Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Increasing Consumer Choice) Bill 2016
Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan—Assistant Minister for Disability Services) (10:58): It is almost 14 years since the Howard government released the landmark Intergenerational report. It was the first report of its kind and the first time the Australian government budget process was forced to look across the generations and identify the challenges that lie ahead. One of the biggest challenges all levels of government and the wider community were forced to think about then, as now, was how we are going to house, service and care for our ageing population.
Clearly, the best outcome for most people is to grow old in their own home, in the neighbourhood that they know and within easy reach of their family, friends and community centred support networks that have developed around them over the years.
Independence is something we all value; and key to supporting people to stay in their homes when they become elderly and frail are services—such as those provided by our volunteers and community organisations like Meals on Wheels and some of our local church groups. In the Ryan electorate we are fortunate to have some of the best community-spirited volunteers who work for Meals on Wheels, including the Western Suburbs, Kenmore, Ashgrove and Mitchelton organisations.
However, sometimes our older, sicker and frail family and friends need a level of care that can only be delivered in aged-care facilities or a nursing home. In the federal electorate of Ryan, for example, 13 nursing homes and care facilities are now home to some of our senior citizens—part of a fabulous generation who helped make our local community the wonderful place that it is today.
While our aged-care system is world class, more Australians are living longer as a result of better health and better care. The government recognises that we need to make some fundamental changes now to ensure that the system is more sustainable and affordable in the future. The coalition has already implemented a range of measures to address weaknesses in the current aged-care system, including some that were started by the previous government, but we now need to move to a system that is more in line with the Productivity Commission's recommendations.
That is why the government announced significant reforms to aged care in last year's budget: to support older people to remain living at home.
I welcome the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Increasing Consumer Choice) Bill 2016, which gives effect to the first stage of the home care reforms. I congratulate and thank the minister for bringing this bill forward. As I said before, the best outcome for most Australians is for them to grow old in their homes and their own neighbourhoods. Moving to a market-based system, giving consumers more choice and allowing providers to run their own services is central to the government's plan for the future. Tomorrow's aged-care system must be agile, innovative and creative.
In harnessing the combined strengths of small business, industry, public and not-for-profit care providers, Australia's aged-care sector will deliver a sliding scale of efficient, high-quality services that will meet increasingly diverse levels of care, demand and affordability.
This bill will provide consumers with more choice and control over their aged-care services and will reduce red tape and regulation for providers. Most home care providers are small businesses or not-for-profit organisations, so they will welcome the reduction in red tape. From February 2017 home care packages will be assigned to assessed consumers, who will be able to direct government funding to the provider of their choice. Consumers will have the flexibility to change their provider if they want to; or, if they move to another district or even another state, they can take their package with them. The changes also establish a consistent national approach to prioritising access to care through the My Aged Care gateway.
I note that the government's policy changes have received widespread support and the implementation arrangements for these changes were developed in close consultation with key stakeholders, including the National Aged Care Alliance and groups representing consumers, carers and providers.
It was about five years ago that the Productivity Commission identified a number of key weaknesses in our aged-care system, including that it was difficult to navigate, services and consumer choice are limited, and coverage of needs, pricing, subsidies and user co-contributions were inconsistent or inequitable. This was an enormous call to action for government, and I congratulate this government for doing more than just studying a problem. Doing nothing should never have been an option—especially when you consider that government has known that the ratio of old to young in our society was growing rapidly since the first Intergenerational report in 2002. As John Stuart Mill best put it in his 1859 essay 'On liberty':
A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.
Unlike Labor, the coalition recognise that, if we ignore moderate changes now, longstanding issues and concerns will grow into even bigger problems. The decisions will get harder and the solutions will slip beyond our reach. About five cent of people who live in the electorate of Ryan have at least 75 years of life experience behind them, and the other 95 per cent of my electorate are already marching slowly, year by year, on their own journeys toward their senior years. Today, that life journey is expected to go well beyond their 75th birthday. The latest Intergenerational report, for example, found that life expectancy was currently 91.5 for men and 93.6 for women—and this will increase to 95.1 years for men and 96.6 years for women in 2054-55. In less than 40 years about five per cent of Australia's population—nearly two million Australians—will be aged 85 and over.
People are living longer as a result of better health and better health care, and the demands on Australia's aged care system are changing. Older Australians want more choice and more control over the care they receive, and this demand will only increase as the baby boomers and future generations require aged care services.
The changes proposed in this bill are an important step in reforming the home care system so that older Australians have more choice and flexibility to receive care and services at home. At the same time, these reforms will strengthen the aged-care system to provide high quality and more innovative services through increased competition.
As most people with a background in business know, increased competition also helps drive down price. The changes also lay the platform for future aged-care reforms, which will be informed by and developed with the Aged Care Sector Committee roadmap for reform. Whether it is an older friend who might need care in the near future or a family member who is getting older, having conversations about aged care can be difficult for most Australians. The sooner more Australians start talking about getting older—and, importantly, planning for it—the better the outcome for them, their families and their friends.
The most important thing older people and their families can do is to learn about the choices available, so they can plan and make the right decision for them.
Moving to a market-based system gives consumers more choice and allows providers to run their own services. This is central to the government's plan for the future. This bill will enable the aged-care sector to provide more choice. These changes will provide consumers with more choice and more control over their aged-care services. It will deliver a national system for prioritising access to care and a new funding model that will actually follow the consumer. Importantly, it will also reduce red tape for care providers.
I commend this bill to the House.