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Thursday, 24 February 2011
Page: 1455

Dr STONE (4:48 PM) —I want to read parts of the contents of a letter I received very recently from Kyabram and District Health Services on the problems they are experiencing in providing excellent aged-care services to the community. They write:

As an aged care provider, who is committed to provision of high quality care, I wish to bring to your urgent attention a matter of critical importance to our aged care industry.

Older Australians, the people who made this country great, are being let down by the Federal Government’s failure to address the funding crisis in aged and community care.

As the numbers of older people have increased over the past decade, funding to meet the real costs of providing services and accommodation has fallen.

This year the increase in subsidies for aged care was only 1.7 per cent when the cost of living indicators have risen by 2.9 per cent, utilities in some states have gone up by as much as 10 per cent and the minimum wage has been lifted by 4.8 per cent.

As an aged care provider, we cannot make these numbers work, and older people are the losers.

On behalf of older Australians we welcome the Productivity Commission inquiry into aged care and look forward to working with Government on major reforms, but significant change takes time and older people don’t have that luxury.

I could not concur more strongly with their observations of how hard it is for community aged-care services to survive right now financially. No amount of volunteering and good intentions in a community can cover the costs of extra salaries and wages, the higher prices of utilities and the higher prices of calling out medical support.

There is a crisis, in fact, in rural Australia in relation to aged-care services being affordable and viable. That is because a lot of these services are very small. Right across my electorate of Murray I have some 52 towns with fewer than 1,000 people, and often travelling between those towns is a half-hour-plus drive. Many of those very small towns have aged-care facilities and it is not right that they should be closed and that people’s families should have to drive hours to a city to visit their loved ones in their oldest age.

Today all of us, I believe, in parliament received a begging letter from the Victorian division of Alzheimer’s Australia. They stress the fact that an epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease is occurring. Each day in Victoria 53 new cases of Alzheimer’s or dementia are diagnosed. In total, there are some 66,000 people in Victoria suffering from dementia and in need of special care. Unfortunately, the Productivity Commission report which the Kyabram service referred to did not in its 42 recommendations once deal specifically with the issue of dementia. Dementia care needs the highest priority attention across Australia, but we do not have the Productivity Commission focusing on the issues of dementia and ageing at all.

Not only are staff salaries increasing at a rate that is unaffordable for most of my aged-care facilities but also there is a massive shortage of staff working in aged care. We all know that country students who train for professional occupations such as nursing—and particularly those who train to become division 1 and division 2 nurses—are most likely to then practise their skills in the country. If they are born and bred in the country, they work in the country, particularly mature age students who enter nursing when, as is often the case, they need to find a source of off-farm alternative income.

Unfortunately, as we know, this government has been unable to meet the needs of rural students through giving them an appropriate level of support in going to other places, such as a capital city, in order to train. Just today, two months late, we have been given information about the tertiary hardship support grants of just $3,000. That $3,000 is meant to extend over the three years of an undergrad’s training. It will help a little, but in no way will it compensate for the $20,000 a year that it costs to live away from home for study.

I need to remind the government that we have a crisis in aged care. We have a crisis of funding that is not being met with the increases in support from this federal government. We have a crisis in the number of skilled staff available to work in aged care. This government is not doing the hard yards to make sure that we have a new generation of trained nurses who can afford to train away from home initially but who will later come back to the country areas, if they have been born and bred there, to fill the needs. (Time expired)