The trend is clear and well established, but it is starting to create problems as the people who moved to the coast to retire age and find that the health and aged care services they need are not keeping pace with the demand. Unless aged care needs on the coast are addressed now, we will be failing the increasing number of people requiring aged care services in the future.

This issue has been firmly on the agenda for well over three years. I can remember as a candidate in 1998 being briefed by workers in the aged care sector on the coast about the desperate need for more places, especially in the area of dementia care. Of course, the handling of aged care in this country has gone from bad to worse over the intervening three years under Minister Bronwyn Bishop. When the minister is not capable of guaranteeing residents of some nursing homes the basics of personal hygiene and medical attention, I despair of her ability to manage issues such as the strategic planning of current and future needs or delivery of the thousands of phantom beds now sitting on blueprints from one end of regional Australia to the other but far from being turned into bricks and mortar.

We may well have to wait for a Beazley Labor government to establish the Medicare alliance to ensure that priorities are identified and needs are met. We may also have to wait for the Beazley Labor government to develop more effective models of delivery of aged care services to ensure that the needs of those requiring care are met. We may also have to wait for the Labor government to pursue alternatives to the present aged care planning regions, so that we can move towards a more integrated care system responsive to the needs of individual communities, rather than maps and spreadsheets in a Canberra office. But the longer the wait, the greater the problem will become.

While overall Fitzroy region figures show that bed numbers are above the national benchmark, the region is geographically large and diverse, and consequently the distribution of those beds means that the story in each community within the Fitzroy region can be quite different. For example, the Capricorn Coast figures are well below the national benchmark currently and, as a popular retirement destination for increasing numbers of people, the coast will be left well behind unless action is taken immediately.

Based on benchmark figures and using statistics compiled by a local consultant in 1999, the Capricorn Coast is experiencing a shortfall of 46 places. We have 1,769 people aged 70 and older in the Livingstone Shire and, with the benchmark being 100 places for 1,000 people aged 70 and older, we have a reasonable entitlement to 177 places. That translates to 159 residential and 18 community care packages. As it stands, we have only an unacceptable 110 residential places and 21 community packages. Sure, we have an excess of community packages, but our overall shortfall is too great. The pressure on beds on the Capricorn Coast is enormous. For example, the government nursing home attached to the Yeppoon Hospital has 40 beds, and I am told that it is constantly full. Some 15 per cent of the people aged 70 and over in the Fitzroy aged care planning region live in Livingstone Shire, but they only get 7.5 per cent of the high care beds in the region. It is important to remember that these are not meaningless figures on a piece of paper. Local nursing homes are feeling the pressure of high demand for high care places. At least one facility that I know of is providing care to residents over and above what they are funded for. The home is carrying the cost because of the management's commitment to residents and the knowledge that there is nowhere else for them to go.

The Capricorn Adventist Retirement Village presented me with a petition earlier this year to seek funding to operate a nursing home at the village to meet the growing need that it perceives. This petition has been brought to the minister's attention, and we will see in this current round of allocations whether the message has been heard. The Capricorn Adventist Retirement Village wants to build a dementia specific residential facility on site at the village and actually could have started building years ago. The management of the village has the capital but has been held back by the failure to obtain an allocation of recurrent funding for places— this, while phantom beds have been allowed to proliferate across the country. The management of the Capricorn Adventist Retirement Village wants to build this facility so that people resident at the moment in the independent units and in the hostel can age in place and, as they require higher levels of care, can stay near friends and family and in familiar surroundings.

Just last week the RSL announced its intention to apply for an allocation of places for an integrated facility incorporating low, high and dementia care units. I believe that, depending on the results of a local survey, the RSL is open to the idea of building either on the coast or in Rockhampton. Although I have specifically referred to these two providers, who have informed me of their plans, there is no question that I will lend my support to any aged care provider from the region who is willing to listen to the community and to propose a project based on the particular needs that have been identified.

I am very proud of the way this issue has been handled on the coast by the various aged care providers and the Livingstone Shire Council, who have put the needs of the community first. There has been a great deal of cooperation and recognition that the fight to secure aged care places is one that must be taken up by the whole community and the question of who actually delivers the service is a secondary consideration. As I said before, we are already playing catch-up when it comes to providing adequate aged care services on the Capricorn Coast, and we cannot afford to ignore the fact that pressure on those services will increase over time.

Projections based on four per cent growth are that in nine years time Livingstone Shire will have 2,515 people aged 70 or more. In 1996 Livingstone Shire had a population of 23,156, with 2,371, or 10.2 per cent, aged 65 or older. By 2016 the total population of Livingstone Shire is expected to almost double to 41,000, with the number of residents aged 65 expected to be more than 6,000, or 15 per cent. Can this government appreciate what this means if aged care services do not keep pace with the population growth?

Couples after many years of marriage are being split up in Central Queensland because there is not suitable care for both of them in the one place. In one case I know of, one spouse is in Yeppoon and the other is in Rockhampton. Rockhampton is about 40 kilometres away from Yeppoon, the main town on the Capricorn Coast, but for elderly people who have lived together for sometimes 50 or 60 years it might as well be 500 kilometres away. The one case in particular that I am thinking of involves Bernie Lee, a resident at the Capricorn Adventist Retirement Village, whose wife had to move to Rockhampton for appropriate care. He is driving up and down as regularly as he can, but he himself is an elderly man. It is really quite heartbreaking to think about the pain that the couple are going through because of their forced separation.

This trend towards the coastal communities for retirees is becoming very common. People set up their retirement, they make friends and they develop support around them and it is cruel and unfair to make them give all of that up once they age and become frail and require high levels of care. Just because they require high levels of care does not mean they love their spouse and family any less or have less need for the company and support of the friends they have made over the years. I think particularly of a friend of mine at the Capricorn Adventist Retirement Village, May Forrest. She is not a well lady—she has had a few setbacks over the last year—but all the time hanging over her head while she is trying to regain her strength and recover is the fact that she may have to leave behind the people she loves and move away into Rockhampton or even further away to get the care she requires should she not recover fully. It is not fair to have that hanging over her head.

In his defence of the total and utter rejection of the Country Liberal Party in the weekend's Northern Territory election, the Prime Minister has said that the election was decided on local issues. That is not a defence but a warning to the Prime Minister: voters do care about local issues and you do not get an issue any more local than this one. The question hanging over the heads of hundreds of elderly Capricorn Coast residents and their families is whether they will be able to access adequate and appropriate aged care services in their local community when the time comes. Will they be able to live out their lives surrounded by their loved ones in their local community?

The government has a perfect opportunity right now to start putting this shortage right. The Fitzroy planning region has been allocated 20 nursing home places, 30 hostel places and 10 community care packages. I call on the government to have a good look at the correspondence from the coast over the past three years and make a detailed analysis of the aged care needs that exist in that community. (Time expired)