Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Ageing. Is the minister aware of yesterday’s statement from Aged and Community Services Australia that, while they initially welcomed the government’s recent aged-care package, ‘as more detail became available on the various offsets and trade-offs contained within it, it became clear that the gains were modest and there were significant negative impacts’? Haven’t providers raised concerns that, under the package, some facilities will lose funding? Why is it that, two weeks after the package was announced, providers are still struggling to get the details they need to understand the impact of its implementation? If the minister is confident that there will be no losers, will he now release the modelling done by his department on the impact of the package, and can the minister also guarantee that no facility will be worse off under the package?
I thank Senator McLucas for her question. This gives me the opportunity to again outline this to the Senate. I will answer Senator McLucas’s question very directly. To outline to Senator McLucas the magnitude of the package, $1.5 billion—
it is big money, as Senator Abetz says—will be in the 2007-08 budget. So it is not an election promise; it is actually a line item of $1.5 billion in the 2007-08 budget. There is nobody anywhere in this land or, indeed, anywhere else in the world where they understand English who would not recognise that that is a most significant contribution to securing the long-term welfare of ageing Australians. That needs to be stated time after time. The other thing that I should add is that the reason this government over 10 years has been able to increase the aged-care budget in this country from about $2 billion to—by the time that this package comes into full fruition, by 2011—over $10 billion in real terms, indexed, is the economic stewardship of this country by the Howard government.
Senator McLucas may want to jump on some bandwagon and talk about some implementation issues. Whenever there is a $1.5 billion package—in fact, when there is anything from a $200-million to a $500-million package—there will always be implementation issues. I stated that to the industry. I said, ‘Look, I can’t tell you what’s contained in this cabinet submission, because cabinet operates with confidentiality, but there will be issues and we will sort them out.’ What Senator McLucas did not do is quote from the rest of that media release. This is the problem that we have with the opposition: they are all into smoke and mirrors; they are all about selective quoting. What that particular release also says is: ‘We have raised our concerns with the government.’ And we recognise that they have concerns. Even $1.5 billion still leads to some people having concerns. What they said is: ‘We will continue to work with the government to find solutions.’ That recognises the consultative nature of this government. We are prepared to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to looking after ageing Australians; we are prepared to consult extensively, as I have done in the last 13 months that I have been Minister for Ageing; and we are prepared to consult, again, to make sure that we tweak and finetune a very courageous, a very well funded—
Courageous in terms of the amount of money that we put forward. We could spend a lot of money in a lot of places to keep on addressing Labor’s neglect from when they were in government, but what we are doing is securing the future and the welfare of ageing Australians. The commitment that I can make, not only to Senator McLucas but to the Senate, is that we will continue to work hard through both the development of sound policy and the proper funding to back it up, so that ageing Australians under a coalition government will be much better off than they were under Labor.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I do note that there were no details in that answer—no guarantee that no facility would be worse off and no guarantee that there will be no losers. Can the minister confirm that, under the package, the government has just rebadged the pensioner supplement as capital funding when providers were already receiving this $2,260 per annum and using it to cover care costs? Isn’t this just an accounting trick to try and cover the capital funding shortfall in the high-care sector? Isn’t it inevitable that if providers now use these funds for capital costs they will have to cut back on care?
Let me address the issue of care very deliberately. I am not going to say anything other than quote somebody else’s words. We do care for pensioners and we do care for frail Australians. This is what somebody like Catholic Health CEO, Francis Sullivan, has said about elderly and vulnerable Australians and the care that they are going to receive—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. In relation to both the original question and the supplementary question, the minister has made no attempt to answer. He can bluster all he would like to, but he was asked specifically about the pensioner supplement and its conversion. I think the Senate would appreciate an answer to the question, not more bluster.
I wish I had more so that I could explain in greater detail in the hope that the opposition will understand it. What somebody like Francis Sullivan said—and, Mr President, you should listen to this when you are talking about care—is: ‘It is pleasing to see that frail, elderly people can also benefit from the country’s surplus and join in the process of prosperity.’ That says it all. It says that this government, through strong economic management, is providing for elderly, frail Australians. I have very definitively addressed the issue of care.