Monday, 17 September 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Senator Scullion. I refer to the government's own home-care package wait list. Can the minister confirm that, as of March 2018, more than 108,000 older Australians are waiting for their home-care package?
That's what I've indicated—almost half of those in the queue are receiving interim care. Offering them high-level packages through the release of additional high-level packages will free up their existing packages for someone else. And we already indicated, in an earlier answer, that we've made some investments in additional high-level packages. We've invested in 20,000 new, high-level home-care packages, as I've indicated. As you move to a higher home-care package, then others can take their place.
Senator O'Neill, at least make the point of order addressed to the President. It's not simply an opportunity to restate the question. On the point of order, I believe the minister is being directly relevant to the question asked. I cannot instruct him how to answer the question. He is addressing the topic of the question asked. I'm listening very carefully.
There are now also more people than ever before receiving home care packages. That was before the announcement of an additional 20,000 packages. The number of people in care has increased by 13.5 per cent over the year from 68,657 on 31 December 2016 to 77,918 on 31 December 2017. Wait times for individuals differ according to whatever package level they have, their priority for care and the due date they were approved for care. We're currently expecting the maximum wait time for the person's first home care level to be one and three months for most people who are entering the queue.
I again refer to the government's own home care package waitlist. Can the minister confirm that, as of March 2018, around 54,000 older Australians aren't receiving any home care packages at all?
As I've indicated, significantly more Australians enter into the area where they're going to require an aged-care package. There are many more receiving support services through our record $5.5 billion investment in the Commonwealth Home Support Program, which assists about—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. I am mindful of the ruling you made earlier, but, if I may submit an entirely different matter, the question goes to how many people aren't receiving it, so it cannot possibly be directly relevant to talk about the people who are.
Senator Wong, with respect, I don't agree with that particular interpretation to require it to be directly relevant. I'll read something I have pulled out from the past, which is a ruling by Senator Beahan, as President, when he referred to President Baker.
Senator Wong interjecting—
It is. Senator Wong, I'm going to that. He ruled:
… relevance means relevance to the subject matter under consideration. A speech, amendment or answer is relevant to a motion, bill or question if it deals with the same subject matter. Thus, if a question concerns the state of the economy, a minister's answer is relevant if it refers to the state of the economy.
The insertion of the word 'directly' narrowed that interpretation, so it is not as broad as was ruled in that case, but the ruling goes on to say:
… there is a tendency to confuse relevance and responsiveness. An answer can be relevant to a question—that is, it can deal with the same subject matter—without necessarily being responsive to the question.
I'm listening very carefully to Senator Scullion, and I do not believe that the minister, in the first 22 seconds of an answer outlining how many people do receive care, is not directly relevant to a question asking about how many do not receive care. But I am listening very carefully to the minister's answer. Senator Wong.
Mr President, we have listened to your reference to Senator Beahan's ruling. I don't propose to take up question time for a longer discussion, but I do flag that the opposition's view is that that was substantially altered by the changes to the standing orders and the lengthy discussion—as someone who was here during that period—that accompanied the change to direct relevance, which, in fact, went to some of the issues that President Beahan raised. I want to flag, now, that your indication from the chair is something we would like the opportunity to make submissions on, if you propose to take that approach. I maintain my point of order that it cannot possibly be directly relevant to talk about the number of people who are receiving care when the only question that has been asked of this minister is to confirm a number of those who are not.
Last week there was an extensive discussion on this, and I will be coming back to the chamber in writing. I invited submissions last week, and a number of people have made them. I'll be coming back to the Senate prior to the next period of sitting. I read out that ruling from President Baker to reinforce what I said last week—
I read out the ruling from President Beahan, which refers to a ruling from President Baker—he was the first one, I think. Senators will recall I did address the importance of the insertion of the word 'directly' last week. That substantially narrows that. I'm happy to take submissions, but, as I said, in the first 22 seconds of the answer from the minister, I do not believe outlining how many people do receive something is not directly relevant to answering a question about how many do not. But I'm listening carefully. The minister has 38 seconds remaining. Senator Scullion.
Mr President, I think it was in February of 2017 that we indicated that we have a new home-care system which gives older Australians more choice. The demand for home care, which is quite correct, particularly in levels 3 and 4, is a reflection of people's indication that more and more people wish to stay at home. And so we have invested an additional $1.6 billion in—
On a point of order, Mr President: the difficulty with the minister's answers on relevance is that we all know—the Australian public at large know—that there is a growing number of older Australians. Relying on that to avoid answering a question about the number of older Australians that—
When ministers are asked a question, they are granted the opportunity to provide some context. The first point of order was 22 seconds into the answer. Senator Scullion, you've been reminded of the exact nature of the question. One does need to be directly relevant to it, which does narrow the scope of what extraneous material can be directly relevant. Senator Scullion.
Thank you, Mr President. I think the important point that those opposite missed is that it's actually in the level 3 and 4 care which is the most important, and we'll be investing in the vast majority— (Time expired)
I hope that the minister can be responsive as well as relevant this time. Some older Australians have been waiting for more than two years without any care. How much longer does the Morrison government expect older Australians to wait for this care? Can the minister explain to older Australians and their families and loved ones how the government's rushed announcement of a royal commission into aged care will help them get the care they need now?
They say, 'What would happen under our government; we're doing these things and those things,' to make a direct comparative, I suppose, of what they will do or have done. In 2010-11, it was the Labor Party that ripped money out of residential aged care and failed to reinvest all of those dollars—so it was a $9 million cut. Of course, you can look at Budget Paper No. 2 from 2010-11. In the next year, that wasn't enough. They said, 'We decided to rip $200 million out of residential aged care so we're leaving those most vulnerable without the support that they need.' Again, you can look at Budget Paper No. 2 from 2011-12. Then we move on to 2012-13, where there was another cut of $135 million. Again, the source is Budget Paper No. 2 from 2012-13. Under Labor's Living Longer Living Better reforms, the ratio sets were inadequate and severely underestimated, so I don't really appreciate the nauseating lectures from the failures opposite. (Time expired)