Mr RAMSEY (Grey–Government Whip) (12:37): Last week I had the great pleasure of having the aged-care minister in my electorate. We visited Ceduna and Peterborough. I’ll come back to that in a moment. Let me say that, having spent a bit of time closely with the minister, I don’t think we could get a man more up to the task, a minister more up to the task or anyone more engaged with the things that need to be done in aged care in Australia. That comes back to the changes that happened in February this year, which the minister explained in his speech on this matter in the main chamber. To the member for Hindmarsh, who I know cares about these issues, I suggest that, if he weren’t there to listen to the minister at that stage, he should get a copy of the Hansard to see what he had to say. If he still doesn’t fully understand what the minister said about the changes in circumstances that came about in February, then he should seek an audience with the minister, because I know he would be granted it. What the minister told us was that, prior to February this year, the demand for home-care packages was hidden within the providers’ numbers. People who ran these institutions ran their own lists and, largely, the Commonwealth did not know how many people were on them. That all changed and now they are assessed independently and the Commonwealth knows what the demand level is. No significant change in numbers happened between December and March, so what this has identified is the backlog that has been there for quite some time. Of course, this is a challenge for the government to meet in a short time, but we’ve really only had those figures for fewer than six months. The minister’s made a fair effort and over 6,000 new places were granted.
And let me say that home-care packages are one of the great advances of aged care around Australia, because, regardless of the cost, virtually everyone-including me when I get to that stage-I’m sure would rather live in their own house, would rather live in the place where they have enjoyed their life, surrounded by the artefacts, the photographs, the memories, of what their life has been. So it’s a great move. It’s a very good move, and it’s where government and governments will continue to expand the effort.
But there is this backlog that we have to deal with, and it’s not easy. I’m pleased with the response that the government’s made at this stage, but we’re going to have to keep working in that area. We understand that. We know that. That is why the minister has said: ‘If you can’t get the package you want at the moment, take something and get in the system, because then you will be monitored regularly, and, as your demand builds up, it can be reregistered.’ It helps the argument. It helps us deal with that issue at government level.
I said I’d come back to Minister Wyatt’s visit. In Ceduna, we visited the aged-care facility one evening with the local auxiliary group there, who have raised tens of thousands of dollars to refurbish rooms, and then the next morning we came back with the hospital and aged-care CEO. It’s a very, very fine facility. Let me tell you: the views at the aged-care facility in Ceduna are second to none. Then we went on to the Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Health Service, and later in the day we went to Peterborough, on the other side of the electorate, if you like, in the east.
Peterborough is a symptom of something I’ve spoken about in this House before. Prior to coming to parliament, I served on local hospital boards in the late eighties and nineties. In our wisdom, in our smaller communities, we had hospital boards and we had hostel boards. In our wisdom, we decided to amalgamate those institutions because it made sense-and I still think it did-little anticipating that in the 2000s the state government at the time, being a Labor government, decided that they would sack all those hospital boards and take over the running of those facilities themselves. That meant the state government inherited a whole swag of aged-care facilities that they did not want, do not have particular interest in and find it very difficult to get grants for because they sit on state government land. It has really messed up the cake, if you like.
I took Minister Wyatt there so we could try to address those problems directly in Peterborough and deal with this issue that’s been troubling the community for some time. Let me say that the community have over $1 million that they have raised, and they are one of the lowest socioeconomic communities in my electorate. I look forward to working with them and dealing with the issues I’ve covered in this speech.