Senate debates

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Aged Care

3:53 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate—
notes that:
Australia has an ageing population, which will cause a significant increase in demand for aged care services over the coming decades, including aged care facilities,
the Federal Government has direct responsibility for the provision of aged care, while the states have responsibility for a range of matters, including the provision of education,
the Rudd Government has failed to do anything to tackle the capital funding crisis in the aged care sector,
the Rudd Government’s reckless and irresponsible inaction, if left unaddressed, means that the current crisis in aged care will only get worse into the future, and
the Rudd Government has wasted significant sums of money on the poorly-designed and poorly-implemented Building the Education Revolution program, while failing to tackle the significant challenges faced by the aged care sector;
is very concerned that the failure of the Rudd Government to act and address the significant challenges ahead in aged care means that elderly Australians will not be able to get access to affordable, high-quality aged care places in the future; and
calls on the Government to take decisive action forthwith to address the significant challenges facing aged care.

The Rudd government is failing senior Australians in desperate need of timely access to quality aged care services. They are failing senior Australians and their families. Right now we are facing a crisis in aged care which will only get worse if it is left unaddressed by the Rudd government.

We have a government that is spending like drunken sailors. They have been going on spending spree after spending spree. They have been borrowing money to give it away. We have had billions of dollars in $900 cheques go out to people, including to people who are overseas, people who are in jail and people who are dead. We have had waste and mismanagement with the so-called Building the Education Revolution. Billions of dollars are being splashed around like there is no tomorrow. We have got $1.7 billion of overspending and $7 million to $8 million for signs.

We have got spending, spending and spending. Yet in the very crucial and important Health and Ageing portfolio we have got no action whatsoever: budget cuts and reviews to waste time—or gain time, if you look at it from the government’s political point of view. The government has got its head in the sand while people are out there struggling to get timely access to the aged care services they need.

Australia has an ageing population. That is one of the biggest social issues that we are facing as a nation. With an ageing population comes a significant increase in demand for a range of related services, including aged care services and facilities. What has been happening is that under the regulatory and funding regimes that are currently in place it is no longer financially viable for providers to invest in the facilities that are needed to provide high-care services in aged care, in particular.

Our aged care system today is overregulated and underfunded and it is failing to deliver a good standard of care. At a time when there is increasing demand for services, providers are walking away from the industry because of the non-viability of high care and the compliance demands of the government. Senior Australians are increasingly finding they are unable to access the services and care they need, and this is putting additional pressure on our hospital system.

As I have mentioned, in the 2009-10 budget there is a spendathon going on, with waste and mismanagement everywhere. What do we see in the area of aged care? Budget cuts—in a portfolio that is supposed to be one of the highest priorities areas of the government, or so we were led to believe in the lead-up to the last election. But no. While the government is throwing money around everywhere else, in health and ageing we are seeing budget cut after budget cut and inaction, completely ignoring the significant crisis that is currently going on.

What has happened? As I have mentioned, there are increases in demand coming from the ageing population. The department goes through an exercise every year called the aged care approvals round, where the department determines what the need for services is going to be. They come up with a figure and it is broken down by state; in fact, it is broken down by what is called a planning region. Based on population, demographics and a whole series of trends, they map out the number of services we need. You have only got to look at how those numbers have been developing over the last two years to get a sense of the extent of the crisis that we are facing. It has been worse in my home state of Western Australia over the past two years—and in the great state of Tasmania where Senator Polley comes from, and I see she has just walked into the chamber.

I will go through the figures now, Senator Polley. This is what was allocated in the great state of Western Australia in the round done towards the end of 2007: 1,006 places were made available. That is what the government thought was needed to address the likely demand. How many places were taken up by providers in the aged care sector? Six hundred and sixty-four. There was a shortfall of 342 beds. There were 342 fewer beds than the government thought were required to provide the services.

Why is that? Because under the current funding and regulatory arrangements, investment in aged care is not viable. And the government is not doing anything about it. The government is spending everywhere else, but in the aged care sector, and in the Health and Ageing portfolio more generally, we are talking fiscal restraint and budget cuts. They are making sure that senior Australians are paying the price for Labor’s reckless spending everywhere else.

I promised Senator Polley that I would focus on Tasmania as well. In the 2007 round, the government thought that 167 beds were needed. Only 63 of them were allocated. That was a shortfall of 104 beds out of 167 in 2007. That is significantly more than half of the beds that the government thought were needed in aged care in Tasmania that were not allocated. At the time these figures came out, the minister put out a press release and said, ‘Everything is fine; the aged-care industry is nice and healthy and financially sound.’ Do you know why she said that? Because in the states of New South Wales and Victoria there was no shortfall. Some of these eastern-state-centric Rudd government ministers find it very difficult to look past New South Wales and Victoria when it comes to assessing the need for services in states like Western Australia and Tasmania.

What about the next year? Maybe 2007, after the Rudd government was elected, was a bad year. Many people would say that that was a bad year. Certainly people in the Health and Ageing portfolio found that that was a terrible year, because all we have had since is inaction, reviews followed by reviews into reviews, budget cuts, tax hikes and the old-fashioned crusade against private health. That is all we have had in the Health and Ageing portfolio, and they have their heads in the sand on the aged-care sector. They are not facing up to the serious crisis that is taking place.

So what happened in the subsequent year, the 2008-09 round? Remember that a year before it was only Western Australia and Tasmania that were under-allocated. In 2008-09, all states but South Australia—every single state but South Australia—had fewer beds taken up by providers than what the government thought were needed to provide adequate levels of services. In New South Wales 114 fewer beds were taken up by providers than what the government thought was required, which was 2,106. In Victoria, 1,486 beds were made available and there was a shortfall of 148 beds, or 10 per cent. In Queensland, there was a significant shortfall. The government thought that 2,416 beds were required to provide an adequate level of service. How many were taken up by providers? Only 1,603. That was a shortfall of 813 beds. In my home state of Western Australia, what happened was an absolute disgrace. Out of the 1,208 beds that the government thought were required, only 519 were taken up—less than half of what the government thought was required. And it keeps going.

This is not the only problem. Aged-care providers are not only not taking up the bed licences that are being made available by the government—because they cannot see that it would be financially viable for them to do so—but also handing licences back. In Senate estimates, we have asked very detailed questions about what has been happening. The answers are terribly concerning. Between 1 December 2007—a short time after the Rudd government was elected, of course—and 25 March 2009, 786 bed licences were handed back.

So here we have a situation in which there is increasing demand because of an ageing population, people not taking up the bed licences made available by the government and people handing back bed licences that they have previously been allocated. And how many of those 786 come from Western Australia, Senator Sterle? You are a senator for Western Australia. You should care about this. You should stand up to your government. You should say to the Prime Minister that it is time that he took some action and that it is time that he remembered that the buck stops with him. Clearly, the Minister for Health and Ageing and the Minister for Ageing are too junior and do not have the pull across cabinet. They clearly cannot get the Prime Minister to focus on this. It is time that the Prime Minister remembered that on aged care and health the buck stops with him. It is time that he took some action. Out of 786 beds that were handed back, 283 came out of Western Australia.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong interjecting

Photo of Gary HumphriesGary Humphries (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Minister! Senator, if you do not direct comments at the other side, they might be less likely to interject. I ask members of the government not to interject while Senator Cormann is speaking.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

Thirty-six per cent of all the bed licences that were handed back to the government since the election of the Rudd government were handed back in my home state of Western Australia. The Labor senators from Western Australia are not doing anything about it. The few House of Representatives Labor members from Western Australia are not doing anything about it. It is time that they stood up for Western Australia and for the needs of senior Western Australians when it comes to aged care. It is time that they stood up to the Prime Minister.

We have had a whole series of reports. You, Mr Acting Deputy President, would be well aware of the report that was put out by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration on 29 April in relation to residential and community aged care in Australia. That inquiry received 125 submissions. The committee made 31 recommendations. This was five months ago; nearly half a year ago. The minister has still not responded to any of the recommendations. There has been report after report. We had the Trends in aged care services: some implications report from the Productivity Commission in September 2008. We had the Annual review of regulatory burdens on business: social and economic infrastructure services from the Productivity Commission, in which it was stated:

Meeting regulatory requirements can come at the expense of providing better care as staff are directed to paperwork—a perverse outcome in a regulatory system that is designed to improve the quality of care.

Rather than assisting senior Australians, the minister’s approach is clearly compromising their care.

These are just a few of the reports. We have also got the residential aged-care surveys, like the Grant Thornton review, and there is a whole series of other reviews: the Bentleys MRI/James Underwood and Associates 2007 survey and a whole series of surveys, which all say the same thing. Here we have a statement provided to the Senate inquiry into residential and community aged care by Grant Thornton Australia, James Underwood and Associates and Stewart Brown Business Solutions, together, which said:

Our research confirms that modern, single-room High Care services make very poor or negative returns on average. These returns are far below the returns achieved in older, shared-room High Care services.

In our opinion, modern, single-room High Care services—other than those with extra services approvals—are not viable under current funding and regulatory arrangements.

The time for reviews is over. The time for more reports is over. It is time for action. It is time that the government pulled their head out of the sand and took some action when it comes to the needs in the aged-care industry.

I mentioned budget cuts before. We are talking about a situation that is developing where increasing demand—beds handed back and fewer beds taken up than the government thinks are needed—and here we have the Rudd government actually cutting funding to aged care in the 2009-10 budget. I will go through some of the examples. The indexation of the conditional adjustment payment subsidy has been cut. The CAPs remain at 8.75 per cent until 2011-12. There is discontinuation of the assistive technology in community care program—$25.8 million lost over four years. Hearing Services will introduce a minimum hearing loss threshold of more than 23 decibels to determine eligibility for hearing devices—losing $33.9 million over four years.

