Standing up for Canberra

Aged Care Living Longer Living Better 2013

My electorate of Canberra is the largest by population in Australia, so I proudly represent a very large number of older Australians, older Canberrans and older people who look to government to help them make sure that as they live longer they also live better. There are more than 1,100 residents in mainstream residential aged-care facilities in my electorate and I have had the pleasure of visiting many of them. I have spent a lot of time talking with residents and staff and families. Most recently, last week, I was out at Brindabella Gardens visiting Eileen Pegrum, who turned 100 last week, and I am visiting a number of other people who are turning 100 throughout this year, Canberra's centenary year, to drop flowers off for them and take some cake and just catch up with them.

Just recently, I visited Alice Lukac at her home in Isaacs and I spent a wonderful morning with her family —her grandchildren, her daughter her granddaughter and her great granddaughters. They are very interested in education and it was wonderful not just talking to the family about their aspirations for education but also talking to this woman in the family home about her history. I visit many Canberrans throughout the course of my job every week, and it is a great pleasure in many ways to sit at their feet and just listen to the stories and the contributions they have made to Australia and, most importantly, to Canberra—people out at Araluen and St Andrews and Goodwin and Brindabella. I have also hosted a very well-attended aged-care forum with Minister Butler and I have taken the minister to meet with aged-care providers and residents around the electorate as well. He has always been very well received and has always listened very closely to the needs and the discussions with those residents, staff and families at those aged-care providers.

Canberra is fortunate to have so many quality agedcare providers and services; however, we all recognise that the system needs to be constantly improved to meet changing demands. The current aged-care system needs to be reformed to meet the needs of an ageing Australia, and that is what we are doing. I know that, when it comes to aged care, the preference is for people to stay in their family home for as long as possible. We all want to be able to age with dignity in our own home. But, when that is not possible, we all want to be assured that there are aged-care services offering certainty and stability and dignity.

I know, from speaking to the many people in my electorate in aged-care services and the providers, that there are three things of particular concern to my community. The first is the quality of care that is being provided in the aged-care sector, the second is the financial cost associated with aged care, and the third is being confident of access to the right information to make the right choices. I have no doubt that the legislation the government is introducing today will vastly improve the way aged care is delivered in Australia.

The government's $3.7 billion Living Longer Living Better reform package contains five bills that build on the Productivity Commission's recommendations. Many Canberrans who are involved in the agedcare sector made submissions to the Productivity Commission inquiry into caring for older Australians, and these bills represent Labor's plan for the future aged-care needs of all Australians. These are major reforms that will benefit both the key providers of aged-care services and those who need them.

Others will speak in more detail about the specifics contained in these bills, but I want to talk today about the positive impact these reforms will have in my electorate. These reforms will increase and improve the supply of aged-care services so that the sector can better address changes in demand. In a generation's time the population of people aged over 65 is expected to increase from about 3,000,000 to over 8,000,000. Labor recognises that current and future demographic changes are placing increasing pressures on the agedcare sector, which is why we are aiming to increase and improve the supply of services.

In a growing electorate like Canberra, which also serves as a regional hub and provides care to many people living in the capital region, this is a significant and welcome reform. Labor understands that families and those receiving aged-care services want to have better information so they can have greater choice and greater control. That is why we have sat down with industry and with aged-care consumers and age-care workers to create these reforms.

In all areas of health care, access to transparent information and choice is vital. Labor has initiated a raft of improvements for consumers in all areas of health care. Most importantly, empowering people to meet their aged-care and healthcare needs is at the centre of our reforms. I know these measures will be welcomed by aged-care providers and aged-care consumers.

In my many visits to aged care homes and in my conversations with providers and residents, workforce issues are almost always raised with me. They are always, if not at the start of the conversation, in the middle of the conversation. They are up there. We must have a stable, skilled and dedicated workforce to deliver the reforms Labor is bringing about. These bills specifically address the workforce issues in aged care with measures to attract and retain a skilled and capable workforce. There is up to $1.2 billion in funding to address workplace pressures.

I note that the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing just recently announced 72 new aged-care nursing scholarships as part of Labor's commitment to boost the aged-care workforce. This was in addition to an investment of more than 2,800 scholarships over four years. The scholarships provide financial support for people to study nursing at university or to undertake continuing professional development. They also support people who wish to undertake nurse re-entry studies—that is particularly important. These scholarships are part of the government's efforts to address workforce pressures, with the aged-care workforce needing to almost triple in size—as my colleague pointed out—by 2050 to support our ageing population.

I am particularly supportive of the measures that will expand, support and improve access to aged-care services for people with diverse needs. I know the Greek population here has its own aged-care facility and it is particularly important that the diverse needs of Australia's population and of Canberra's population are factored into future aged-care services. My electorate is not just large but very diverse. In all areas of service provision, understanding and catering to a range of different people's needs is critical. This is something the government truly understands and is acting upon. For my electorate, this means the quality of aged-care provision will continue to improve, and Canberrans can feel confident that their loved ones will receive the best quality care possible.

The other issue raised with me is the financial cost of aged-care provision. This is a vexed issue, and I know there are different views in the sector about how to address it. In these bills we see measures that will improve the equity and the sustainability of aged-care sector financing. People entering the aged-care system need to understand exactly how much they have to pay, what they are paying for and why. The current system of government subsidies and user contributions for both residential and home care can vary. The changes we are introducing will greatly improve transparency and provide greater clarity. These reforms will result in better alignment of financial arrangements and ensure a more sustainable future for aged-care funding. Under these reforms, those who can afford to help pay for the aged care will be asked to do so while those who cannot afford to pay will still be able to access aged care.

Through these bills, the government is building a more sustainable future for aged-care funding and giving consumers real choices about how they pay for their care. For the first time, people will have real choice in how they pay for the accommodation they receive. At the same time, we are also improving the regulation of residential aged care. We are making sure there is more opportunity for care recipients and their families to purchase additional services. We are creating an agedcare system that will be simpler to navigate, will be fairer and that will create a better pathway for transition from home to residential care.

We are creating a new veterans supplement, dementia supplement and workforce supplement. We are investing millions into dementia research and help for those affected by this condition. From 1 July next year there will be just one type of approval for permanent residential care. There will also be greater continuity of services, and it will be easier under these reforms for people to move through the aged-care system.

In broad terms, these are the major changes contained in these bills. They are measures that have undergone extensive consultation, particularly here in my electorate of Canberra. I understand that the consultation process has been welcomed and was positive, and that following the introduction of these bills there will be ongoing information sessions both here in Canberra and throughout the country.

Labor is introducing landmark legislation that will create an aged care system that will meet the demands and wishes of our ageing population. I commend the bills to the House.

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