Thursday, 13 February 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Minister Colbeck. This week the ABC Investigations Unit highlighted the fact that aged-care facilities can employ as few staff as they like and that a study of 800 nursing homes showed the average food spend for residents was a paltry $6 a day. The ABC story also referenced an amendment I put forward in December which would have required aged-care providers to reveal what proportion of their funds they actually spend on delivering care and how much goes to other things, like lining the pockets of their parent bodies. The government, joined by Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts, voted against this simple but necessary reform. Why does the government not believe that the sector needs to be more transparent in how it spends taxpayer dollars?
Thanks, Senator Griff, for the question. It is an important question to discuss. This government has worked extremely hard over recent years, including calling the royal commission to conduct an extensive review of the industry and how we might redesign it moving forward. The issues that Senator Griff talks about will be, quite rightly, considered as part of that royal commission process. I'm certain that Centre Alliance and those associated will make representations to the royal commission appropriately to put those issues forward.
The legislation that we passed last year came out of recommendations of the Carnell-Paterson review into the terrible circumstances that occurred in South Australia at a government owned nursing home there. That was to bring together into one organisation the regulatory work of the quality and safety commissioner all under one roof, rather than having the split between the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which we created as part of the recommendation process of the Carnell-Paterson review at the beginning of last year. We have brought all of that under the umbrella of one organisation, which was part of those recommendations. It was important that that legislation passed before Christmas, because the new body was due to be formed on 1 January this year—which it was.
The government believes, even though those issues that Senator Griff talks about are important—and there are measures being put in place with respect to transparency—the measures in the amendments brought forward by Senator Griff were best considered in the context of the royal commission, rather than just through an amendment in the chamber. So the government is quite happy to—
Minister, in its interim report the royal commission noted:
There is no public information on the way providers use taxpayers' funds and individuals' contributions to deliver aged care services.
The government hasn't waited for the final royal commission report before considering privatising ACAT and the Regional Assessment Service. What's the difference here, Minister?
A significant difference. It's not completely true that there are no financial records available for the expenditure in aged-care facilities because the publicly listed companies' records are reported publicly. So if you're interested in some of that detail, go and have a look there. It's true for many that it's not. That may very well form part of the recommendations of the royal commission, which will be brought down on 9 November this year.
The difference in what you're talking about and the reforms we're undertaking goes to the answer that I gave Senator Keneally earlier, and that is that the combination of ACAT—I refute the terminology being utilised by those on the other side with respect to privatisation, because I don't believe that that's the case. That is not what we've said publicly; it's what the media have said and what others have said. This follows on recommendations of the Carnell-Paterson review and, in fact, the royal commission.
A few days ago, responding to my motion calling on the government to legislate for financial transparency, Senator Duniam stated, and in fact you virtually repeated it there:
We recognise the need for robust financial transparency and access of senior Australians and their families to information to help them make informed choices and we have included some measures in this regard.
What measures in this regard were Senator Duniam and yourself referring to?
Some of the transparency measures that we've already put in place are particularly in respect of clinical care, and there are three clinical care indicators that were required to be reported by the sector, starting from 1 July last year. There are two more that are being considered now. We will continue consulting with the sector. In fact, I wrote to the advisory committee of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission late last year, asking them to report back to me about what other regulatory tools the quality and safety commission might need. I've received that report and I've referred that report to the royal commission so that they can quite properly consider those things in the context of their report that will come back this year.