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Wednesday, 21 August 1985
Page: 53

Senator MESSNER(10.20) —I will be very brief. Although I was not a member of the Senate Select Committee on Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes I feel that there are a number of matters in the statement made by the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) which need some further examination. The Minister has drawn attention to a number of the basic problems that exist in this whole area of nursing home development and private hospital ownership in this country, but nowhere do we see any response from the Minister which indicates any line of action that will solve the problems which are quite clearly out in the open and have been exposed by the Senate Committee's report.

I draw the Senate's attention to the paragraph at the bottom of page 1 of the Minister's statement in which he speaks of redressing the imbalance between nursing home care and hostel and community care. That is merely a motherhood statement with which all of us would agree. The problem is in knowing what it is that the Government has in mind in terms of the mechanisms by which that imbalance will be or can be redressed. That is where the concern of the community lies right at this very moment. The Government, in the mini-Budget in May, took action to put a freeze upon nursing home benefits in South Australia and Victoria. In those two States there is enormous concern at the availability of beds and the fact that people are suffering hardship. Those States are unable to find beds into which to put people who are in need of these services. That is the practical effect of the Government's indecision and inaction in this area. Continually we see the Government failing to take action on issues such as this and merely putting off the evil day until it has been through its so-called reviews of these various matters. One of the worst examples of the Government's procrastination in this area is right before us in this very case.

The emphasis that the Government has put upon the development of the home and community care program has been exposed as a fraud since it was first announced in the Budget of 1984. This continued reiteration by the Government as the solution to every problem in the area of aged and frail aged care is an absolute nonsense. There has been no commitment of resources of any great value to that area and, consequently, we cannot see that as the long term solution to the problem. Government members might, at some stage or other, stand in this place and explain to the Senate and the people of Australia what it is that they believe they can achieve through the introduction of the home and community care program which will take pressure off those people in the frail aged category who are in desperate need of nursing home accommodation.

I believe that this Government has failed desperately to show its concern for the frail aged. That has been evidenced by the action that it has taken over the assets test and numerous other proposals that it has introduced. It has offered, at the same time, no solutions whatever to the long term problems that exist in this country. I hope that the Government will take this very widespread concern, which is now evident in the community, as evidence that it is in desperate trouble in dealing with the electorate on this matter. Hopefully the Government will announce before too long some permanent and long term approaches in this area.

Before I sit down I would like to reiterate that, unfortunately, the kinds of directions that the Government has announced in the statement, vague as they are, do indicate an obsession with the bureaucratic approach rather than a bit of lateral thinking and thinking through the basic problems that are inherent in the handling of the problems of the frail aged. I am very concerned that the Government has headed right down the wrong direction in this regard as it has with so many other initiatives in the area of the frail aged and of the aged generally.

Question resolved in the affirmative.