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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 5757

Mr NEUMANN (1:37 PM) —I speak in support of the National Health Amendment (Continence Aids Payment Scheme) Bill 2010. The member for Dickson was critical in his speech of the Rudd government’s initiatives in relation to health and aged care, but the problems he mentioned have not been the experience of the constituents in the electorate of Blair, which I have the honour to represent in this House. In our area there has been substantial investment in health and ageing—in the 2008-09 budget, the 2009-10 budget, and the 2010-11 budget, which we have recently passed.

Incontinence is a real problem for some of our senior citizens and many in aged-care facilities and, while the member for Dickson was critical of what we are doing in relation to so much of the legislative agenda of the Rudd government, if he were to come to the electorate of Blair he would see in Ipswich and the rural areas outside significant investment in health, particularly in hospitals, such as the Ipswich General Hospital, and in aged-care facilities. We have some fantastic aged-care facilities in the electorate of Blair, such as Cabanda Aged Care at Rosewood, a rural area outside Ipswich City. The Rudd government is supporting 500 jobs in a $1.5 million election commitment to that facility. Another wonderful facility is Elim Village, part of the Queensland Baptist Care facility. Recently I was there to salute their service. There was a flagpole and a memorial set up there. There are many other fine facilities. Colthup Home in Ipswich is another great facility run by Queensland Baptist Care.

Many of the residents in our aged-care facilities across Australia suffer from the terrible embarrassment and difficulties of permanent and severe incontinence. This is defined as a frequent and uncontrollable moderate to large loss of urine or faeces which impacts upon a person’s quality of life and is unlikely to improve with medical, surgical or clinical treatment regimes. The definition in the new scheme we are establishing is the same as in the old, but the legislation before the House is about improving open markets and flexibility and choice for those poor people who are suffering from this embarrassing problem.

All of us in this place have relatives, and all of us in this place have had senior relatives suffering from illness, disease and other ailments. My father, who died earlier this year, suffered this problem significantly in the latter part of his life. He suffered from prostate cancer for seven years before he died in January this year, and I know the embarrassment, the difficulties, the troubles and travails that he had in his personal life as he went through the last 18 months of being bedridden and having problems of incontinence. This is a problem which affects the families, relatives and friends of politicians and all other people in Australia. It is a serious problem for many people in this country. I am pleased that the coalition is supporting this initiative as it deserves bipartisan support.

We are introducing the Continence Aids Payment Scheme, which will replace the current Continence Aids Assistance scheme. The bill will allow the Minister for Ageing, the Hon. Justine Elliott, to formulate a Continence Aids Payment Scheme through a legislative instrument, as the member for Dickson said. It will allow the Commonwealth to make payments to eligible persons under that new scheme and will ensure an adequate process is put in place to facilitate the transfer of clients from one scheme to another and to provide information and news so that people understand what is happening. There will be a transition process. Power is conferred on the Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing and the Medicare Australia CEO to request information in relation to the provision of payments under the scheme in order that there be an adequate and appropriate auditing of the scheme.

The bill delivers on the commitment we made in the 2009-10 budget. The cost of such a scheme, obviously, has to be demand driven. People do not choose to suffer from this problem, and it causes them significant embarrassment and difficulties in their personal lives. The payment is made through a special standing appropriation under the National Health Act 1953. The National Health Act provides the legislative framework for the provision of services to the Australian public, whether they are medical, dental, pharmaceutical or other types of services. We are seeing a legislative change which will enable a new scheme to be put in place. The funding will be made available through the special appropriation. The CAPS payments will be up to $489.95 for the 2010-11 financial year and will continue to be adjusted, obviously, with indexation.

We are providing greater flexibility and choice for recipients under this scheme. Currently, they are stuck with simply having to use one particular provider. This will provide more consumer choice. Consumers will be in a better position to control their destiny, and that is a good thing in the circumstances. The minister in her second reading speech made reference to the fact that promotion of consumer choice and control is consistent with the government’s Charter of Rights and Responsibilities for Community Care released in 2009. This is also a worthy aspect of the government’s legislative framework and agenda. There is a bit of mythology perpetuated by those opposite that Labor governments do not promote choice, do not promote competition and do not support open markets. I have never subscribed to that view. I think that is simply nonsense. Labor governments are every bit about improving the power of consumers and their ability to decide their destiny. Independence or autonomy is particularly important for individuals, no matter whether they are young or old, no matter whether they have sickness or injury and no matter whether they enjoy good health.

The Continence Aids Payments Scheme is not a reimbursement scheme. Clients of the scheme will not be required to produce receipts. Of course, the CAPS payment will not affect a person’s income. Income tax exemption has been approved for CAPS. The Department of Health and Ageing will write directly to all existing clients under the old scheme to ensure that they understand and have information about the transition. Professionals such as doctors and other allied health workers associated with those patients or clients will also be notified. Intouch Direct, which is the sole provider for continence services under the old scheme, will continue to offer their services and products but they will suffer and endure what most other companies and businesses have to go through—that is, they will be faced with competition. Of course, clients can choose to purchase products from Intouch, if they wish to.

The CAP Scheme is designed to help people with permanent and severe incontinence meet some of their costs. No government, coalition or Labor, has ever aimed to ensure that the full costs of a client of the scheme would be covered. The scheme provides assistance. It is a helping hand to those people who suffer from this problem. In the Department of Health and Ageing forward estimates on the financial impact of the changes to the scheme, the figures range from approximately $40 million to $46 million per annum over the next four years. I think that is a small price to pay to assist people who are suffering from this problem. This assistance will improve their life and lifestyle. It will allow them to enjoy recreational activities as well as other opportunities at home, outside the home and in the workplace.

To provide people with choice and assistance is, I think, a decent and humane thing to do. It is the Australian thing to do. I welcome the fact that the coalition supports this legislation. It will support the lives of thousands of Australians who are suffering from this problem, and it will make a big difference in helping to ensure that they live their lives to the full and that they enjoy an abundant and fruitful retirement and that the years left in their life’s journey are also abundant and fruitful.