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Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Page: 2447

Senator DEAN SMITH (Western AustraliaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (18:41): I've come to the Senate this evening to make a contribution on this Aged Care Amendment (Movement of Provisionally Allocated Places) Bill 2019 because I think it is important to put on the public record, to put on the record of the Senate, what is in fact the real story around aged-care funding in our country and, more particularly, what is the successful story of aged-care funding in our country following the election of the coalition government. If you listened closely to what the previous speaker, Senator Watt, had to say you could hear that temptation to resort to scare tactics, the sort of commentary that is designed not to have a significant input into the policy debate but to unnecessarily scare and spook older Australians, and by extension their families, around what is happening with regard to access to home care packages in our country.

The story of the development of a modern aged-care system is, I think, a story of two elements. The first is the introduction of much greater transparency into how our aged-care system works. I remember back in the very late 1990s and early 2000s that a key element of that transparency was the proper reporting and policing of aged-care homes and the establishment of the Aged Care Quality Standards Agency—I think that's what it was called. It had the responsibility of not just policing and raising the level of standards in residential aged-care homes but, importantly, making those reports transparent. What we saw as a result of that initiative, a Howard government initiative, was better standards in aged-care homes because standards became transparent. Because of that transparency, an unfortunate breach of those standards became very apparent, so people in residential aged-care homes and their families could see good aged-care homes being operated in our country but also those that needed much greater care and attention. I think that has been a particularly significant development of the Australian aged-care system.

The other element, and it has been touched on here today, is access to public funding—the minister is in the chamber. This has meant that as those small numbers of Australians who require residential aged care—I think it is still only between eight and 10 per cent of older Australians who actually require residential aged care—reach that point, they get a residential aged-care service that is of a high quality that meets their needs, particularly as they start to enter higher levels of frailty, therefore requiring residential aged care and support. Of course, I think a subset of that is the growth in demand and the growth in the provisioning for home care packages—that is, the desire that older Australians have to stay in their homes for as long as they possibly can, to be cared for in their homes for as long as they can and, hopefully, to avoid going into residential aged care and having their families avoid the stress of having to make some of those difficult choices around residential aged care.

I think it's important to put on the record this evening what the story is with regard to waiting times. I emphasise this point: this debate is a product of transparency. This debate exists not because it's a new issue but because it is more transparent to people now than it has been in the past. It's transparent because the coalition government has taken a conscious policy position to make the issue more transparent. It is wrong to suggest that the challenges did not exist in previous governments. I'd argue the point that they did exist; they were just invisible to many people.

Let's just have a look at some of the facts in the brief time that's available to us tonight. What we know is that, in the end of the financial year data of 2018-19, there were some 125,117 Australians who had access to home care packages, compared to 99,932 at the same time last year. That is a 25 per cent increase in just one year—an increase in the access that Australians have to home care packages. I don't know about anyone else, but I would consider that a success. I would consider that a measure that gives older Australians and their families increased security and increased certainty, not less. What does that mean? That means that over 97 per cent of senior Australians waiting for a package at their assessed level have been offered some support from the Commonwealth government.

This idea that somehow people are not being supported is just untrue. Ninety-seven per cent of senior Australians waiting for a package at their assessed level have been offered support from the Commonwealth government. This is also important, and this is important because, if this is what has been achieved in three months, imagine what will be achieved in 12 months or during the course of this term for the Morrison government. The list of people waiting has gone down by seven per cent in just three months—from 129,000 to 119,000. I would regard that as a successful outcome in just three months. Others will be able to tell you what the trend of that would mean over 12 months and over the course of the term of this government. It's important to recognise that a very, very clear and conscious priority of this government is to give Australians greater access to home care and greater access to residential care.

In the interest of fairness, I think it is important to demonstrate that aged-care issues have been top of mind for various governments for a long period of time, and we know that, as the Australian population continues to age, the demand for home care and residential aged-care services is going to increase. And, importantly, what is also going to increase is their level of expectation about the quality of that care, so that's why it's particularly important for choice to be added to the aged-care system so that people can choose where they might get their services from, who they might get their services from and the quality of that care that they get.

I think it's worth demonstrating to people just how far we have come. In 2012-13, the last years of the Labor government, there were just 60,000 home care packages—just 60,000. That increased to 124,000 in 2018-19 and is expected to grow again to 157,000 in 2022-23. What does that mean? That means a 161 per cent increase. Now, if you were listening only to the contributions of senators on the other side, you would think that less money had been going to aged care—not true. You would be thinking that the quality of aged care in our country is diminishing—not true. You would think that the waiting time is a recent or new policy challenge—not true. Waiting times are a product of transparency in the system.

Let's think about this: when Labor had an opportunity just a few months ago to talk about aged care, what did they do? What did they say? At the last election, Labor provided no additional funding in their costings for home care places and no additional funding for aged-care quality, workforce or residential aged care. It's a little bit rich, even for Senator Watt—a Labor senator from Queensland, which is worth footnoting because Labor got a very, very big whack on 18 May in Queensland—and others to come to this chamber and talk about improvements to workforce, improvements to quality, improvements to care standards and concerns about waiting lists when just three months or so ago in the lead-up to 18 May they had an opportunity to put their best foot forward, and what did we get? No additional funding in their costings for home care places and no additional funding for aged-care quality, workforce or residential aged care.

I could go on all evening but I'm sure we are just seeing the beginning of Labor's attempts to make aged care their latest scare campaign—to make aged-care concerns increasingly worrisome for older Australians and their families when there's no need for that. I'm sure we'll be debating these issues over the course of the next few months and during the course of this term. But, just to remind people, it is totally untrue to suggest there's been a reduction in aged-care funding. It's totally untrue that Australians have cause for concern about the quality of their aged-care services into the future. The coalition's record of achievement is strong. It's a record of achievement that's been delivered by previous aged-care ministers Kevin Andrews and Julie Bishop and Minister Colbeck, who is in the chamber now. The coalition's record is strong when it comes to providing consistent funding for improved quality in our aged-care services and to making sure Australian families have real quality choices when they come to make those very, very difficult decisions about how to care for their ageing parents into the future.