Thursday, 27 February 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. Yesterday, the minister denied in the Senate that the government was seeking to privatise ACAT services. On 15 January, Minister Colbeck told The Sydney Morning Herald that the ACAT tender process would be open to existing assessment organisations, including government agencies and—I quote—'to the private sector'. How does the minister reconcile these two statements?
As I indicated to the chamber yesterday, the government currently doesn't procure directly any assessment service in the aged-care sector. It subcontracts to state governments for ACAT services, and it contracts to other providers—I think about 17 other providers—for the provision of regional assessment services. What the government has said it intends to do is to create a single assessment workforce. That is exactly what we intend to do. I have never conceded that the government's intention is to privatise, as the opposition continue to claim, because that has never been our intention.
Senator Wong obviously didn't hear what I just said. The private sector actually already provides some of those services right now. We don't procure any services directly ourselves. I have also said, as a part of this process, that we need to bring the workforce together as one. That is an objective of the government, and it was also a recommendation of the Tune review to bring together a single workforce. That is the government's determination. That is what we intend to do.
We need to reform the way that ACAT services and RAS are delivered, because there are currently duplications in the system and there are too many waiting for too long for a state based aged-care assessment. In fact, as at 31 December last year, 591 people had waited for over 75 days for a state based ACAT assessment.
Yesterday, following question time, Senator Hanson said:
I have been given an ironclad guarantee by Minister Colbeck that the Morrison government has no desire to privatise ACAT.
Does this mean that the ACAT tender will no longer be open to the private sector, as the minister has previously said it would be?
Senator Hanson was right when she yesterday that the government had no intention of privatising the aged-care assessment process. I've been saying that for a long time. The opposition can pass as many motions and make as many claims as they like, but it's not going to change the fact that the government has no intention, and never has had any intention, of privatising the ACAT process. I said yesterday, and I'll repeat today, that we will work closely with state governments to ensure that senior Australians—
My point of order is direct relevance. I have generously allowed the minister nearly half his time to answer the question. The question was very specific. It was not for the minister to elaborate on Senator Hanson's words but rather to clarify if that means that the tender will no longer be open to private sector organisations, as he previously said it would be.
We will continue to work very closely with state and territory governments to ensure that senior Australians get the assessment service that they need as they enter into the aged-care sector. As I said before, on average, for Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland this year, there has been an increase in waiting times of over 60 per cent on the previous six months. Of those, 354 were waiting in New South Wales. (Time expired)
I thank Senator Keneally for her question. As I have said a number of times today and as I said yesterday, we will work extremely closely and cooperatively with the states to ensure that senior Australians get the assessment services that they require for their entry into the aged-care sector in an appropriate form and in a way that—
My point of order is direct relevance. There are a lot of word games being played, Mr President. The minister has been asked a very specific question in relation to whether or not the tender will be open to the private sector. That is the only question that has been asked in the final supplementary.
Senator Wong, I can't instruct the minister how to answer a question. It was quite specific. In my view, as long as he is talking about the tender process referred to in the question, that is being directly relevant. Senator Colbeck, please continue.
I will repeat for the benefit of those opposite that, just before they say it, doesn't make it so. We have never conceded, we have never agreed and we have never said that we wanted to privatise the assessment of aged-care services in Australia.
My point of order is again on direct relevance. The minister is not answering the question he was asked. The question is very specific: will the minister give an ironclad guarantee that the ACAT tender will not be open to the private sector?
Point of order. Senator Colbeck was clearly being directly relevant. He was again making the absolute same reassurance that he's made to Senator Hanson, which is entirely accurate. That is because Labor's accusations of privatisations are false.
On the point of order, I am not going to rule on whether or not someone is answering a question, in the sense that that is in the eye of the beholder too often, and there is a chance to debate it after question time. The minister was being directly relevant by addressing the question. If it is not in a way that the person asking the question prefers, there is an opportunity after question time to debate that. Senator Colbeck to continue.
Again, for the benefit of those opposite, we will work cooperatively with the states and territories to ensure that senior Australians get the assessment services that they need in a timely way to support their entry into the aged care system.