This is just extraordinary. Aged-care services are a direct responsibility of the Commonwealth. We have got all of these spending sprees and cash splashes—this spendathon—for the Julia Gillard memorial halls and the signs in front of state and territory government schools. There is mismanagement and waste—a $1.7 billion overspend, $7 to $8 million for signs—and a core responsibility of the government is not being looked after. It is being neglected and people are going to get hurt. If we do not take some action, very soon we are going to have some serious issues.

The industry puts all of its surveys and data out there for peer review. They say to me: ‘This is why we think the aged care industry is really facing a serious funding crisis. This is why we think that under the current funding and regulatory framework we are going to have a problem in aged care moving forward unless there are some changes to the funding and regulatory framework.’ Do you know what the government—the aged-care divisions in the Department of Health and Ageing—do? They spend most of their time explaining, defending and ducking and weaving as to why what everybody else is saying is wrong. They come out and say, ‘They are wrong because of this.’ They say something different and there is inconsistency there. The industry has to continue to organise themselves and say: ‘Hang on and let’s get together and swap notes and see what we have all said. And, yes, we will all say in a joint statement that we all agree with the same thing.’ What does the government do? The government is collecting all of this data and doing all of this internal research and, when we ask questions at estimates or during Senate inquiries, they say: ‘No, our research does not say that. In our assessment of the data across Australia we come up with very different conclusions.’ So we say: ‘Show us your data. Tell us what you think so that we can again swap notes, there can be a peer review and we can scrutinise what you are basing your conclusions on.’ The industry experts say that the return on investment is about 1.1 per cent on high-care places in aged care. The department says, ‘Oh, no, it is a 10 per cent return on investment.’ But how do you get to that conclusion? So the Senate passed an order of the Senate a little while ago that ordered the government to release all of the audited general purpose accounts from aged-care providers since the 2004-05 financial year. Essentially, information has to be submitted by aged-care providers as a condition of receiving conditional adjustment payments every year. There is national de-identified comparative data from those accounts, and it was expected that it would be made available every financial year to assist in performance benchmarking and in industry planning and investment decisions. But only the 2004-05 data was made available to the aged-care industry—the Bentleys MRI report. Subsequent reports are being kept secret.

I put a question on notice asking if details can be provided for individual facility EBITDA and performance for single-bed and multi-bed facilities. The very helpful answer from this transparent—not!—government was that the de-identified unit record data is available on the department’s internet site at Every single aged-care provider across Australia, my staff and everybody who has an interest in this have been searching that website for the last couple of weeks and nobody can find it. So I thought that, if the government says it is available on the website in an answer to a question on notice, let’s have a Senate order for the production of those documents. What happened then? We got a letter from the minister which states, ‘The files contain various documents that are now being examined with a view to providing an appropriate response to the Senate’—et cetera, et cetera—‘and we are going to take 30 days to have a look at it.’ If it is on the website somewhere, why don’t you just table it? Why don’t you make sure that we can all work on the same basis?

As I am running out of time I will sum up. We are facing a serious crisis in the aged-care industry and it is time for some action. It is time that the Rudd government pulled its head out of the sand and faced up to the crisis. That is the first thing they have to do. It is time that the Prime Minister remembered that in Health and Ageing he promised that the buck would stop with him.

4:14 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am in total disbelief at the hypocrisy of Senator Cormann’s motion on aged care, which is before us, and his comments. Senator Cormann must have the shortest of short-term memories if he wants us or the Australian community to believe that the issues present today in the aged-care sector are wholly and solely the responsibility of this government. He started by saying that the federal government has direct responsibility for the provision of aged care. How astounding! This must be a fact that Senator Cormann has only recently discovered. It certainly appears as though his party were unaware of this during their last term of government, because they actually did so little for aged care.

He seems unable to cast his mind back less than two years to recall nearly 12 years of complete inaction and complacency by the former Howard government. That government, of which Senator Cormann was briefly a part, stood by and did nothing positive for aged care year after year as the reality of our ageing population became more apparent. They ignored outdated infrastructure and capital investment needs. They ignored the mass exodus of nurses from the industry. They ignored increased demands to access community care places. They ignored the unique needs of rural and regional service providers.

During the last five years of the Howard government, residential aged-care funding had an average annual increase of 7.1 per cent. Under the Rudd government this has been 8.5 per cent. Let us get the facts on the record. The average annual increase in total aged-care funding over that same period of the former government was 8.4 per cent. Under the Rudd government that has been 9.1 per cent. These figures underlie the basic difference in the importance placed on aged-care funding between this government and those opposite in the coalition.

Despite this apparent difference, Senator Cormann would have us believe that the Rudd government has done nothing on this most important of issues. As Senator Cormann appears unable to see, hear or remember the multitude of steps taken by the Rudd government to address the aged-care issues, I will remind him and those in the chamber. This government has committed $44 billion over the next four years to aged care, which is an increase of $2.5 billion over that period and more than that by any previous government in our country’s history. Far from failing to address capital funding for aged care, the Rudd government has committed $300 million in zero real interest loans. Half of this money has already been allocated and is expected to produce 1,455 additional places.

Far from exhibiting inaction, as Senator Cormann states, the Rudd Labor government has provided unprecedented funding levels to extend aged-care services further than they have ever been extended before. As of the middle of 2009 there have been more than 178,000 residential aged-care places, half in high care and half in low care. On top of this more than 47,000 community care places have been funded by the Commonwealth.

Funding for aged care increased nearly 10 per cent between 2008-09 and 2009-10 to $9.9 billion. Since the Rudd government came into being in November 2007, overall funding to aged care and community care has increased by nearly 20 per cent. This is the kind of increase that has demonstrated our genuine commitment to meeting the needs of older Australians and it is a far cry from the entrenched neglect of the former Howard Liberal government.

Since the change of government, an increase of 6,100 residential aged-care places and 2,800 community care places has been realised. There is an additional $14.8 million for the viability supplements paid to residential aged-care providers in regional, rural and remote areas, bringing the total funding to $72.3 million over the next four years. Funding for home and community care, which is quickly becoming a key element of aged care and ageing in place, will increase by $180 million, reaching a total of $1.2 billion this financial year. Five hundred million dollars has been added to subacute care through the Council of Australian Governments and $293 million has been provided for the Transition Care Program over four years to create an additional 2,000 places. Add this to the $120 million every year for the dementia initiatives that will reach more than 200,000 Australians, $348,000 for hearing services this financial year and $21.6 million per annum to support the National Palliative Care Program and you will start to get an idea of how inaccurate and blatantly shameful Senator Cormann’s statements are.

The other critical area of aged care, beyond capital investment and funding of services, is creating a suitably skilled and stable workforce. It has become apparent that the aged-care sector experiences far more recruitment and retention issues as to their staff than other sectors of health. We have put in place a multipronged strategy to address this. Through the federal and state governments $1.1 billion is being invested in our health workforce. The Rudd government has created the bringing nurses back program, with $6.9 million specifically targeted at bringing aged-care nurses back into their profession. This has directly resulted in 100 nurses returning to the aged-care sector. In addition, 21,300 aged-care workers are having their skills upgraded through a $127 million training commitment.

If Senator Cormann’s head is spinning trying to keep up with all these figures, I can stop; however, I will have not exhausted the list of steps this government has taken to support the aged-care sector and older Australians. In this year’s budget an additional $728 million was committed to aged care over the next four years. The increase to the rate of aged-care pensions for singles and couples not only yielded a much-needed boost to meet the cost-of-living pressures for pensioners but also will add an extra $713.2 million to aged-care providers over the next four years.

That same budget also committed $14.1 million over four years to continue palliative care initiatives started under the Australian healthcare agreements. It also retained the conditional adjustment payment at 8.75 per cent. This payment is the lifeblood of many regional aged-care providers and was due to expire. However, through consistent evidence provided to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration in its inquiry into residential and aged care in Australia, the importance of this payment was noted and the payment was retained.

The inquiry, which I was fortunate enough to chair, was a comprehensive look at the current and future needs and circumstances of the aged-care sector. It was a large-scale inquiry that held multiple hearings, received more than a hundred submissions and took much of the first half of this year to complete. Evidence taken at hearings and through submissions was consistent in its frustration at the worsening state of aged care in Australia in the face of heightened demand. Far from pointing the finger of blame at the Rudd government for supposed ‘inaction’, most stakeholders acknowledged that this was an issue that had been sorely neglected and that manifested during the Howard-Costello Liberal government years. Each and every submission acknowledged that the sector indeed required quick and considerable action. Most of the submissions were consistent in identifying fragmented funding, staffing levels and increased demand for services as the major challenges facing the industry. The government did not shy away from the strong recommendations on the future directions of aged care by the committee in its unanimous report. Indeed, the Department of Health and Ageing has already started working towards realising the recommendations of the report and it moved quickly after the report’s release to continue the conditional adjustment payments.

