Thursday, 10 December 2020
Aged Care Amendment (Aged Care Recipient Classification) Bill 2020; Second Reading
It is a pleasure to rise today in the Senate to speak in support of the Aged Care Amendment (Aged Care Recipient Classification) Bill 2020. This bill amends the Aged Care Act 1997 to enable a new procedure, from 1 March next year, to classify recipients of residential aged care and some types of flexible care. The bill introduces the option to independently assess the relative care needs of individuals in residential aged care by empowering the Secretary of the Department of Health to assess care recipients using a new assessment tool and to process assessment results to assign new classification levels.
During the information-gathering period the bill allows, providers will continue to use the existing Aged Care Funding Instrument to assess their residents in parallel with the new procedure established by the bill. The bill responds to sustained criticism from care providers, statutory authorities and academic researchers of how care recipients are currently classified, with residential aged-care providers being required to regularly assess residents using the outdated Aged Care Funding Instrument.
To that end, I must thank the work of my Tasmanian colleague and aged-care minister Senator Richard Colbeck for all that he is doing in this space. We've spoken many, many times in this place, and I know that I've made contributions before in this chamber about the state of aged care in this country. We know that aged care is one of these things that, in some way shape or form, will touch the lives of most Australians, whether they are in aged care themselves or they have a relative or close friend in an aged-care facility. We know just how important it is that we get this right. That is one of the reasons that we are running a royal commission into the aged-care sector—so that we know what the issues are and we can appropriately respond. I thank Senator Colbeck for all of the work that he is doing in this area.
On that note of the aged-care royal commission, I was having a glance through the Community Affairs Legislation Committee report on this legislation before I rose to speak today. This legislation was referred to that committee on 12 November this year, and their report was tabled on 2 December, and authored by another of my great Tasmanian colleagues and chair of that committee Senator Wendy Askew. That report recommended that the bill be passed, and I certainly hope that the Senate echoes the sentiments of that report in its deliberations here today. Reading through that report on the bill we're debating here today, I want to home in on a couple of quotes which really stood out to me. The Community Affairs Legislation Committee report said:
… the bill's provisions to be an important mechanism to allow the aged care sector and the government to quickly and adequately respond to the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety—
which, as Senate Siewert echoed in her contribution, will be reporting very early in the new year. On the last sitting day of 2020, I think it's very appropriate that we come to this place to debate this legislation and ensure that it is passed, so that everything that needs to be in place for us to respond to the royal commission in early 2021 is, indeed, in place. As I said before, we know that aged care is something that touches the lives of so many Australians. We've had the royal commission so that we know what the issues are, what we need to get right. If the bill that we're debating here today will help us adapt to the royal commission as 'quickly and adequately' as possible, to quote the legislation committee's report, then that is only a good thing. On that basis I do hope that the bill passes the Senate today.
The Community Affairs Legislation Committee report also said that the bill 'paves the way for a more modern, efficient and stable approach to funding in the residential aged-care sector'. I think that's a really important point for us all to reflect upon here today. Since the 2016 budget, the government has committed to developing and testing a lasting alternative to the Aged Care Funding Instrument. A potential replacement of the Aged Care Funding Instrument now exists. It is called the Australian National Aged Care Classification, or the AN-ACC. The bill that we're debating here today builds on the successful AN-ACC trial conducted in 2019 and early 2020 and will allow a new classification using the AN-ACC tool to be determined for the entire residential aged-care population without affecting how the subsidy for providers is calculated. This is an essential step in preparing to respond to the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, as was detailed in the Senate committee report.
Funding for the new AN-ACC assessors was announced in the 2020 budget. All assessors will have to meet strict professional qualifications and additional training criteria, which will be detailed in subordinate legislation. The classification data obtained from these assessments will ensure that individuals, care workers, providers and the government all have the information they need to fully understand the new funding model. The AN-ACC assessment and classification procedures will create an important dataset to aid understanding of frailty issues in the residential aged-care population. They will, for example, allow a comparison of how quickly or slowly the health status of people with like care needs declines. The government recognises that the benefit of this data for monitoring and research purposes does not require care recipients to be identified and is introducing amendments to ensure that personal information cannot be published, in writing or otherwise, to protect the privacy of residents. I think that's a very important safeguard to have in place.
This bill enables the next phase of residential aged-care funding reform. It sets the stage for a quick and seamless transition to a more contemporary, efficient, effective and stable funding approach that will promote investment in residential aged-care refurbishment and expansion and will support providers to better deliver the individualised care that each resident needs.
I said at the start of my remarks that aged care is something that impacts on the lives of all Australians. We as a government are firmly committed to ensuring that our aged-care sector delivers for those Australians that it impacts and for its cohort. That's why the 2021 budget includes the delivery of 23,000 additional home-care packages, at a cost of $1.6 billion, in addition to the 6,000-odd packages announced in July, at a cost of more than $325 million.
We've invested more than $746 million in aged-care COVID-19 response measures as part of the $1.6 billion aged-care specific COVID support package and we've invested slightly over $408 million for aged-care reform initiatives to improve the quality of care, further respond to the urgent issues raised by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and lay the foundations for future reform. As I say, this is such an important area to get right and that's why we're having a royal commission, so that we understand what the issues are and so that we can ensure that our aged-care sector provides for all Australians. The bill that we're debating here today is just part of that, and the budget measures that I ran through are likewise part of that. I do commend the work of Senator Colbeck in this space, to ensure that our aged-care sector is appropriate and does provide quality care for those Australians who seek to or may have the need to use it.
In summary, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak on the Aged Care Amendment (Aged Care Recipient Classification) Bill 2020. As I said, the passage of this bill will ensure that this government can respond quickly and adequately to the findings of the aged-care royal commission when they are tabled in the very near future. We know that this is important, we know that this is something we have to get right and, on that basis, I commend the bill to the Senate.