Thursday, 9 February 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator Santoro, the Minister for Ageing. I refer the minister to my question yesterday about compliance with the 1999 fire safety standards for aged care facilities. Does the minister recall his answer when he said that there were only 10 nursing homes that did not meet these standards? Can the minister now confirm that this answer was completely wrong? Isn’t it actually the case that approximately 700 aged care facilities do not meet the 1999 fire safety standards? Wasn’t 31 December 2005 supposed to be the absolute deadline for compliance with these standards? What sanctions will be applied against those aged care facilities that still do not meet the fire safety standards? Can the minister absolutely unequivocally guarantee the safety of over 40,000 Australians who are residing in homes that do not meet fire safety standards?
As Senator McLucas very well knows, what I was referring to yesterday was that as of 1 February 2006 there were 10 homes that did not fully comply with state, territory or local government fire regulations.
These homes were referred to the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency, as Senator McLucas would expect us to do, for monitoring and assessment against accreditation standards. All 10 homes have building works in progress and have been placed on timetables for improvement by the agency pending completion of the schedule. That is what I was referring to yesterday.
With regard to the other aspects of Senator McLucas’s question, including fire safety standards, Senator McLucas and others on the other side of this place would know that approved providers of the Australian government funded aged care homes are required to ensure their homes meet the relevant state, territory and local government fire safety standards. In 1997, in addition to those standards, the government introduced building certification—
to further improve building quality, and all homes are certified. In 1999, this government, not the previous government, after a once-off payment of $513 million, further increased the quality standard for certification consistent with the 10-year forward plan agreed to by industry representatives to improve the quality of aged care homes. This government takes its responsibilities very seriously by putting up $513 million—
Mr President, I apologise, but the minister is misleading the Senate again on a very serious matter. It is a very serious misleading of the Senate, compounding yesterday’s effort.
I am answering the question on fire safety by Senator McLucas and indicating that when this government came to power we had to, including up until last year, provide $513 million to fix up the mess that has been left behind by the previous Labor government and their state counterparts. I can inform Senator McLucas that, as opposed to her futile efforts, my website is going to be updated regularly, as you would want it. Ask me another question after it is updated this coming Friday. I can inform Senator McLucas that as of today 2,354 residential aged care homes—which constitutes 80 per cent; make a note of it—have demonstrated that they meet the 1999 standard, which is more significant than the 1997 standard and more significant than any other standards that your counterparts, when they were on these benches, had in place.
Since the end of December, again referring to Senator McLucas’s question, which I was not expecting, the department has been processing the large amount of information that has been received from providers, the bulk of which have building works in progress.
What my department is doing is working cooperatively—including, I should say, with the ACT, Northern Territory and other state governments—to improve the standards of residential care for aged people. That is what we are going to do. We are going to be constructive. You can come in here and nitpick. I would like to ask Senator McLucas: where is her policy? They do not have a policy; what they have is a collection of motherhood statements on an election manifesto. When you put your aged care policy on the ALP website, we can have a serious discussion.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. When did the minister first become aware that he misled the Senate? Doesn’t the minister know that it is the accepted convention of the Senate that a minister should correct the record as soon as they become aware that an answer is wrong? Didn’t the minister have the opportunity to correct the record at one minute past three yesterday, at 3.30 yesterday and again at 9.30 this morning? Is the minister so embarrassed by his gaffe of not knowing the difference between fire safety standards and the aged care accreditation scheme that he cannot bring himself to face up to his colleagues and the Senate and admit his mistake?
An opposition senator interjecting—