Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Ageing, Senator Santoro. I ask the minister to advise the Senate of measures the Howard government is taking to assist elderly Australians who choose to stay in their homes with greater choice and care options. Is the minister aware of any alternate views in this area?
I thank Senator Patterson for her question. This is a question which moves me to talk about one of the most essential psychological predispositions within ageing Australia—the absolute preference by older Australians to live independently and to receive care in their own homes wherever possible. It is a preference that Senator Patterson, as a very distinguished former minister for health and aged care, recognises, and I am very pleased to be able to build on the intuitively good work that Senator Patterson put into that portfolio.
The recently released $1.5 billion aged-care package clearly underscores the federal government’s appreciation of that essential desire of older Australians to live in their homes for as long as possible. I informed the Senate yesterday that the Prime Minister and I launched a $1.5 billion package of reforms to the aged-care sector called Securing the Future of Aged Care for Australians. There has been a lot of focus on capital and there has been a lot of focus on residential facilities, but one of the most essential components is community care. The new package funds $411 million over the next four years for community aged care and provision of respite for carers. We do not forget the workforce; we do not forget the carers. That is something which is essential to the package. These funds will create 7,200 new community aged-care packages at a cost of $297 million and in addition—this is important—10,000 respite days at a cost of nearly $28 million. The Howard government cares for carers.
There are also funds of around $32 million to enhance and develop the community care workforce, ensuring that older Australians who choose to remain in their own homes receive the highest quality care. This increase in community care packages means that the number of places will actually rise in proportion to the number of people aged 70 years and above. Currently there are 20 community aged-care places per 1,000 people aged 70 years and over, but in a few years time this ratio will rise to 25.
Our commitment to community care is in stark contrast to Labor’s approach which, when they were in government, barely recognised the preferences of people to stay at home. This is not just empty political rhetoric; the figures say it all. In 1996, under a Labor government, a person who wanted to stay in their own home in familiar surroundings and close to family, friends, churches and bowling clubs would have had a hard time finding the services and support they needed because by June 1996 there were just 4,431 community care places.
Senator Abetz is right to ask the question despondently: ‘Is that all?’ By June 2006 there were 38,492 community care places, an increase of over 860 per cent, and we are now about to add another 7,200 places to this number over the next four years. Today the Labor Party still fails to appreciate the value that elderly Australians place on community care packages, with Labor’s shadow minister, a senator in this place, continually fiddling with figures by ignoring community places and misleading journalists with dodgy figures. There are a lot of senators in this place that do not know the value of these aged-care packages. An EACH package delivers $39,055, and an advanced aged-care package in the community as to EACH dementia is $45,048—that is what they are worth. (Time expired)