Thursday, 20 September 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Senator Scullion. Can the minister advise how the Liberal-National government is looking after older Australians, including by supporting better aged-care services in regional, rural and remote Australia?
I thank Senator Martin and acknowledge his very strong advocacy in this place for regional Tasmania and Tasmanian seniors. While those opposite, aided and abetted by the Tasmanian Greens, would smash the budget and wreck the economy—as they did last time—so there would actually need to be cuts, this government treasures senior Australians, which is why we look after the economy. Unlike those opposite, we believe senior Australians deserve to be treated with respect and dignity—and that needs a good economy. Unlike those opposite, we are making a record investment in aged care.
Unlike those opposite, this government's investment in aged care is going up by a billion dollars a year over the forwards estimates. In 2017-18, aged-care spending reached $18.6 billion and over the next five years funding will grow by $5 billion to $23.6 billion. That is $5 billion more to ensure senior Australians receive the best possible care. While those opposite continue to mislead and try to frighten older Australians, we will continue our record investment in funding. This government is increasing the number of home care packages from 87,000 in 2017-18 to 151,000 by 2021-22. This will include an increase of 34,000 in high-level packages by 2021-22. The immediate rollout of 14,000 additional high-care places began in July. This is on top of the 6,000 high-level home-care packages announced in MYEFO. There's $90 million to support aged-care providers. Of this, $40 million will support aged-care services in regional and rural areas. We are also providing $50 million to support residential aged-care providers and their staff to improve safety standards and quality of care.
Our government is implementing a reform package that is significantly improving the aged-care providers that are delivering to senior Australians in regional and rural Australia. We're establishing an independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, with more than $300 million, to police the sector. We're providing a one-stop shop for all aged-care consumers, their carers and loved ones on quality of care and services. We will ensure genuinely unannounced visits by auditors. We're introducing new aged-care quality standards that clearly spell out what consumers can expect from aged-care services, and that will be supported by a new charter of rights. We're continuing to support independent advocacy services for senior Australians to address potential elder abuse in aged care, with $31.7 million being provided to the Older Persons Advocacy Network by 2020. We will always look after regional Australia and our seniors that live there.
I thank the senator for that question. As I have already outlined, we're investing $40 million to support aged-care providers in regional, rural and remote Australia for building and maintenance works to ensure aged-care homes remain fit for purpose whilst meeting the quality standards. We'll also provide funding to ensure more than 900 senior Australians can access better and expanded aged-care services in remote communities to allow them to remain in their homes on country.
Honourable senators interjecting—
Make no mistake—Labor and the Greens, who are yakking on the other side, will cut every single cent of these initiatives because they will have to. They will wreck the economy, and then they'll have to start cutting. We've been through this before. Senior Australians are not stupid. They know that the coalition will look after the economy, and they know that the coalition will look after them and that Labor never will.
Can I thank those opposite for making this a week of serious investigation into aged care. With only one other question this year, it's a real relief that we can actually focus on this matter. There is an increase in demand for home care because seniors have chosen—and we are the party of choice—to stay in their homes rather than move into residential care. That's a choice that they have made. So the demand, especially for high-level packages—level 3 or 4—continues to increase. This is a reflection of the desire of older Australians to remain in their homes as long as possible. So this government is addressing this demand through an additional $1.6 billion investment—
Yes, the point of order is relevance. It was very simple. It was one question, no preamble: how many older Australians are currently on the government's home care package waiting list?
Opposition senators interjecting—
Order! I will make a ruling when there's silence. It was a very specific question. I have been listening very carefully to the minister's answer. He's been speaking for 51 seconds. He has a minute and nine remaining to come to the question and answer. Senator Scullion.