The continuation of these payments has been particularly important to my home state of Tasmania, which has a rural profile, much like that of outback Australia, with a small and highly decentralised population. More than half our residential aged-care facilities have under 60 beds each, which is considered to be at the margin for viability. On top of this, Tasmania has the second oldest population in Australia and by 2020 it will have the oldest. I have talked in detail with aged-care stakeholders from Tasmania—and, in fact, from around the country—and they have shared with me the need to build a sustainable sector without losing their critical, small, community based facilities that are so deeply connected with their communities. Tasmania is very strong on social inclusion, and allowing people to age in the community they belong to is vital to meeting our social inclusion agenda. Tasmania, with its highly fragmented population, boasts hundreds of small, tightly knit communities, many of which offer small aged-care centres. Pressure on the aged-care sector has resulted in two visible policy drivers: consolidation and a push for efficiency. While it may be viable for many metropolitan residential aged-care facilities, Tasmania is unable to achieve the economies of scale that come from mergers and larger facilities. It is also contrary to the idea of ageing in place to move aged-care places into bigger population centres.

I was pleased to be able to attend recently a meeting between the Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, and stakeholders from Aged and Community Services Tasmania to discuss Tasmania’s unique aged-care situation. It was a testament to the importance that this government gives to aged care that the meeting was a positive and productive one. The CEO of Aged and Community Services himself stated that ‘the minister was very interested in what we had to say’ and agreed that ‘Tasmania has had a good hearing’ on the issue of aged care. He summed up the meeting by stating that the minister was very positive toward some of the options and strategies presented to them during the meeting, calling it ‘a glimmer of hope that we can build a sustainable sector’. That is positive feedback. That is recognition that the Rudd Labor government is actually listening, unlike those opposite who had 12 very long years to address these issues. Senator Cormann was quoting various reports. It would have been more factual if he had given the dates of those reports, then it would have been more than obvious that his own government, the previous government, had failed to act.

There is no faint praise from a sector that has been underfunded and ignored for so long. It is indeed an indication of how productive the relationship between the government and the industry stakeholders is becoming. The industry does understand and acknowledge that we are listening to it about the issues confronting it. I acknowledge there are many issues facing the industry, but you cannot lay the blame on a government that has been sitting on the benches on this side of the chamber for less than two years when the Liberal Howard government had almost 12 years and neglected the industry. The industry itself acknowledges that. That is not a political statement; that is a fact of life.

I also take particular exception to Senator Cormann’s comments that this government has wasted significant sums of money on Building the Education Revolution. What his statement implies is that aged care takes precedence over education infrastructure. This is a ludicrous notion that tries to compare apples with oranges. Both are equally important in society’s eyes. Both have been given much-needed and long-overdue attention by the Rudd government. While achieving record funding in aged care and a multifaceted approach to increasing the effectiveness of aged-care services, we have also embarked on an unparalleled school infrastructure modernisation program. Thousands of schools have benefited from the $16.2 billion investment in upgrading classrooms, libraries, halls and gymnasiums. After nearly 12 years of steady decline in funding for education and an almost complete halt in any form of infrastructure investment under the former government, Australian schools are now being given a sign of faith. They are being given hope. This government has clearly shown that providing good infrastructure in schools not only benefits a community but benefits an entire generation. If we do not invest in our education systems, in learning and in bricks and mortar, how then can we honestly say that we respect the needs of our children? Does Senator Cormann honestly ask us to believe that ignoring investment in our children is justified as a means for channelling additional funding to older citizens? And if he does believe this, why did the former government, his government, do neither? Why did they neglect the education of Australian children and neglect older Australians for 12 long years?

Far from funding one whilst neglecting the other, we have stood firmly by our social agenda and provided more practical support for each layer of our community than the opposition can rightly claim to have done in their last term in office. They glorify the days when they saved and saved until we were rich with savings. But the opposition did not seem to notice that all these savings had been to the detriment of our young, our old, our infrastructure, our health, and our future needs. There is no glory in saving for a rainy day when everything that our society holds as important is pulled back, tightened and starved to the point of collapse. That is what happened to our aged care sector during those 12 very long years and that is the reality that the Rudd government has had to work with since then. And in addressing all these issues that I have outlined from our budget we have done this while under the strains of the global financial crisis, the worst in 75 years.

I do agree though with Senator Cormann on one thing: we do need to take decisive action to address the significant challenges faced by the aged care sector. However Senator Cormann fails to acknowledge that the Rudd government is doing exactly that. The Rudd government recognises the importance of providing a high-quality minimum standard of aged care for all. It recognises that a rapidly ageing population will provide us with unique and critical challenges that require responses in equal measure. The Rudd government is working carefully and thoughtfully on addressing all aspects of the issues that we will face in years to come—not just nursing homes, but community care, numbers of nursing staff, infrastructure, training, health and safety, medical needs and much more. No other government has recognised more fully that people have a right to age with peace, quality care, dignity and respect. Consequently, no other government in this nation’s history has spent more on aged care. And we do not deny that more needs to be done.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

Do you understand the growing and ageing population?

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is very well for Senator Cormann to attempt to champion the cause of the aged care sector at this late hour. Unfortunately it is too little too late. He was very silent when he was on the government benches. I did not hear him speaking up, demanding these changes. I did not hear him voicing his concerns for Western Australia or Tasmania during his time in the Senate chamber. But he has the hypocrisy to come into this chamber and put a resolution like this without anything to back it up. The aged care sector already knows the importance, or lack thereof, that the opposition placed on their industry in the past. The Australian community knows the opposition’s position on aged care, health, infrastructure and skilling Australia. They made their judgement at the last election and they will once again at the next election make their judgement on what the Rudd Labor government is doing. Likewise, they acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the Rudd government to begin the long process of repairing the neglect of this sector. And it will be a long process because it has had so many years of neglect. But we are determined to repair and restore the quality care that older Australians deserve and will get under this government.

We are not talking about a sector that makes inanimate objects, provides intangible services or draws raw materials from the ground. Aged care is a sector that provides care and dignity to human beings who have lived a full life. Sectors such as aged care, health and education deal fundamentally with the human experience and therefore have always, and will always, be given the highest priority by this or any future Labor government.

Mr Acting Deputy President Humphries, I look forward to your contribution, because you and I have had some very interesting inquiries, and I know that you are at least one from that side who has been prepared to say that not enough has been done by the former government. I look forward to your contribution here this afternoon to what I believe is a very important debate. I stand by the report that I happened to be chair for and I stand by the recommendations that we made and will continue to press for the reforms that are needed. We are the ones yet again who have to clean up the mess that the former Howard government left this country in.

Photo of Gary HumphriesGary Humphries (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Polley. I look forward to rising to your challenge later.

4:34 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support this motion. I think it might be the third time this week that I find myself in agreement—and again, I am in the twilight zone.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

You are supporting us!

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

But you blame both of us!

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I must admit that I am disappointed that we are going back to the opposition and the government—whichever side of the chamber you happen to be sitting on at the time of the election cycle—fighting over this extremely important issue and blaming each other. We have to get beyond the blame game on this issue of aged care. And, yes, I do blame both of you.

But the substantive elements of this motion are (b) and (c), the first bits of the motion, outlining some of the key information. Section (b) says that the Senate:

... is very concerned that the failure of the Rudd Government to act and address the significant challenges ahead in aged care means that elderly Australians will not be able to get access to affordable, high-quality aged care places in the future; and

(c) calls on the Government to take decisive action forthwith to address the significant challenges facing aged care.

I will acknowledge that there has been some movement by the Rudd government—though some of it I do not think is in the right direction. There has been a focus by this current government, very strongly and unfortunately I think, to hide behind quality assurance and policing. The Greens are not standing here for one minute saying that quality assurance and policing are not important. But it is playing the blame game, taking pot shots at providers rather than looking at the bigger picture: where is aged care going into the future?

But there are some very significant issues now. We know that we have an ageing population in Australia. We also know that that ageing population’s demographic will be very different from that of the past. We have baby boomers starting to move into an ageing population. They will start to need aged care facilities in the not-too-distant future and, for a start, they are expecting a very different approach to aged care from the one we have had in the past. Their sheer numbers, of course, mean that we are going to need significantly more beds, but beds of a very different makeup than we have had in the past.

In my home state of Western Australia, in the last ACAR, half of the licences for beds were not taken up. In other words, the places that were identified by government as needed to accommodate our ageing population were not taken up. The other thing that you would know, if you lived in Western Australia and had an interest in aged care, is that providers are not building the beds that they already have licences for. It is not only in Western Australia that this occurs. I understand there are similar problems in other states.

Not only are providers not taking up the licences that are on offer; in fact, they are not able to build the beds that they have licences for. Not only are they not building them but, when they tell the department and offer the licences back, they are told, ‘No, no. Keep trying. Don’t hand them back yet.’ When you talk to the providers, they say very clearly, ‘We cannot afford to build these. We are not getting enough support. We are not financially viable enough to support these.’

Other providers—big providers—both in the west and in the east of Australia, say to me, ‘We’re going to have facilities closing down unless we get more help.’ Not only is there not enough funding to build beds; there is not enough funding to keep people in care either. Providers have expressed significant concern about the current assessment models and the way that payments are made for both high care and low care. They also express—and this is all contained in our Senate committee report—extreme concern about the balance between low care and high care. They have also raised concerns about community care and funding of community care as well.

So, not only are we not building enough beds for the future—that is not being adequately funded—but we are also not providing enough funding for current care, either high or low care. We are also not providing enough resources for community care packages. That is a significant issue.

In some places we are heading for crisis more quickly than in others, but we are definitely heading towards a crisis for aged care. We are going to end up with a train wreck in aged care unless some dramatic action is taken, unless we get a government which is prepared to develop a vision for the future of aged care in this country. At the moment, we are lacking that vision. It seems to be: hear no, see no and speak no evil about aged care. The government is simply not looking at the facts about aged care.

