Thursday, 20 June 2013
Aged Care (Living Longer Living Better) Bill 2013, Australian Aged Care Quality Agency Bill 2013, Australian Aged Care Quality Agency (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, Aged Care (Bond Security) Amendment Bill 2013, Aged Care (Bond Security) Levy Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading
Finally this matter has been brought on. As shadow minister for ageing I am very pleased that this debate has finally begun. We have been ready to debate the Aged Care (Living Longer Living Better) Bill 2013 and the associated bills since Tuesday. I say on the record that the choice of how to order the business of the Senate was a matter for the government and the Greens alliance partners. I say this because the government has chosen to give priority to affording union officials access to work lunch rooms over matters like aged care. That says it all. To Minister Butler's carping supporters on the sidelines, who have chosen to be critical because these bills have not yet passed, I categorically say: this is not the coalition's fault. This has been a long, protracted and appalling process at every stage. Now, today, we have four minutes of debate today for these important bills.
The coalition at every step of the way have sought to facilitate the passage of these bills, but our priority has been to ensure that they receive proper scrutiny. They are very complex bills. We understand that, until these bills are passed, we are not going to get to the real substance, the detail, of this legislation, which is in the 18 pieces of delegated legislation. They contain the bulk of the issues which have caused the greatest angst to the coalition and to the sector.
The minister has told us that we will not see those instruments in final form until these bills are eventually passed. This process is nothing more than political blackmail by a minister showing disdain for the ageing and aged-care sector in general and a real lack of demonstrated interest in older Australians. After 18 months of staged consultations, mostly in ALP seats, and industry briefings with periods of only one week for the sector to respond, the minister has produced his legacy legislation at the eleventh hour of the Gillard government.
The government have stalled, played games and simply failed to get their act together and deal with this important matter, a matter so important to many people—older Australians, their families, their carers, aged-care providers, community care services and the hardworking staff in all those individual organisations. I once again say: do not blame the coalition. This is the government's fault. Of course, next week, we will have to join the queue with 100 or so other bills that this government have left until the last minute. It just shows the dysfunctionality of this government.
Back in 2010, when facing an election as the newly installed Prime Minister, Julia Gillard told us:
… aged care … will be a second term priority for my government.
We now know the meaning of those words is exactly the same as the meaning of, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Not only did the government lose the plot over the carbon tax but aged care also got lost somewhere in the last three years, until the final days of this parliament. The Productivity Commission review, resulting in the report Caring for older Australians, was initiated on 20 April 2010. The report was provided to the government on 28 June 2011 and released publicly on 8 August 2011. After sitting on the Productivity Commission report for more than 250 days, the government announced its Living Longer, Living Better package, on 28 April 2012. The government then waited another 327 days—that is 46 weeks and five days—before tabling their five bills in the House of Representatives, on 14 May this year, with only 16 days of parliamentary session remaining for debate. That was 18 months of procrastination, with 16 days for any action. This really shows us the value of Labor's second term priority for ageing Australians.
The coalition immediately referred these five bills to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee to examine the full impact of the changes, including how they would affect providers and older Australians, their families and their carers—even though the bills were still in the lower house. We did not wish to delay the process and wait for the bills to get to the Senate. The reporting date was initially set for 17 June. However, a majority of Labor and Greens senators on the committee voted to bring the reporting date forward to 31 May, thereby contracting further the period for meaningful consideration of the evidence before the committee.