Constituency Statement - Aged Care
Mr PITT (Hinkler) (09:33): I rise to speak about an issue that has been of significant concern to my constituents for many years, and that is the issue of aged-care services. ABS data shows that the median age in Hinkler is 44 compared to 37 for Queensland. Almost 3,000 residents are over the age of 85, making it the largest single age group in my electorate. Last month, I wrote to Senator Mitch Fifield, the Assistant Minister for Social Services, to raise Hinkler residents' concerns that there is only one aged-care assessor in Bundaberg and only two in Hervey Bay. One elderly lady who cares for her husband told my office she now has health issues and contacted ACAT for an assessment but was told it could take as long as six months for her husband to be seen. Senator Fifield agreed that a waiting time of six months is not acceptable and has referred the matter to Queensland Health, which operates the service.
The workload of our local assessors has grown significantly in volume and complexity, and more and more Australians are choosing to stay at home for longer and only enter facilities when they require a high level of care. Unfortunately, there are not enough beds. During Senate estimates in 2010, the Department of Health and Ageing indicated there were 429 aged-care beds across the Wide Bay region that were funded but not built by providers. By 30 June last year, under Labor that figure had blown out to 730. The aged-care ratio in the Wide Bay region is 92.2 aged-care places for every 1,000 people aged 70 or over. That is compared to the Queensland ratio of 109.2.
I recently met with a not-for-profit aged care provider, who said the high cost of constructing new facilities meant Hinkler residents could not afford a placement. Hinkler has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the country. We have among the highest rates of disability, obesity, diabetes and smoking. The median weekly personal income in Hinkler is $411. To put that in perspective, the median weekly rental is $240, which is more than half of what they earn. This makes saving for retirement and aged care almost impossible.
Land values in Bundaberg have dropped by 40 per cent since the last valuation was issued prior to the January 2013 floods. What this means is that in many cases the nest egg they have worked their entire lives to pay off is now worth significantly less than they had anticipated or planned for. I recently announced $1.7 million to help Hinkler residents who want to remain in their homes or are waiting for a placement. The funding will enable six local organisations to provide domestic assistance like home maintenance, meals and cleaning as well as nursing care, social support and transport.
The construction of 730 beds across the region would not only reduce the waiting list for people who deserve to live out their remaining days with dignity but it would also stimulate the construction industry and the local economy more broadly. It would create jobs and training opportunities in nursing, allied health, pharmacy, administration and retail. So I look forward to working with Senator Fifield to ensure that these beds are delivered for the people of my electorate.