I also believe that the government is not getting appropriate advice from the department. The department seems to be defending their own patch, not acknowledging there are problems and denying there is a crisis. They have no answer to the fact that beds are not being taken up in Western Australia. They have no answer to that. They have no adequate answer to the question: what happens when beds are handed back? They have no adequate approach for this. They have no adequate approach when people are trying to convert their bed licences to aged-care provision. They have no adequate answer for any of those issues.

All you need to do is to go and talk to both for-profit and not-for-profit providers. You could say, ‘Well, for-profit providers are just worried about making a profit.’ I am sorry, but 65 per cent of our aged care in Australia is provided by not-for-profit providers and they are struggling as well. So you cannot just write this argument off by saying, ‘This is just providers squealing about not being able to make enough money.’ That is simply not the case. It is particularly not the case for not-for-profit providers because they do not have a profit motive. I am not maligning the for-profit providers, by the way. I do not want people running away thinking that. But, if the argument is that providers are simply self-motivated, it is simply not right.

When you talk to care providers, it is clear that they are there to try to provide quality care for the people who use their facilities. I will add that I went through an excellent care facility in Bunbury in my home state not long ago. They provided excellent care. They were very modern and had a very modern facility. I was very impressed. They have been just in the black up until very recently. Now they are going backwards.

When you look at the sort of care and support these people give, it is outrageous that we are letting these services slip back further and further into the red. The people that I went with around the facility knew each patient by name, knew what their issues were and knew what they liked to do during the day. In other words, they knew the patients personally and had a really strong connection. If we could provide that same sort of quality care for everybody that needs it and wants it in Australia, I would be proud of our aged-care services.

Unfortunately, at the moment we are not able to provide that. Unless we get a handle on aged care and start providing a vision for aged care in this country, we are not going to be able to provide that quality care in the future.

There are some very significant issues that we need to be dealing with. Mentioning Bunbury brings me to the issue of regional care. Regional aged care in this country is in an even worse state than is aged care in metropolitan areas around Australia. Many aged-care facilities in regional centres are absolutely struggling. They are in an even worse position than those in our metropolitan areas. The government has, I will acknowledge, recognised that there is difficulty in providing aged-care facilities in regional areas and they have moved to deal with that through provision of more interest-free loans et cetera. However, they are not being taken up at the rate they need to be taken up at either, so we are seeing an increasing problem in regional areas.

There are also problems when you look at pay disparities and the ability of providers to attract and keep staff. The staff I have met in aged-care facilities go well above and beyond the call of duty. But, as an example from my home state of Western Australia, during the Senate inquiry evidence was given by the Miscellaneous Workers Union that aged-care workers in Perth are paid less than people who work in our zoo. To me, that was pretty shocking. The union raised that as a very stark example of the fact that we are not giving providers sufficient resources to enable them to pay workers and carers in these centres what they are due. People have also expressed concern that they are unable to provide the sort of training which they think is required for those who work in aged-care facilities.

Another issue that was brought up with the Senate committee is the mechanism that determines funding for high care versus low care. The new ACFI model that was brought in was supposed to much more flexible but, from what I have heard from talking to people and from evidence the committee received, it is actually not as flexible as it should be. Again, the evidence you get from the department about what is viable and non viable is different from what the aged-care providers say, and I must admit I get very concerned when I hear the department say, ‘Surveys have been undertaken; it’s nonsense to say that providers are not viable.’ I would think that the providers would know whether they are viable or not and how much it costs to provide a bed and how much it costs to provide care.

Do you know we have not done an assessment of what it takes to provide a bed in an aged-care facility? We have not done that for a long time. Why haven’t we done that? Why aren’t the department and the government able to give the community an understanding of the unit cost of providing a bed in an aged-care facility? That is the sort of information that we need so that we can provide and commit adequate funding to aged care in this country.

The most immediate crisis here is the funding that is provided right now for both high care and low care. A point that was also made to us during the Senate committee inquiry was that the funding available to low care is simply not viable for providing beds. There used to be more of a balance between high care and low care but, because there is not a lot funding now for those in low care, that balance no longer exists.

As I was saying, there is an immediate crisis in funding for people currently in the system and for people coming into the system. The bigger-picture issue is the lack of funding for the provision of beds into the future—not just the distant future but in the next couple of years. There is also the issue of what we want our aged-care sector to look like in the future. That envisioning is not being done, and it is absolutely time that we sat down and did that. In fact, we need to have a community dialogue about what we want our aged-care services to look like into the future; and how we want to age in place, because there has been a big shift to ageing in place. The point was made to us that some people are ageing in place not by choice but because they have to because they cannot get access to an aged-care facility. It is expensive and you cannot find a place anyway, so they are ageing in place. While a lot of people want to do that and some people might want to start doing that, they are not moving into residential care at a time when they should be because there are no places or because they do not have the resources. So we do need to look at how we facilitate ageing in place into the future and what sort of funding should be made available for that, because we need to make sure the funding matches need, and then we need to look at what sort of funding we should be providing for residential care into the future.

Another point that people raised with us is that people are going to have different expectations of aged care in the future. For example, there is a greater desire now for single bedrooms with an ensuite, but there are a lot of facilities that are not able to provide that. So more resources need to be made available to upgrade facilities and we need to build more facilities that accommodate that. And that gets back to this argument about what is viable and what is not. Honestly, it blows your mind, sitting in Senate committee inquiries and estimates hearings—and I see senators nodding—listening to the department arguing about viability, about what is viable and what is not viable, and ‘this survey says it’s viable’ and ‘this survey says it’s not viable’—

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

Going through semantics and statistics. Lies, damned lies and statistics.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, exactly: statistics, damned statistics. And you have got the providers saying, ‘Listen, we are just not viable,’ and the department is sitting there going, ‘Well, this survey says you are viable,’ and then arguing about who answered the survey, when they answered it and how many beds they have—how many have got a single-bed facility with an ensuite, how many have got a two-bed facility with an ensuite. It is hiding behind statistics to hide the fact that there is a crisis in aged care and we are just not paying attention to it. We are passing the parcel saying, ‘It’s your fault,’ but one day the music is going to stop and we will have a very significant aged-care crisis. We are heading that way now and we need to plan for the music not to stop. If we do not, at some stage we are going to have a very significant crisis on our hands. We are simply not going to have the beds and we are going to have even longer waiting lists than we have now. Constituents ring me up and say, for example, ‘I’ve been trying to find a place for my mother for nine months.’

Then, when they do find a place, there are other problems. For example, in Perth, some of the older people have been born and raised in Perth, in suburbs close to the city or in the inner city. But, like any city, there are some big distances within Perth, and people may not be able to find a place anywhere close to the city. They have to be miles away—miles away from their family and miles away from the community in which they have grown up or lived, and it is a completely different environment. But people are taking those beds because they cannot find a bed anywhere else, even though they do not like the location. I heard another story which is not from Perth, where the person concerned took a bed in an aged-care facility that they are not entirely happy with; it is not of the quality they hoped they would find for their parent, but they have had to take what they could get. In other words, people do not have choice, and there are long waiting lists so they are taking what they can get. The parent and their relatives are not necessarily happy. People have to travel long distances and those being cared for do not have the support that they need.

That is not the sign of a quality system in Australia. We need to provide high-quality care, where we can pay carers adequately for the work that they do. We need to attract high-quality carers and staff to these facilities. We need them to be places where people are happy to be and where relatives are happy for their family members to be. We are moving away from that in Australia—unfortunately, in some areas, at a very rapid pace. Bear in mind also that not only does a failing aged-care system impact on the people who are using those facilities; it also impacts on their families. If people cannot get access to good quality aged care and people are ageing in place much longer than is physically good for them, that places an added stress on family members and carers—on their ability to care for that person and to also care for their families. So this has ramifications for the whole of our community.

The sooner we acknowledge that we need to be doing something, the sooner we can start planning a system for the future, instead of continually chasing our tails and handing the parcel to whoever is the decision maker at the time. As I said, somebody is going to get left with a very big mess, because that is where aged care is heading in this country if we do not start doing something. We have already seen facilities close down. Just recently another facility closed down. In the very near future we are going to start to see residential aged-care operators handing back beds and closing down services because they simply cannot afford to run them anymore. That is a very poor state of affairs in Australia.

Unfortunately—and it absolutely depresses me to have to say so—we agree that much more dramatic action needs to be taken to address the significant challenges ahead in aged care. As Senator Cormann’s motion says, there is a very desperate need for the government to act and address the significant challenge ahead in aged care. It does not mean just putting more into policing facilities. It does not mean just putting more into quality control— (Time expired)

4:54 pm

Photo of Judith AdamsJudith Adams (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me pleasure to speak after Senator Siewert. She has given us some very good information. I would like to continue in that vein. I rise today to speak about the mess that Australia’s aged-care sector is in. To highlight that, I would like to inform you of the Aged and Community Services Australia conference which is being held in Perth this weekend. They have named it ‘Get up, stand-up!’. That is the theme of ACSA’s 2009 conference. The conference brochure says:

And who can doubt that it’s time for the aged and community care industry to stand up for their rights and the rights of the people they support? We’ve been knocked from the pillar of a workforce crisis and soaring inflation to the post of the totally inadequate funding regime in a time of global financial meltdown. No wonder the sparks are well and truly flying right now! But, does anybody know and does anybody care? Well, we care and we’re going to show the world what we’re made of!

This Conference is all about rallying, connecting, challenging and asserting—it’s about aged care pride. It’s themed throughout as a “stand up” event in every sense, where the delegates get involved and don’t just sit down and take it.

I wish that organisation well with their conference.

