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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 119

Senator COLBECK (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (8:23 PM) —The Aged Care Amendment (Transition Care and Assets Testing) Bill 2005 amends the Aged Care Act 1997 to implement two important measures in the coalition government’s Investing in Australia’s Aged Care: More Places, Better Care package. These amendments will benefit older Australians, particularly those living in residential aged care or considering entering residential aged care. The amendments support, firstly, the implementation of the transition care program and, secondly, the transfer of assets testing to Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

The transition care program, comprising 2,000 transition care places, will assist older people who, after a hospital stay, require more time and support in a non-hospital environment to complete the restorative process, optimise their functional capacity and consider their longer term care arrangements. This important program will ease pressures on health services for older Australians by providing greater access to a full range of aged care services in hospital, residential and community care. We have through these amendments ensured that, if any of these older Australians are living in residential care before they access the transition care program, they will have the peace of mind of knowing that they will be able to return to their aged care home after receiving the transition care. We have done this by creating a new category of leave from residential care for the purpose of receiving flexible care.

These amendments also provide for the responsibility for assets testing for residents and potential residents of aged care facilities to be transferred from approved providers to Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This change in the responsibility for assets testing is aimed at streamlining the administration of aged care. Approved providers will be relieved of the administrative burden of conducting assessments, freeing up staff to focus on delivering high-quality care to residents. Approved providers will have greater certainty as to their income, due to the experience and expertise that Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs have in conducting accurate and consistent assessments. The improvements in the integrity of the assets test will also be of substantial benefit to residents and potential residents.

These are but two of the suite of measures included in the coalition government’s $2.2 billion Investing in Australia’s Aged Care: More Places, Better Care 2004-05 package, the majority of which have been implemented. This package brings the government’s total investment in the care of older Australians to $30 billion over the next four years. There is $6.7 billion in 2004-05, rising to $8.2 billion in 2007-08, resulting in a total of $67 billion between 1996 and 2008. This demonstrates the coalition government’s strong commitment to ensuring a robust and viable aged care sector into the future, providing high-quality and affordable care to older Australians.

I would like to acknowledge the recognition by Senator McLucas and also by Senator Humphries of the study by Professor Len Gray, Stephen Duckett and others, entitled Trends in the use of hospital beds by older people in Australia: 1993-2002. I note that Senator McLucas called the study early and perhaps provisional work, but I think Senator Humphries noted, importantly, that the report found that, although the aged population increased by 18 per cent compared to the general population growth of 10 per cent during the period of the report, the proportion of hospital beds occupied by older people remained stable over that 10-year period. I acknowledge Senator Humphries comments on that.

In relation to giving confidence to the families of people who are going into aged care, I think Senator McLucas could have another look at the very strict accreditation process that the government has in place. As Senator Humphries said, Senator McLucas made comments against red tape and seemed to be suggesting further processes to assist families with confidence, although the accreditation process that aged care facilities go through is indeed very strict. I thank honourable senators for their contributions to the debate and I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.