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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 80

Senator McLUCAS (2:51 PM) —My question is to Senator Patterson, the Minister representing the Minister for Ageing. Is the minister aware that the Department of Health and Ageing is currently running a nationwide competitive tender process for community care services for people with a disability, for elderly Australians and for their carers? Why has the Howard government allocated less than three weeks, which include the Easter holidays, for this tender process? Does the minister understand that this short time frame, along with the extremely complex 100-page tender document, may well jeopardise the continuity of services like respite, telephone information services, continence advice and carer support services across the country? Minister, will the government guarantee that no person with a disability or an older Australian will lose their community care service as a result of this ideologically driven and thoughtless tender process? Will the minister intervene to ensure a fair and proper tender process?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —Let me just say that Ms Bishop, I am sure, is very aware of the tender process and very aware of the time frame. What we are about is actually delivering services, not delaying the delivery of services. Senator McLucas, I do not have the details of the tender process. I will pass your comments on to Ms Bishop, but I am sure she is aware of the tender process. But, if you look at the situation in which Labor left the area of aged care and community services, you see that we were short about 10,000 aged care beds. I will not go through the list of appalling conditions in aged care then. Labor has no record on which to stand in this area. I will pass on Senator McLucas’s comments, but I would have every confidence and would not take at first glance what Senator McLucas has said is an issue.

I will pass on the comments to Ms Bishop. I am sure she is aware of the tender process and wants it to go ahead as fast as possible to ensure that we can roll out services to older people—unlike the states, who, with $72½ million for older carers, are dillydallying, and every day that they dillydally older carers with sons and daughters with a disability are waiting for respite. That is the record of Labor: dillydally, don’t make decisions, don’t come up to the plate when they are offered $72½ million to give to older carers who have cared for their sons and daughters year in and year out. Yet Senator McLucas gets up and criticises Ms Bishop because she has a tender process that is looking at speeding up the delivery of services to older people. The state ministers could take a leaf out of Ms Bishop’s book and actually do something about some of the areas that I mentioned when I was answering a question from Senator Heffernan.

Senator McLUCAS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the minister that these are currently operating services—that the minister is requiring them to tender for services that they are currently providing. These are services that are out there now. Can the minister confirm that this tender process relates to community care services which will operate from 1 July this year? Will the minister guarantee that, if an existing provider is unsuccessful with their tender, a transition period will be in place so that staff of these essential services who lose their jobs are given sufficient time to find alternative employment? Can the minister also guarantee the continuity of these essential community care services to disabled and elderly Australians during any transition period of providers?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —What I want to say is that I do not want Senator McLucas to go out and scaremonger, as she did in estimates, about disabled services and home and community care for children.

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The minister admitted on the primary question that she did not know anything about it. She then had a three-minute rave and made no attempt to answer the question. She is now starting to have another rave without any attempt to answer the question. Question time, surely, is about ministers responding to the questions, Mr President. I ask you to draw her to order and ask her to answer the question.

The PRESIDENT —Senator, I repeatedly inform the Senate that I cannot direct a minister how to answer a question, but I can remind the minister of the question—and remind you also, Minister, that there are 47 seconds left to complete your answer.

Senator PATTERSON —They do not like to hear what one of their colleagues has done—using vulnerable, disabled children. Obviously, there will be a scaremongering campaign. Ms Bishop is rolling out services to ensure continuity of services, ensuring that we do not have a record like Labor’s, which was absolutely atrocious in the area of home and community care and aged care. What we are seeing—

Senator George Campbell —At least we didn’t have kerosene baths!

Senator PATTERSON —I heard a comment over there. Former Senator Bishop closed down over 200 appalling nursing homes; Labor did not close them down. There were places that we went into where I was ashamed. So we stand by our record on getting rid of aged care that was not appropriate. (Time expired)