If the Rudd Labor government continues on its present course of poor management of aged care, the growing crisis in the sector will very soon reach breaking point. The government needs to remind itself of its responsibilities and act on them. Aged care is a direct Commonwealth government responsibility. Schools are a state government responsibility, so why is the Australian government spending money on primary schools, plastered with political advertising, and not aged-care facilities? It is because most people cast their vote in the local school hall and not at the local nursing home.

The extraordinary thing is that the care of senior Australians is being severely compromised by the bad spending decisions of the Rudd government. I would like to touch on that briefly. This past week we have seen the Rudd government try to justify its bad spending decisions and the massive amount of debt it is saddling future generations with. It has tried to distort the seriousness of the situation by saying that many of the major economies are doing the same. The Rudd government is also citing a number of organisations which have supported the spending spree. But how many of those organisations foresaw the financial meltdown? Almost none that I am aware of. There is one that the Rudd government has been as quiet as a mouse about, only one bank to warn of the impending financial meltdown, and that is the Bank for International Settlements—the Reserve Bank of reserve banks. That very same bank has also warned against the stimulus spending, saying it will lead to stagnation, inflation and higher interest.

The Rudd government is not listening to the one bank that foresaw the trouble ahead. But in not reining in its spending, the Rudd government is threatening the care options of millions of senior Australians. That is something that will come back and haunt every single Australian family. Aged care touches most Australian families. Many of our parents and grandparents will spend the final years of their lives in aged care. These people are as important to our community as their children and grandchildren, and the Commonwealth government has a duty to give our elderly citizens, who have helped build our nation to what it is today, the very best care in their final years. The government cannot absolve itself of this responsibility and turn its back.

Like most developed countries, our population is ageing as a result of sustained low fertility and increased life expectancy. Over the past two decades, the number of elderly people in Australia increased by 158 per cent compared with a total population growth of 29 per cent over the same period. The Department of Health and Ageing has indicated that within 40 years the number of people aged over 65 will almost triple, from 2.8 million today to around 7.2 million in 2047, or from around 13 per cent of the population today to over 25 per cent. This is a horrifying statistic.

People aged 85 years and over made up 1.5 per cent of Australia’s population in June 2004. This age group is projected to account for around six per cent to eight per cent of the population in 2051 and seven per cent to 10 per cent in 2101. The population aged 85 years and over is projected to experience the highest growth rates of all age groups. We need to be acting on infrastructure requirements in tandem with our ageing population because the problem is not going to go away.

The recent report for Alzheimers Australia by Access Economics projects that the number of Australians living with dementia by 2050 will have quadrupled from 245,400 at present to a staggering 1.13 million people. The first of the baby boomers will be turning 65 in 2010 and by 2020 it is estimated there will be 75,000 baby boomers with dementia. These are horrifying and very sobering statistics that highlight the need to be gearing up, not neglecting, our aged-care sector. Just as we prepared for our retiring Commonwealth superannuants with the Future Fund, so too do we need to prepare aged-care services for the increasing number of our elderly citizens. Treasury projections indicate that in 40 years time government spending needed for aged care will have more than doubled over current expenditure, and the aged-care budgets will be higher than the budgets for defence or education. These figures must be taken seriously by the current governments as we are rapidly falling behind the eight ball. The disgrace of the situation is that it is our older citizens who suffer directly as a consequence.

The infrastructure costs required to build and service new aged-care bed licences far outweigh the funds that are available. Senator Siewert, before me, described what those infrastructure areas were—that people nowadays would prefer to have a single-bed unit with their ensuite rather than share. This is just what the baby boomers will expect; they will not want to go into four-bed wards or two-bed wards with shared facilities. Unless this is immediately addressed there will continue to be no incentive for aged-care providers to expand their services. These providers are having great difficulty existing as they are now and, what is more, a substantial number are now going backwards in this industry that has become unsustainable in its present form. Approximately 45 per cent of residential aged-care facilities in Australia reported a loss over the past two years, and this is direct evidence of a currently unsustainable industry. The places which are being allocated are not being adequately funded. Not only do aged-care providers not have the capital to expand facilities to meet the number of bed licences issued but, in many of the instances where they do have some construction funds, they cannot get the additional finance required because banks are stipulating that there is no return—the business case is just not there.

The cost of constructing new accommodation far outweighs the funding that is being made available. Last October, the Bethanie Group in Western Australia handed back licences for 110 beds. Each bed would have cost approximately $180,000 to create plus $65,000 to run. However, the funding available was a one-off $109,000, and $41,000 per year to maintain. A recent report by Access Economics estimates that a capital cost of $42.32 per resident per day is needed to contribute to the construction and maintenance of new or expanded aged-care facilities. This is well above what the Department of Health and Ageing allows to be paid. The government allows only $23.88 for a pensioner or a concessional resident or $26.88 for a non-concessional resident per day to be paid towards accommodation or capital costs. This is an $18.44 shortfall below the $42.32 which is needed, according to Access Economics. At an aged-care facility in the federal seat of Hasluck in Western Australia, the funding they receive falls short of the capital needed to build the 24 new places allocated to them

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

I wonder whether the local member is standing up for them

Photo of Judith AdamsJudith Adams (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not know; I have not heard anything from the local member on this particular facility. This provider would need to raise an additional $162,000 per year to service a capital loan. The same residential aged-care provider currently has 118 bed-ready prospective residents’ names on their waiting list. These names are of frail, aged persons in a public hospital, in care awaiting placement facilities and in the community of the south-east metropolitan region of Perth. Most of these people require a high-care place. With construction costs in the vicinity of $250,000 per place, there is no way this aged-care provider can afford to build, as the capital funding comes nowhere near this mark for the 24 places that have been allocated. This example demonstrates why aged-care providers are not applying for new bed licenses, as they are unable to justify the expense of creating them.

The Minister for Health and Ageing will carry on about how many bed places are being made available, but what she fails to tell you is the number of these places which are not being taken up. Of the 1,208 places made available in Western Australia this year, just 536 places—less than half—have been sought. Of those 536, only 519 places have been allocated. This is just 43 per cent of the bed places offered in WA in the 2008 round. This can be regarded as nothing but an indication that there is a crisis in the aged-care sector, and the Rudd government continues in failing to address the serious shortfall of bed license applications in WA. We heard earlier from Senator Polley, and I can recall an adjournment speech in which she spoke on aged-care issues in Tasmania. Obviously it is happening in her state in exactly the same way. I wonder what she is doing to get the Rudd government to improve the situation.

Based on this hard evidence on the ground that I have described, it is breathtaking that the minister has indicated there will be 4,299 beds on offer to WA in the next two rounds. With the industry rapidly going backwards in WA, it is anyone’s guess who will be applying for all these beds. If these 4,299 places were all allocated, providers in WA would need to build more than 40 new facilities at a cost of $800 million. If the minister thinks that Western Australian providers have that sort of capital, she is away with the fairies. Even if they were able to borrow and service these loans, where will they find and how will they pay for the 4,000 staff needed to run these new facilities?

Since December 2007, approximately 786 allocated bed licenses have been handed back to the Department of Health and Ageing, with 283 of those from WA. The 283 places allocated to WA providers were handed back because the providers could not afford to build them. More places are expected to be surrendered in 2010. Most disturbingly, there is evidence that some providers have begun emptying beds because they cannot afford to operate all of them under current funding levels.

In short, aged care is now an unsustainable industry. There is not enough money to run operations at the level that they should be run at and there is not enough money to build new facilities. Without adequate funding, aged-care providers are not able to pay sufficient rates to attract and retain the skilled staff that are required. The pay rates between the acute- and aged-care sectors has a direct bearing on this. Wages in aged care are on average 20 per cent less than in acute care, and the large amount of paperwork also acts as a disincentive. So, once again, red tape is tying up our frontline services.

Operationally, there is another shortfall of approximately $22 per resident per day in funding received from the government or the resident below what is required to look after a person in aged care. Fees are not indexed to reflect the true CPI, which leaves providers with great difficulty in meeting the costs of wages, food and utilities. They are all increasing costs that exceed income. As a result of the non-viability of the sector, staffing numbers in aged-care facilities are now being cut, and this is having a direct impact on the care that our elderly citizens receive.

The crisis in aged care is not restricted to our cities. It intensifies in our rural and regional areas. Not only is there the difficulty with fewer numbers of aged-care beds in regional areas; there is also the unhappiness and often the trauma for people when they are forced to move away from their lifetime homes and families, friends and communities in order to receive the care they need. Regional and remote communities are unable to obtain the residential aged-care places they require, because no-one can afford to build in these areas where the risks are far too high for providers to contemplate a 60-bed aged-care facility.

The simple fact is that the government is doing nothing to address the capital and operational funding crisis in aged care. Every day that passes without new facilities being built is causing problems to snowball that we will have to face in the future. The government needs to address the capital funding issue immediately to enable providers to build the necessary aged-care places, particularly in high care, where there is no provision for accommodation bonds.

By failing to adequately fund each place that has been allocated, there will continue to be fewer and fewer new residential aged-care places coming on stream. This is going to severely impact the frail aged people who will be looking for a place in three to four years time. Simply allocating more community care packages will not solve this problem—in fact, it partly helps to exacerbate it. At some point, many people will need to make the switch from their family home to an aged-care facility and the rooms will not be there waiting for them. What do we do then? The demand for residential places will continue to grow simply because there is an increasing number of frail aged people and they will need this facility in the later stages of their life. Most of these people will desire to stay in their own homes for as long as they can, but many will need to be admitted to an aged-care facility, particularly if they need 24-hour nursing care, to receive the level of care that cannot be given at home. As we have heard, high-care places are becoming very scarce—low care is when people are being treated at home—and this is certainly becoming a very difficult problem.

