Aged Care

7 October 2020

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:19): My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck, and it relates to the budget measures for home-care packages. According to the latest quarterly report from the Department of Health, there are still 103,599 Australians waiting for home-care packages, and 7,400 are waiting for a level 4 package. While the government's media release talks about the number of places it has funded since 2013, it appears the budget allocation of only 23,000 extra places still leaves a shortfall of at least 70,000 places. Can the minister explain why the budget only promises 23,000 additional home-care packages over four years, across all package levels, despite current waiting lists of 100,000 people who are waiting up to 18 months for a package for which they have been approved?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:20): I thank the senator for his question. Since the 2018-19 budget, this government has invested $4.6 billion in 73,105 new packages. Last night's budget allocation of 23,000 new packages, which is not over four years but over the next 12 months, will make a significant change to those who are waiting for a home-care package. What we're doing is exactly what we said we would do when the royal commission handed down its interim report in November last year. We will continue to invest in new packages, as we've done on three occasions now: 10,000 in November in our response to the interim report, 6,105 in July and then 23,000 last night. This financial year there will be an additional 30,000 home-care packages injected into the system.

We have to grow the workforce. These 30,000 packages will create about 6,000 jobs. To assist with that we've also allocated funding of over $10 million to the workforce industry council and, as we announced last week in conjunction with Minister Cash, over $10 million to support training of nurses to go into aged-care support. And there are a number of other packages through other portfolios—for example, the JobTrainer program—which will provide incentives to employ other people in the residential aged-care sector.

The waiting list now has been reduced by over 20 per cent since I came to this portfolio, and the 30,000 new packages that are being allocated will make a significant contribution to reducing that further.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, a supplementary question?

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:22): Minister, percentages aren't people. When you look at real numbers, 30,000 is a long way away from meeting 100,000. Out of the packages that have been announced, only 2,000 will reportedly be offered at level 4, which, as you know, is the highest level of care. Around 30,000 older people have died while waiting for their approved package in the past three years. Why hasn't government allocated more packages to the areas of highest need?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:22): I thank the senator for the question. The government has allocated the packages to the areas where they will most quickly reduce waiting lists—where the demand is and where they will most quickly reduce waiting lists. That's the whole point. The allocation of the packages, the 30,000 packages, over this financial year has been to reduce waiting lists so that people don't have to wait as long as they have been for the care that they want through a home-care package.

Can I also make the point that the inference that people are left without care is an incorrect one. All of these people have access to Australia's excellent health system to support them. All of them have access to Australia's excellent health system, and 98 per cent of them have an interim package, have access to an interim—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator COLBECK: Have access to an interim package or support through CHSP. They are not left without support or care.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, a final supplementary question?

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:23): The budget paper allocates $21 million over four years to 'delay the implementation of payment in arrears' for home-care services, yet the government introduced a bill that allocates home-care funding in arrears in an attempt to address the millions in unspent funds that are being held or, often, not returned by providers when aged-care clients pass away or enter residential care. Does this mean the government plans to delay the reforms by four years, which will cost $21 million in unaccounted for funds?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:24): The answer to the question is 'absolutely not'. We delayed the implementation of the payment-in-arrears cycle because we didn't want to have a negative impact on home-care providers during COVID-19. It was having a significant impact. We will follow through with the legislation. I'll be presenting the second phase of that legislation into the parliament before Christmas and we will be implementing the payment-in-arrears process during the early phases of 2021.

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