Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Ageing, Senator Santoro. Would the minister outline to the Senate what measures the Howard government is putting in place to enhance the security of residents in Australia’s aged care facilities and the quality of care being provided in these facilities?
I thank Senator Adams for her continuing interest in matters of ageing, particularly the quality of care that is provided within Australia’s Commonwealth-funded aged care facilities. I think it is fair to say, and I am not overstating my own case, that since I became Minister for Ageing about a year ago I have seen my primary mission, my major objective, as enhancing and securing the safety and the quality of care of the residents. There are approximately 170,000 residents within our aged care facilities. Since that time, we have secured $100 million in new money to bring in a quality enhancement and security package of additional measures to bring about that enhanced security. That particular regime is now beginning to kick in, and I want to inform the Senate of some of the very significant parts of that regime.
The first relates to unsupervised access to residents. To protect residents from any undesirable unsupervised access, we have instituted a system of police checks. That means that new staff and volunteers will have to have police checks from 1 March 2007. Existing staff will have to have had a police check or to have lodged an application with police from 1 June 2007 and all existing volunteers will have to have had a police check or to have lodged an application by 1 September 2007. By 30 September 2007 all approved providers must submit a declaration to the department stating that they have met the police check requirements. That is a very significant regulatory regime which the vast majority of the industry accepts has been—although a burden and a small extra cost—very desirable from the point of view of looking after our most precious citizens, the nation builders, the people who are ageing within our aged care facilities.
Amendments to the aged care principal legislation, which will be dealt with within this chamber very shortly, also require police checks for contractors who may have unsupervised access to care recipients, including, I should stress, aged care personnel who were brought on by being hired though agencies.
So you can see that, without wanting to be overly prescriptive or restrictive, we have sought to cover the bases, again, in very strong consultation with the industry—particularly the leadership of the industry—but also talking to specific providers. We have sought to finetune our arrangements in a way that is satisfactory to the industry, while still looking after the very real needs of the people in our aged care facilities.
Also, as many senators would know, from July last year the government significantly increased random spot checks. And they are random spot checks. In fact, I have been advised that between July and December 2006—and this will be of great interest to senators—there were 1,543 random checks. The significance of that figure will be very fully understood by all senators when I say that this compares with 886 for financial year 2005-06. That is a most significant achievement by this government, and we are very grateful for the understanding of the industry. It has subjected itself to that extra but necessary regulatory burden which, more than just about anything else that we have done, guarantees security and helps to maintain confidence within the aged care industry. I thank the industry for its mature and supportive approach to these very significant government measures.