The Rudd government must immediately address all of these problems that I have spoken of and commence the required structural reform of the sector. The minister must cease her confrontational approach and start supporting and working with the industry to ensure that the care needs of senior Australians are met. The minister could commence by responding to the recommendations in the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs report on residential and community aged care in Australia. As a member of that committee, I am very disappointed that we have not had any response to those recommendations.

All older people in our community should have access to affordable, high-quality aged-care services. The Rudd government should leave the politically motivated resourcing of primary school halls to the state governments and focus its attention on meeting its responsibility of looking after our ageing citizens in a compassionate, proper and adequate way.

5:12 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When I saw the notice of motion on aged care in the Red today, I became quite excited. The title referred to challenges in aged care and I thought that this would be a great issue to debate. We would be able to have a responsible discussion about it in this place and look at all the things that we know we should talk about in terms of future aged care in our community. I was drawn to going back to the report of the community affairs committee that you and I were on, Mr Acting Deputy President Humphries, in 2005: the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs References report entitled Quality and equity in aged care. I was hopeful that the people in the aged-care sector had looked at the 51 recommendations that came out of that inquiry.

Senator Adams and I worked closely together on that committee, and I was interested in her comments, which were strongly backed up by Senator Barnett, that we were waiting for the Rudd government to respond to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration report of April 2009. Those of us who were on the 2005 committee waited two years and five months for the then government to respond to that report. I can give a clear commitment that it will not be two years and five months until we have a response from this government on where we are going. However, we need to ensure that we work effectively in what are the significant challenges in aged care in this country.

After my excitement at seeing this notice of motion, and the opportunity it provided to look at the challenges of aged care, I read it through. I got to the words ‘We give notice .. and move that the Senate’ and I thought that it was all going really well. When I got to the first point of the motion, which states, ‘Australia has an ageing population’, I was thrilled to think that we had a point of agreement. We agree on the documented information which has developed through the responsible research models in this country that are looking at what our demographic future is.

You may remember, Mr Acting Deputy President, that in one of our committee inquiries—I am not sure which one—we had evidence from a research body which talked about the coffin-shaped graph, which I felt at the time was perhaps an unfortunate title for the area we were talking about. In a very clear and graphic way, it showed us the demographic position of our Australian population at the moment and into the future. As we were encouraged to by that group, we could see the bulge of birth rate through the middle years and into the future. A number of senators have pointed out—and I think as much as possible we should try to keep to where we can agree—that today we have about three million people in our community who are over 65 years of age. The year 2050 may seem a long way away but, in the research patterns we are looking at, it is not that far. When we look at generational increase, by 2050 the number of over 65-year-olds will have doubled to more than 7.5 million and will be 22.2 per cent of the Australian population, according to the current projections of our health system.

People over 70, given the kind of work we are doing to ensure we stay fit and healthy and increasingly active in the workforce, now number about two million, and that is projected to triple to more than six million by 2050, or 16.9 per cent of the population. Over 85 is a fine age. In Australia we have people living to great ages. Now we have around 400,000 people who have reached the age of 85 or over. By 2050, and this is based on what we know at the moment from our health systems, that is expected to quadruple to 1.6 million people, or 4.6 per cent of the Australian population. It is self-evident that our population is ageing. There are great programs operating in our communities, particularly at the local government level, to encourage people to remain healthy and fit. There would be an expectation, if we have such an ageing population, that we will be needing more effective, more responsible aged-care services. So with the notice of motion, I thought I could agree with the fact that:

Australia has an ageing population—

and I went on to agree with:

which will cause a significant increase in demand for aged care services over the coming decades—

yes, yes—

including aged care facilities.

Yes, we were together, as one, and I thought once again here we are looking at the challenges of aged care. So we created the scenario: we agree that there is an ageing population but not just in Australia. One of the things we need to accept is that through most of the developing world there is an acknowledgement that people will be living longer. The kinds of issues we are discussing in Australia are shared by most of the developing nations. Part of the research and the development of technology and training packages can be shared internationally. Through some significant work, particularly at centres of excellence in some of the universities in this country, we are sharing knowledge. On that point, I think we can continue to agree. Feeling quite confident, I then moved on to point (ii):

the Federal Government has direct responsibility for the provision of aged care, while the states have responsibility for a range of matters, including the provision of education.

I can be pretty certain that I can agree with most of that as well. We know that aged care is a shared responsibility. It is across governments—but not just across governments, because aged care, as we well know, also depends on the direct involvement of business, industry, community organisations, all of us and, most importantly, family, an element which I know has been picked up in previous discussion but continues to be important in the discussion into the future.

In Australia, we do not have a particularly strong history of extended family care. Some cultures do. In terms of looking after aged people, there has been a revised interest over the last 10 to 15 years in keeping people within their home environment and their family environment. We have seen people making family plans on that basis. So, yes, we can accept that there is a shared responsibility in decisions about aged care. One of the things that we do know now much more than in the past is that there is a strong responsibility for individuals to plan their own futures.

In one of our previous inquiries looking at the focus of social welfare into the future, part of the evidence was that people are now looking more clearly at self-funding their futures. That came up very strongly in the issues of superannuation. So with respect to part (ii) of the notice of motion I thought yes, while there could be discussion around who has responsibility for particular parts, I am doing well. We are agreeing on (i) and (ii), and that is not even to take into account the first point, which is to say that there is a notice of motion—and I agreed with that as well. I was becoming encouraged at this point. Then I went to the opening phrase of (iii):

the Rudd Government

and I felt, having seen who put the notice of motion on the Notice Paper, ‘Hang on, this is where there could start to be a point of difference.’ Indeed, when I read on it said:

has failed to do anything to tackle the capital funding crisis in the aged care sector.

I felt almost immediately a lack of agreement. Whilst I totally feel that we need to look at the challenges in the aged-care sector, anything that starts with ‘failed to do anything’ made me think that this could well be moving from a discussion looking at the challenges of aged care in our community to what Senator Siewert referred to in her contribution as our well-known process of buck-passing and politicisation of the issue. I thought: why do this, when we know as a community, when we know as a parliament, that, in the ordinary processes in this place, there needs to be work done on aged care—no-one denies that—yet we automatically lift the issue for discussion into allegation and buck-passing, bringing in an element of politicisation and taking away from the aspects of where we need to move forward?

There is no doubt that there needs to be changes in our aged care system. No-one denies that. Through the processes of our series of committees on this issue, both within the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs and the recent Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration chaired by Senator Polley, I did a quick calculation that there are over 100 recommendations looking specifically at aged care. There is no element that says that there does not need to be changes.

In fact, the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, which is the latest group looking across the board at our whole system in this country, has its own section on increasing choice in aged care. I know that they did enormous work led by Dr Christine Bennett, and I trust that as part of their research process the members of this commission were able to look at some of the work that had been done through the various Senate committees. I think they must have. When you read their 11 recommendations—our previous committees had over 100 recommendations, so I think they were quite restrained when they came up with 11—you see that they are identifying the same kinds of issues that we had done, whether when we as the Labor Party were sitting on the opposition benches and talking about this issue with another government or vice versa. They came up with similar issues:

We recommend that government subsidies for aged care should be more directly linked to people rather than places.

That seems to be one of the core issues about which we are most concerned. I think I have heard a number of contributions this afternoon which are focusing on the issue of places. Ministers of all flavours release media releases when they are talking about the allocation of rounds and how many places are available at different times. I can go back to Google, that marvellous system, and find media releases that go back into the ’80s talking about aged care places that are going out. It is a positive time when there is funding and allocation of aged care places, but  I have always thought it would be more positive if we tried to link that placement process to individual need and people. The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission have led here and their No. 1 recommendation is:

We recommend that … aged care should be more directly linked to people rather than places.

That reflects what we have been saying in our previous ideas. It also goes on about the whole idea of accommodation bonds and alternative options for payment. This was a particularly vexed issue in our recent inquiry. I think it was probably a hotter issue than it had been in previous inquiries in which I have been involved. That is an ongoing discussion. I am surprised, Senator Cormann, that one of the challenges in your dot points here was not on that, given the interest that people put into this process. I think that is one of the things that will continue to be an issue. If you look at the Hansard coverage of our previous inquiry you will see that a lot of time was taken up with people discussing that issue.

We also consistently talk about information sharing. I heard previous speakers talk about the fact that at the time when people are seeking aged care help it is often when they are at their most vulnerable and stressed. The whole process becomes so confusing and challenging. People are not able to make the clearest choices and are often lost, despite the wealth of information support that we have. One thing that the previous government and our current government have agreed on is the need to provide effective support information services through the various care links and other organisations. That has been a positive process. People have been getting more access to support so that when they are faced with making these choices they have more information on which to base their decisions and also more security in the choices. Nonetheless, the health reform process has determined that there needs to be more of that so that we can have more confidence that people know what options are available.

Another concern is that when we talk about aged care there seems to be a presumption that we are only talking about aged care facilities and people going into them, whatever they are called. That is not true and I know that Senator Adams referred to the growing number of principal in-place home care positions that are there. Our government has said on many occasions that we believe it is a very important aspect of aged care and there should be more focus on that.

It is not a contest. It is not a competition between someone going into an aged care facility and someone being able to live independently, with support, in their home. I think we should not be talking about having to make that either/or decision. We should be talking about having a more flexible process with a focus on people, so that people are the centre of the discussion and that they can make effective personal choices across a range of options, and these should be funded effectively.

