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Thursday, 22 August 1996
Page: 2942

Senator NEAL(3.15 p.m.) —I took note of Senator Newman's earlier comment that this budget was a caring budget. All I can say in response is that, if this is a caring budget, she certainly knows how to kill with love. A few comments have been made by some people in the community who really do care—and they are not overwhelmingly supportive. I would like to read an extract of an article that appeared today relating to comments made by ACOSS. It states:

Welfare groups yesterday accused the government of betraying unemployed youth and of unfairly hurting low income earners with spending cuts in the budget. The Australian Council of Social Service said that low income earners were the target of 30 per cent of the principal cuts. The ACOSS paper tallied cuts in labour market programs, social security, health and family services, Aboriginal affairs, education, and the justice system. It found that of the $11 billion in significant cuts over the next two years $3.4 billion would mainly hit low income earners

What did Mr Howard say in response to this? He dismissed the criticism, saying that he had `kept the core promises'. Obviously, there are a number of things that he does not consider to be core promises—and certainly Senator Newman does not either. She obviously thinks commitments to the elderly people and the less well-off elderly people in our community are not core promises.

Let us look at what this budget has done to elderly people in the community. Look at the concessional pharmaceutical benefits. There have been cuts to those for pensioners and health card holders—an extra 50c each time. As we know, pensioners use a lot of prescriptions. They are probably the biggest users of prescriptions in the community. Is that 50c each pop, each prescription being compen sated for? No. It is being taken out of pensioners' pockets and they are not getting anything back.

Where else have pensioners lost out? The Commonwealth dental scheme has been abolished—a scheme that was set up to deal with the waiting list of pensioners and health card holders. Before this scheme was introduced, the states had a scheme that had a 24-month waiting list. Do you know what that meant? It meant that pensioners who had problems with their teeth had those teeth extracted; there was no time to give them treatment. That is what we are going back to. Pensioners will have to either go in there and have quick treatment, a quick extraction, or, alternatively, pay for themselves. Has this loss to be suffered by elderly people been compensated for? No.

Let us look at HACC services. The minister, after a day, was able to work out what had happened to HACC services—or at least some part of it. She came in and told us that there would be more money in there. That is fabulous. But the only problem is that every individual will have to pay for those services. In the line items in the budget, it says `increase user charging in the home and community care program'. So what you are saying is that everyone who uses HACC services—the frail and the aged, the young and the disabled—will have to pay more in user charges. But that is not where the pain stops.

Senator Newman —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I am being misrepresented by Senator Neal. Yesterday in question time I gave the lie to exactly what she is now claiming. I did not say that everybody would be required—and the government is not requiring everybody—to pay for HACC services.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —That is not a point of order. If you wish to claim that you have been misrepresented, you can do so at the end of the speech.

Senator Knowles interjecting

Senator NEAL —Thank you! Unfortunately, that is not where the pain stops for the elderly; that is not where the broken promises for the elderly stop in this budget. Nursing home entry fees! The more they squeal, the more you know it is true. You have introduced or allowed to be introduced nursing home entry fees. Yes, we do not know the exact amount of these fees because the minister will not tell us. None of the people in private industry know because the minister cannot tell them. But, on average, present entry fees for hostels are $26,000. So it is reasonable to assume that it will be much the same in relation to nursing homes. But, again, that is not the worst of it. The maximum they can charge you is $88,000. Minister, you may feel that it is caring to charge elderly people $88,000 to get into a nursing home—but, personally, I do not think it is.

Where else have you broken your promises? You have also taken away the funds for the loans provision for capital works for nursing homes. The elderly do not need that assistance; we will take that money away and put it somewhere else. You are also having introduced nursing home fees of $34 a day for anyone who earns more than $1 over the pensioner free zone; they have to pay $34 a day or $12,000 a year.

That is not where the broken promises finish. The public health system upon which low income earners rely entirely—and in particular pensioners—has also been hit. Not only have you taken away $150 million a year in general purpose grants announced at the Premiers Conference, but you have also taken away in this budget—this `caring' budget—a further $230 million. (Time expired)