As I was indicating, there are more people than ever before receiving home care packages. The number of people in care has increased by 13.5 per cent over the year. It's gone from 68,657 people—that was on 31 December 2016. A year later, on 31 December 2017, we had 77,918 people. That is why we're investing more than $74,000, which, can I say, is an increase of 86 per cent—
So, as I've indicated, we're providing for home care, in the context of a request from older Australians to stay at home, an increase of 86 per cent in those particular packages. And to put this in context—
The point of order goes to direct relevance. There was only one question, which was: how many Australians are currently on the home care package waitlist? If the minister doesn't have a brief on that, could he take it on notice, please?
Thank you. I'm just contextualising the group of people because you need to understand that only half of those on the queue are already receiving care. So most of the people who are receiving— (Time expired)
Wait times for individuals differ according to their approved package level, their priority for care and the date on which they're actually approved for care. We currently expect the maximum wait time—for example, for a person on their first home care package, which is a level 1—to be between one and three months. That's for most people who are entering the queue. But, of course, as you move from one package to the next package, you release a package for those people who are waiting on a different package. When we report the waiting list or when we look at—
Senator Cameron, you've restated the question. I'm listening very carefully. When very specific questions are asked requiring facts of ministers, the term 'directly relevant' needs to be strictly applied. I remind ministers of that when questions of this nature are asked. I call Senator Scullion, who has 16 seconds remaining to answer.
Just on the point of order, my understanding is that I was asked how many people are not receiving care who are on a waiting list for a package. That's what I understood, not to be what—
And that's why I was not ruling you not being directly relevant; I was reminding all ministers that, when very specific questions are asked, the term is there for a reason. That's why I called you to continue your answer, Senator Scullion.
Relevance, Mr President. You gave the minister the direction that he needed to go in. The question was: how many people are currently on your waiting list that receive no packages at all?
Senator Polley, I was listening very carefully and I believe the minister at that point was being directly relevant. Senators who ask questions also need to remember that I cannot instruct a minister how to answer a question as long as he's being directly relevant to it. In that case, the minister was being directly relevant. Senator Scullion, you have four seconds remaining.
We provide two sorts of packages. We provide a home care package—something that they're talking about—but we also provide additional funds beyond the packages. I will give you a comparison. Personal care, mobility, domestic assistance, nursing, nutrition and transport for the home care packages. The Commonwealth support package: domestic assistance, home maintenance, transport, meals. Identical. For the Commonwealth home support package, we provide $2.7 billion. If you're asking, 'Who isn't on a home care package?' it is more important to say, 'Who isn't on either?' We actually provide $2.7 billion for 800,000 people—
Mr President, on the point of order: I realise that, in the break, you'll be looking at the topic of questions. I just draw your attention to Odgersin relation to the three questions that have been asked here by Senator Bilyk. Odgers' 'Rules for questions' does say:
We've had three questions on detailed information for which there are other avenues through the parliament by which this information can be sought. There's a constant flouting of this. There are points of order on questions that are probably not in order in the first place. It is a waste of this Senate's time when there are more important things to be debating and discussing.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. First, Senator Canavan puts to you that these are very detailed and somewhat obscure statistical questions. My point is I would not have thought 'how many older Australians are on the waitlist for home care?' is obscure, given the current political circumstances. If the minister is unable to answer the question, we understand he may have to take it on notice. He has not done the chamber the courtesy of responding in that way.
On the first point of order raised by Senator Bilyk, I was listening very carefully. The minister was talking about, for lack of a better way of putting it, home care funding arrangements. I do consider that to be directly relevant to your second supplementary question. On your point of order, Senator Canavan, I would suggest that the context of that in Odgers is a little bit different. Also, it might rule out a number of questions from the government's side when they want to talk about other economic statistics, so I don't think it should be applied that narrowly. Senator Wong restated the question and made a point about a minister being able to take a matter on notice, which ministers are always free to do. I call Senator Scullion to continue; he has 18 seconds remaining.
We provide $2.5 billion for home care packages. What hasn't been discussed about the packages we provide in the Commonwealth Home Support Program—you need the context—is an additional $2.7 billion for much the same provision of the excellent services that we provide to our First Australians.