I would think that we would have a degree of agreement on that as well; certainly on the health reform process which is currently up for community consultation. The document has come out, been presented to the minister and now made public. They say that it is the culmination of 16 months of discussion, debate, consultation, research and deliberation; all those things that we know go on. But the important aspect now is to work with the community to see what recommendations will go to government for decision.

Within that process the issues around aged care must not be forgotten. Amidst all the discussion about health reform I do not believe that the area of aged care has received the amount of consideration and public attention that it deserves. I did a quick look at the media coverage of the health reform package and there was not much mention of aged care at all. So one of the responsibilities we can share and can agree on is that it is part of our job to see that these 11 recommendations around aged care do have consideration and are part of the public debate.

I was feeling okay. I knew that there was a bit of a political motive behind this whole notice of motion, but, disappointed as I was that this was the case, I was working through it. And then I got to dot point 4. I was quite stunned by No. 4. It actually said:

The Rudd government—

It is another dead giveaway when the dot point begins with, ‘The Rudd government ...’. And when it has been put forward by Senator Cormann you have to be careful. That dot point went on to talk about reckless and irresponsible action. I was a bit stunned by that but I thought I had best read ahead to make sure I could do all my preparation and get my research ready.

I found dot point 5 and then I worked past ‘the Rudd government’ again and I got to the verb this time, which also caused me a bit of concern. I got to the verb ‘to waste’ and that made me upset. But then I thought, ‘Great, we’re moving on to what we’ve been getting regularly at question time for the last few days: another attack on Building the Education Revolution program.’ Then I realised—it took me a while because sometimes I have to think more slowly and go through it; it could be my increased age—that this was not a motion that was looking at the challenges of aged care in our community, although it led with that title. Once again it was a way to have a political debate in this place—to restate the philosophical approach that people in this place have to various decisions that have been made by government.

You might realise that I am taking a particular line in this debate, but one thing that truly disappoints me is that, by the nature of the way this motion has been developed, we have a form of contest between money being granted to schools and education and money being granted to aged care. Whilst we know that there are always debates about various decisions and priorities in government, to have created such a division in this motion is not a progressive debate. There has been a decision by government to focus money on an infrastructure process in education but that is being presented as a waste and it is being contrasted with some way of spending money on infrastructure in aged care. It is, once again, an attempt to have a political argument. So be it; but do not pretend that that is part of a focus on the all-too-real need to look at an effective process in our aged-care sector. That, in itself, is worthy of consideration and is something that we should work on in this place, without creating any kind of false impression that because money is being spent on education it is being wastefully spent there rather than on aged care. We can continue looking at the challenges of aged care. We encourage people to look at the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, but do not make it into a simple political argument.

5:33 pm

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is notable that Senator Moore, in her concluding remarks, mentioned the words ‘waste’ and ‘mismanagement’. In and around the same sentences she referred to the so-called Building the Education Revolution. We have seen evidence this week of over $7 million being expended on signs and the Hon. Julia Gillard memorial plaques! Such waste. This is money that could be expended in the aged-care sector rather than on promoting the government.

In fact, they were caught out with their hands in the cookie jar trying to use this money to gain an extra vote for the Labor Party at the next election. The Australian Electoral Commission said that this federal Labor government is in breach of the Australian Electoral Act. This money should obviously have been used more wisely and more carefully. And one of the areas where it could have been used is in aged care. So waste and mismanagement is a key theme that certainly flowed all this week with respect to the actions of the Rudd Labor government. School after school is being built or redeveloped, including when the parents and friends of the school do not want it. So the waste and mismanagement has been reckless in the extreme.

I very much support Senator Cormann’s motion today. We do have an aging population that is putting pressure on the viability of the aged-care sector—and will be doing so into the future. I have always seen the importance of highlighting the need for quality aged care, the need for access to aged-care services and the need for viability. At the moment we know that the viability of aged-care services is going southward in this country, particularly in Tasmania. That reduced viability will compromise the quality care that is to be provided for our elderly citizens—those in residential aged care, in particular.

Only last week I met with the president of Aged and Community Services Tasmania, Susan Parr, at St Ann’s Homes, in Davey Street, Hobart. I am a former board member of St. Ann’s—of some eight years—so I know a little bit about the topic. Susan Parr and Aged and Community Services Tasmania are not happy pumpkins. They are being prejudiced by the lack of action, the lack of a decisive approach and the lack of funding support from the Rudd Labor government. So let us make clear the concerns that are being put to the Senate—

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is untrue. It is not what they said on ABC radio.

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It most certainly is true, Senator Polley. You were waxing lyrical about the concerns you had about the Howard government with respect to aged care and I will comment on that very shortly. But I want to make something clear with respect to the waste and mismanagement. We had it exposed this week that $7 million was spent on signs to promote the Labor Party, to grab a Labor vote at the next federal election and to honour the Hon. Julia Gillard.

Then, of course, we had the Grocery Choice debacle, when $13 million of wasted taxpayers’ money was borrowed and expended by the Rudd Labor government to establish this website. And then they closed it down. We are going to find out exactly how much waste has been expended by this Rudd Labor government.

We know that the aged-care industry at the moment is underfunded. We know that it is overregulated. We know that there are increasing demands for services. I want to address some of the points that Senator Polley expressed in the Senate, and respond to them. She said that the Howard government did nothing, so let’s address some of those points and then I will get to some of the specific concerns that I want to highlight here in the Senate.

The Howard coalition government was the first federal government to recognise the need for a dedicated minister for ageing. Surely we can take a bow for that one. In terms of operational aged-care places, there was a 48 per cent increase, from 141,292 places in June 1996, when Labor left office and Howard-Costello moved in, to 208,698 places in December 2006. The coalition invested $5.7 billion in the construction and upgrade of aged-care homes from 1998. There was a huge increase in the number of community care packages, which allow older Australians to remain in their own homes with the support and care they need. We provided enormous support for dementia services across Australia; we made it a national health priority. We established the National Respite for Carers Program. The coalition commissioned the first ever census of the residential aged-care workforce. In terms of attacks on the coalition, that is a short response.

Let me say a few other things in terms of Senator Polley’s comments. I have a letter to the editor from the Launceston Examiner newspaper dated 9 September 2009—which happens to be yesterday—by Dick James, President of the Association of Independent Retirees, Tasmania division. He says:

AGED care in Tasmania is in crisis

Is Senator Polley listening? Are the Labor senators in Tasmania listening? He continues:

Two aged-care homes have closed in the past 12 months because they are no longer financially viable.

Several others are operating with deficit budgets.

An immediate and substantial injection of federal money is desperately required.

Tasmanian aged homes’ staff have appealed to the federal Ageing Minister Justine Elliot but without success to this time.

It is pleasing to note the address delivered by Tasmanian Labor Senator Helen Polley in the Senate on June 23.

Here we are; she is being quoted:

Senator Polley described the immense difficulties facing Tasmanian aged-care providers, and being a member of the Federal Government encouraged all to believe relief from this parlous situation would eventuate.

All Tasmanian members of the Federal Parliament are urged to speak up on this issue.

That is what the coalition is doing this afternoon in supporting this motion and putting it to the Senate and the Australian people that aged-care is in crisis. It is in a parlous situation, Dick James—you are right. Well done on putting your views in the local newspaper the Examiner.

We have had countless articles on aged-care in Tasmania in recent times. Here is one from the Hobart Mercury from Thursday 6 August:

Aged-care crisis alarm for nation

               …            …            …

TASMANIA’S crisis in aged care is a dire warning about the future of the sector Australia-wide, industry leaders said yesterday.

Peak aged-care organisations met in Hobart yesterday to launch a plan to lobby for reform.

Why would they be doing this if they were not in crisis, if they were not in need? Guess what—they are lobbying for reform. The Rudd Labor government should get off their high horse and actually listen to their concerns. That is what I was doing last week—I was listening. I met with the president of Aged and Community Services Tasmania. The article goes on:

“Aged-care services in Tasmania are disappearing under an intolerable regulatory burden and inadequate funding,” Aged and Community Services Tasmania chief executive Darren Mathewson said.

That is what the chief executive officer for the organisation in Tassie said. It goes on:

“In the past 12 months alone we have seen two aged-care providers close their facilities and the withdrawal of a secure dementia unit on the North-West Coast.”

The National body’s chief executive Greg Mundy said Tasmania’s woes were indicative of those in all regional areas.

There you go. Please listen. Here is a headline from the Hobart Mercury on 4 June 2009: ‘Expert fears for dementia care’. Here is another one from the Mercury on Wednesday 18 March, many months ago: ‘Campaign to improve aged care’. That article quotes Australian Nursing Federation Tasmanian Branch Secretary Neroli Ellis. We know in the aged-care sector there is a wage shortfall of about 20 per cent compared to the acute care sector. Neroli Ellis, who I know, does a great job for the nursing community in Tasmania. There is another headline, from 21 January: ‘Aged-care crisis spurs call for aid’. You can see the writing on the wall. I just wonder if Labor are listening. Have they been out there talking to the aged-care community?

Let’s look at the facts in terms of residential aged-care bed licences, because they are a key indicator. If bed licences are being allocated and taken up, we know that the sector is viable, that it is a goer, that the industry can grow and meet the needs of an ageing population. Minister Elliot, the Minister for Ageing, has allocated 1,852 residential aged-care bed licences less than what was promised in October 2008—a 25 per cent shortfall in residential aged-care bed licences, right from the start.

What is happening in Tasmania? Of 131 new residential aged-care places made available to Tasmania in the 2008-09 ACAR round, only 89 were taken up—a shortfall of 42. That is not a good sign. That is a very significant indicator. Hello, Tasmanian Labor members of parliament. Please listen. That is on the back of what happened in 2007, when 63 residential aged-care places were applied for and allocated out of 167. That is not a good number. That is a shortfall of 104. Hello, Labor Party members in Tasmania. Please stand up for the viability of aged-care services in Tasmania.

