Interview on Sky News Australia, Australian Agenda
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PDF printable version of Interview on Sky News Australia, Australian Agenda (PDF 131 KB)
12 February 2007
First though, the aged care sector has been given a boost with the Government injecting a further $1.5 billion into the system. It's also made some major changes which will help self-funded retirees but there will be some higher fees for new nursing home residents from March next year.
Joining me now from Canberra to discuss the package is the Minister for Ageing, Senator Santo Santoro. Minister, thanks for joining us on Agenda.
First, can I ask you why has it taken until an election year for this extra money to be announced?
The election year has got nothing to do with the announcement of the package, David. What the package represents is the Government's final response to a report and recommendations contained in the report by Professor Warren Hogan which was finished a few years ago and obviously we've had to work through that report, we've had to have a look at funding issues, we've had to consult widely with the aged care sector and we have done that.
The Opposition, in fact, has been asking us to bring it on, to bring our final response on as quickly as we can and what we have done is now delivered the final response, $1.5 billion worth, with big packages for community aged care, for the high care part of the aged care sector and this is budgeted for, it's not an election promise, it is the response that everybody - the aged care community, the Opposition, everybody's been asking for. We have delivered it and we obviously don't look at the timing in terms of elections, we look at the timing in terms of what is needed by our frail and elderly Australians and we believe it's a very positive response, a good, final, positive response to the report by Professor Hogan.
And your focus here really is trying to help the elderly stay at home for as long as possible. Is that right?
Look, the community tells us, tells political parties and particularly the Government that their preference is to stay at home as they grow old. I mean, I have not come across one person, David, right across Australia who sees retiring in an aged care facility as their first preference in terms of ageing and ageing well. People want to live in the community, they want to be close to their churches, close to their sporting clubs, close to their friends and family and what the Government has done is responded with a $411 million community care package which increases the number of community care packages available by 7200 over five years.
What's particularly important about those extra places, David, is that 1,600 of those packages are, in fact, at the high care end of aged care, particularly for people who are suffering from dementia, who we are going to try to keep at home for as long as possible.
The reason for that is that as people do contract dementia problems, what happens is that if you try to move them, if you try to take them out of their familiar surrounds, their home, if you put them into care of people that they're not familiar with, they do tend to develop confusion and sometimes behavioural problems so the Government has made sure that the growing incidence of dementia within our community was considered in the package and that's why 1,600 of those additional aged care packages, 7,200 in total, are in fact within that high care end.
Can I ask you, Minister, about the waiting list problem? Because despite this funding, the latest Productivity Commission reports shows that back in 2000 some 15 per cent of those who needed a nursing home bed had to wait three months or more to get one but now it's 28 per cent who have to wait those three months or more. That's nearly a third. Is that good enough?
The waiting list, basically, David, are within the high care end of the aged care sector and this package addresses those waiting lists very, very significantly. The community care packages that we have just discussed, in fact, are full packages of aged care but rather than being delivered within an aged care facility they are being delivered at home.
In fact, at the high care end of the scale, aged care packages delivered at home deliver more money into the sector than aged care packages being delivered in a residential facility. But in addition to that, the package contains $490 million of additional revenue, either from residents or from government to providers in the high care end of the sector.
Now, $490 million just from residents and from government is a lot of money. When you top that up with what the sector also is prepared to invest now that this new funding stream is available, you're looking at many more aged care beds becoming available in that part of the sector where they are most needed and that is the high care end. So this package that we've announced addresses waiting list issues at the high care end of residential facilities and it also addresses waiting lists in terms of community care so it's a very good package which has been welcomed right across the board by the Uniting Church, the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, even the Opposition has seen fit to make very positive comments...
Well, it has been widely well-received but you mentioned there the fact that this is based on the recommendations of the Hogan Report. Didn't Hogan also recommend that accommodation bonds be looked at? Why isn't the Government looking at this more controversial issue of accommodation bonds which some in the industry do believe could provide the sort of capital injection that nursing homes need at the moment?
David, the aged care industry today has said that they don't believe that the package the Government has put forward doesn't address their capital needs. In fact, you haven't heard the aged care industry today call for bonds because the Government has, through very sensible, modest, moderate moves, gone about responding to the capital needs of the aged care industry.
But look, Professor Hogan's report was a very valuable report for government. We have implemented the vast majority of his recommendations and more importantly we have funded them in this year's coming budget. These are not election promises, these are budget commitments which will be reflected in the budget and would need to be overturned by a piece of legislation for them not to go ahead, even if there was a change of government.
One of your predecessors, Bronwyn Bishop, was pretty keen on the idea of accommodation bonds. Are they now off the table?
The Government has ruled out accommodation bonds. We felt that the decision of deciding to sell your home at a critical time in people's life, particularly at the high care end of their life, was perhaps too much of a traumatic decision for people to be making. We have tried to come up with a solution that in fact meets community standards, meets community expectations.
As I said, it's pretty significant that all of the major provider associations, employer associations, the churches, the charitable institutions, have all come out saying that this is a good, balanced package that takes into consideration people's physical, emotional and health needs. It's a solution to the aged care issues that everybody's been talking about. It has been accepted right across the board. I don't think that I can, in my 30 years of political involvement, remember a decision by government being accepted, you know, with such unanimity, right across the board, including the Opposition.
We have consulted and in particular we have consulted with residents, with their relatives and with their carers. We think we've got the mix right, David, but look, if there's other things that we need to fine tune and look at to make aged care in Australia even better than what we're doing at the moment - and we think that it's best practice, we think that it's world standard, we think that the benchmark is a benchmark that will be emulated right across the world - well, we will consider additional suggestions because we are a consultative government, we do care for our nation-builders, we want them to live out their later years with dignity, security and comfort, we're committed to continuing to do our very best and if we have to, you know, take on board more suggestions, you can count on this government doing precisely that.
Okay, well, Minister, before we let you go, can I just ask you, as a Queensland party powerbroker there, what you think about the inroads Kevin Rudd might be making in your home state, Queensland. It really is a state where the election this year could be won or lost. Are you worried about a local boy, Kevin Rudd, making some inroads there against the Coalition?
Look, in Queensland we have, including in our marginal seats, members of Parliament who have over the term of the Government been totally committed to their constituents. They don't have an eye on opinion polls, they have an eye on their electorates, on the needs of their constituents and we believe that our local members in Queensland will be able to be returned because they have worked hard for their electorates, they have worked hard promoting the achievements and the actions of the Government. We have a strong government that is supported by strong economic policies, by strong economic achievements.
The $1.5 billion package that the Prime Minister and I announced on Sunday has been made possible because the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have provided economic stewardship, economic certainty and economic results that allows a nation like Australia to provide, in this instance, for the elderly and the aged.
In Queensland we have fantastic local members on the ground that work hard for their people in their electorates and that's what will get them through the next election, hard work on the ground and belonging to a government that has delivered for Australia and we continue to deliver for Australia irrespective of whether it's an election year or not.
Okay, Santo Santoro, thanks for joining us today.
Thank you very much, David.
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