Second Reading – Aged Care
Mr PITT (Hinkler) (12:00): I rise to speak on the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 and the cognate bill. The previous government’s workforce supplement compact was a flawed and inequitable system with a clear objective of coercing union membership in the sector. It dictated how aged-care providers could spend the funding. Repurposing the workforce supplement was a coalition election commitment to increase the basic subsidy provided to aged-care services for residential care, home care and flexible care.
The coalition government suspended applications for the supplement in September 2013 and consulted the sector to ensure the supplement was flexible and allowed providers to target their areas of greatest need. Unlike Labor, the government does not believe in central control and command and believes that those who deliver care are best placed to know where investment is needed. We have returned the previous government’s workforce supplement into the general pool of aged-care funding so that providers can spend the funds in their greatest areas of need. Between 2013-14 and 2016-17, $1.1 billion will flow to providers. This includes a 2.4 per cent increase on top of normal indexation of care funding for eligible aged-care programs from July this year. All programs previously eligible for the workforce supplement will receive this funding.
Aged-care providers in regional, rural and remote areas will receive a $54 million boost in funding through a 20 per cent increase to the viability supplement. This funding boost will help improve the capacity of over 950 services in these areas to provide quality aged care. The government is also reviewing current employment and training initiatives in the aged-care and disability services systems to develop an aged-care workforce development strategy.
The most common complaint from consumers and their families is how hard it is to find information on the services they need. So this bill implements stage 2 of the My Aged Care gateway from 1 January next year. My Aged Care gateway is a national website and contact centre. It provides information and support to older people and their families as they consider their aged-care options. The website will empower consumers through greater transparency and the ability to compare options and prices. For the first time, all accommodation prices will be published in one place. It will help consumers locate services in their local area and provide referrals to assessment services and service providers. The My Aged Care website also features a fee estimator, which is an online tool that allows people to enter some information about their income and assets and receive an estimate of the fees they may be asked to pay by an aged-care provider. This will be an invaluable tool to help older people and their families plan and prepare for entry into aged care.
Only five per cent of Australians over the age of 65 live in residential aged care. We know that most people want to remain living in their own home for as long as possible, which is why we are increasing the number of home care packages. There will be an additional 80,000 over the next 10 years. Making the decision to enter residential aged care is difficult for anyone at the best of times, but the complex web of services, subsidies and eligibility criteria can seem at times almost impossible to navigate. What can be even more frustrating is the waiting time for assessment and bed shortages.
In the Wide Bay aged-care planning region, which includes my electorate of Hinkler, as at 30 June last year there were 2,856 allocated residential care places and 2,226 in operation. In other words, there are 630 beds that are funded by the federal government but not yet built by providers. The department has determined that the beds are required, but for various reasons providers are not investing. However, in my local Bundaberg NewsMail, a local newspaper from the northern end of my electorate, there is good news. In the coastal town of Bargara construction has commenced of a $25 million facility with 160 beds besides the Palm Lake Resort. The dozers are on the ground as we speak. This is good news for the residents of my electorate. I congratulate the Palm Lake Resort group CEO, Manuel Lang, who said:
Bundaberg is a prime example of where there’s very, very limited aged care places.
But what we’ve found since we’ve launched Palm Lake Care is that it not only serves as a benefit to our residents, it also services a much broader benefit to the wider community.
Palm Lake Resort manager Ann Finn was also on site. I congratulate her on being so successful to achieve this.
The ratio for operational residential care places in the Wide Bay region is 66.2 for every 1,000 people aged 70 or over. That is compared to the Queensland ratio of 81.4. For operational home care places that ratio is 26 compared to 27.8. So the operational residential care places are 17 per cent under the state average. This situation is simply not acceptable. I will be seeking a meeting with my state and local government counterparts to see if together—and I emphasise ‘together’—we can attract further investment to the region to get these beds built and services provided.
There are lots of things governments can do to encourage providers to expand or establish services in Wide Bay and my electorate of Hinkler. Providing land, reducing red tape and expediting development approval processes are just a few. Providing 630 beds and delivering 100 home care places across the region would not only reduce the waiting list for people who deserve to live out their remaining days with dignity but 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.
Economists often talk about the impact our aging population will have on productivity, but few talk about the opportunities it will create. According to demographer Bernard Salt, between 2006 and 2011 the fastest growing job was aged and disability carer. Given the oldest baby boomer is still only 66, he calls aged care the ‘space to be in’. I am with Bernard. The glass is half full. Hinkler has an older than average population and is a renowned retirement hub. While there will be some challenges, I look forward to seeing what opportunities it brings in the next 10 years.