In the last 12 months or so we have had 35 residential aged-care licences handed back. Not only are they not applying; they are actually handing them back. Things are getting worse. Can’t the government face up to the fact that aged-care is in crisis? Please listen. Across the country, 786 have been handed back over the last 12 months or so. This is pretty serious stuff, and I wonder if they are listening; I really do. The writing is on the wall; surely they see it.

What about community care applications that have been submitted? We have talked about residential aged-care places; let’s talk about community care, where we provide support to people in their own homes and communities. In 2008-09—let us have a look at the figures which I have in front of me—in Northern Tasmania there are 14 applications. In 2007-08 there were 11 applications. How many were successful in Northern Tasmania? Two! How many were unsuccessful? Eighty-two per cent were unsuccessful. In North-Western Tasmania seven applied in the first year and six applied in 2007-08, and only three were successful. That is a 50 per cent failure rate. Likewise, in Southern Tasmania, there were 19 applications in 2008-09, and 23 applications in 2007-08. How many of those were successful? Five! That is not a good record. It is a 78 per cent failure rate. Come on, Labor Party members in Tasmania, please wake up!

Why would one of the local aged-care providers, Presbyterian Homes for the Aged, approach me to present a petition in the federal parliament? I wonder why! They are concerned about the viability of their home and the viability for aged-care services across Tasmania. They approached me earlier in the year and they said, ‘Please, we have had meetings, we have talked to the local federal member of parliament, but we have not had much success there.’ So they wanted me, the local Liberal senator to present a petition to the parliament, and of course I did. I wrote a letter and expressed some of the concerns following the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee inquiry into residential and community aged care in Australia, which was handed down on 29 April this year. We will come to the reports and the inaction of government in responding to these concerns. In that letter I said:

Overwhelmingly, those who participated in the Inquiry highlighted the enormous pressures their organisations are under with a large number of providers operating at losses. It is apparent that these losses are becoming increasingly unsustainable and providers are closing their facilities, leaving beds empty and handing back licences.

The evidence is on the table. This is happening. This is factual.

At a time when Australians require more and more aged care services, providers are cutting back on services because of the non viability of the sector.

Doesn’t the Rudd government get it? The Rudd government is in denial about this nonviability. It is not listening. It is certainly not offering solutions, and this a lack of policy direction and forward planning will harm for the future care of older Australians. It is a big concern, not just in Tasmania but across the country. Many people are very worried about it.

What about these reports? There has been report after report, and what has the government done? Let me put this to you. I have the Senate report right here in front of me. There are 31 recommendations in this—this was handed down in April 2009—but not a squeak, not a scintilla, of concern or response from this government. This is a big concern and there needs to be a wake-up call, for and on behalf of the Rudd Labor government, to say action is required.

What else has happened? We have had the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report in June 2009. We have had Trends in aged care services: some implications from the Productivity Commission. We have had the Annual review of the regulatory burden: social and economic infrastructure services Productivity Commission interim report, and it goes on. There is a lack of action. Guess what is happening all the time? The aged-care industry is going south; their viability is becoming more suspect every day, particularly in Tasmania. As Senator Adams indicated, it is also particularly so in Western Australia. That is why we are supporting Senator Cormann’s motion this afternoon. It is very well written and well prepared, and the evidence backs it in every way, shape or form.

We do know that the Rudd government cut funding to aged care in the 2009-10 budget. That was a shameful demonstration of their lack of support for aged-care services. I know that Greg Mundy at Aged and Community Services Australia would be very concerned about that. I also know that the aged-care industry across Australia is likewise concerned. The indexation of the conditional adjustment payment subsidy, CAPS, has been cut. The CAPS remains at 8.75 per cent until 2011-12. This is a death by a thousand cuts. This is what the Rudd Labor government is doing to aged care in Australia. There was $25.8 million lost over four years from discontinuation of the assistive technology and community care program.

Let us be thankful for one thing. We can be thankful for Margaret May MP, our shadow minister for ageing, who has been doing a sterling job. She was in Tasmania earlier this year—

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

And her team.

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And her team. I am about to talk about her team. They support the shadow minister for ageing, Margaret May. The Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, has been great. They have recently launched the Engaging with Senior Australians initiative. That initiative is to be commended. It should read, considered and supported by all and sundry across the board. Peter Dutton, the shadow minister for health, and Senator Mathias Cormann, who is sitting a few place away from me, in his capacity as shadow parliamentary secretary are a great team. I know all members on this side of the chamber want to support a more viable aged-care sector so that we have quality aged care and we have access to that quality aged care.

There we have it. I want to say that it is tough now in the aged-care sector. I know the providers, in and around Tasmania, have to be so innovative and creative because they are doing it tough. Providers have just a few dollars and many of them are already operating in the red. I do not know exactly how many as it is hard to know in terms of proportions and percentages, but we do know there is a good proportion who have gone out of business and many are now operating in the red.

Tasmania is decentralised. We have many, many aged-care service providers in rural and regional parts of Tasmania and, I tell you, they are doing it tough. It is very hard for them to make a go of it. What is more, you have an ageing population. Tasmania is one of the oldest states in Australia in terms of population above the age of 65 years. I know South Australia is not far behind, but Tasmania is leading the country in terms of their ageing population. Things are not looking that hopeful for them at the moment.

We hope that, as a result of this motion being put and debated today, and hopefully passed and supported, we can make a difference for older Australians who deserve quality aged-care services across this country. We will do our darnedest to make a difference for older Australians.

5:52 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I start into the substance of my address today I would like to ask a question: where was Senator Barnett when the former Howard government was in government? I would like to remind Senator Barnett that there was a particular piece of evidence given to the inquiry into residential and community aged care in Launceston—my home state and, indeed, Senator Barnett’s local stomping ground—by the Hon. Dr Frank Madill, Chairman of the Board, Presbyterian Care Tasmania. I know that Senator Barnett knows the Hon. Dr Frank Madill, and he is probably the person that gave Senator Barnett the petition. The Hon. Dr Frank Madill is a former Liberal member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly. This is what Dr Madill had to say. I will paraphrase, of course, as I would not want to take Dr Madill out of context.

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We will check the quotes.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You can, Senator Barnett. You do that, because I want to know why you weren’t listening. Why weren’t you listening in the five years that you were part of the Liberal Howard government?

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We were acting.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You were not acting and you were not listening. I enjoyed the inquiry into residential and community aged care in Australia. It was quite a good inquiry and we had a lot of support across the parties in listening to the providers and the consumers. Dr Madill said under questioning at the Launceston hearing—and I am paraphrasing, not quoting: ‘You are right. This is not an issue that has developed overnight.’ He acknowledged that the issues he was raising were issues when the Howard government was in power. I would like Senator Barnett to come in here when he has time, and when he wants to put out a press release, and say why he wasn’t listening. Why weren’t you listening, Senator Barnett?—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President.

It never ceases to amaze me what can be achieved in two short years. What has been achieved on the other side is a renewed interest in issues that they have ignored for over a decade—that is what has been achieved. In his contribution, Senator Barnett would like to suggest that they did wonderful things for the aged-care sector. But the government know and the people that participated in the inquiry know exactly what the providers were saying, which was that they had been struggling to have the issues heard for years under the Howard government.

We have heard through Senator Moore, who talked about an inquiry that took place in 2005, that there was no response to that inquiry from the Howard government. Of course that is not going to happen now, and even if they were still here they would not have a response. As I said, it never ceases to amaze me what can be achieved by those on the other side when they are in opposition. Time and time again in this place we have had a complete turnaround by those opposite on issues which for years they chose to ignore, and this time it happens to be in relation to the very important issue of aged care. For years the previous government almost completely neglected this vitally important area when they had the chance to do something about it. Now it seems, as they are sitting comfortably on the other side, they have conveniently decided that this is an area worthy of their attention. The government on the other hand has been acutely aware of the need for constructive action in this area for quite some time.

I also would like to take issue with something that Senator Barnett mentioned in his contribution. He talked about going to see Ms Susan Parr at St Ann’s, who is also the President of Aged and Community Services, Tasmania, ACST. He indicated some statements that he attributed to her. Senator Barnett talked about Ms Parr, and of course we will have a look at those statements. The inquiry has handed down its unanimous report and, as I said, it was an inquiry that enjoyed quite a lot of assistance in trying to get to the bottom of the issues that the providers wanted to put forward. I am sure Senator Barnett would like to know that since we handed down the report we had arranged, through Senator Polley, for Ms Parr and Mr Darren Mathewson, who is the CEO of ACST, to meet with the minister. Mr Mathewson is on record in an interview with the ABC quite recently indicating that he found the meeting with the minister and the discussion that they had to be very positive. ACST are looking forward to working with the minister and, according to Mr Mathewson, have forwarded a copy of their strategy. They are the facts.

Senator Barnett’s whole contribution basically was an attempt to rewrite history, and also was probably an attempt to rewrite his own history and his own actions in this regard. The combination of a number of factors, such as increases in life expectancy and social mobility, has ensured that the future of aged care in this country has become an increasingly significant issue. Arguably nowhere else is this more evident than in my home state of Tasmania. Senator Barnett indicated, and I agree with him, that in Tasmania aged care is a very important issue because we have one of the most rapidly ageing populations in Australia. Further, the projected population of Tasmania in 2030 is 562,630 people, with the number of people aged 65—

Debate interrupted.