Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


Aged Care

7:31 pm

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

This evening I rise to speak on the aged care homeless supplement, which enables specialist homeless aged care providers to provide aged care services to older Australians with a history of or risk of homelessness. The homelessness supplement, initially the transitional homeless supplement, was announced in June 2013 and commenced on 1 October 2013. The homeless supplement was a recommendation of the report of the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee on the Living Longer, Living Better aged care reform package. The supplement was negotiated as part of the Living Longer, Living Better aged care reform package as it went through parliament, and I am proud to say I was heavily involved in those negotiations.

The supplement was introduced to assist specialist homeless providers to remain financially viable and enable them to continue to provide aged care services to this disadvantaged cohort of older Australians. Unlike mainstream providers, specialist providers have a reduced ability to recover costs from residents, as they do not have the capacity to pay. This means that there is an inequality on the revenue side of the equation for these specialist homeless aged care providers. That, of course, is what the homeless supplement is supposed to assist with.

Unfortunately, the financial viability of specialist aged care homeless services is again at risk as the gap between mainstream providers and specialist aged care providers has once again grown. It is currently at $11 per day. It is worth noting here that prior to the introduction of what is called the Aged Care Funding Instrument, commonly known as ACFI, these specialist providers received comparable funding to the mainstream providers under the previous funding system, which is the Resident Classification Scale. The introduction of the ACFI negatively impacted on homeless aged care providers.

We need to ensure that these providers are supported to continue the critical role they play within the aged care sector. Without them, more than 1,300 homeless residents who are supported by these providers will be faced with an uncertain future. Such providers have no additional capacity to withstand any further transition of costs from the Commonwealth to the consumer under the user-pays model. Instead, they need additional resources from the government to bolster their efforts. Wintringham specialist aged care estimates that if the cost of the care transferred to residents increases by one per cent per annum, the $11 funding gap will increase to $19 by 2022. They are calling for an increase of $19 to the supplement to help them tackle the growing gap and ensure their viability.

Vulnerable older Australians should be supported and not left on the streets without these vital services. Without this increase these specialist providers may be forced to close, and the government will in fact be required, somehow, to provide accommodation, support and care for these residents—I dare say at a substantially higher cost.

I would also like to briefly mention here that, while the Greens broadly support consumer directed care—and we have been on the record about that—there is a need for exemptions to be made where it is shown not to be working. One cohort that it is not working for is homeless people. Older Australians who find themselves homeless should not be disadvantaged by their circumstances. Providers like Wintringham Specialist Aged Care have managed to find a way to provide home based care to older Australians who do not have a home of their own. The government should be encouraging such providers and supporting them to continue to provide such services. I am deeply concerned that the move to consumer directed care is impacting on their ability to provide support and outreach services such that people can be very reluctant to engage with service providers. The type of outreach care and support that these specialist services provide is very important, but the current approach makes it very difficult for them to provide these services when the services are directed at individual consumers, because, in fact, they don't have these packages. I encourage the government to make an exception to consumer directed care for individuals who cannot and do not receive these individual packages and to provide homelessness agencies with funding to enable them to continue to do the excellent work they do in supporting homeless people. We encourage the government to act now to ensure that funding is made available and that services meet the needs of homeless Australians.