Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Increasing Consumer Choice) Bill

The aged-care system in Australia is a world-class system. It is well respected, with high-quality services that work to meet the needs of a very diverse population. It is the envy of much of the world. However, as people are living longer thanks to better health and better health care, the demands on Australia’s aged-care system are becoming greater.

Older Australians want more choice and control over the care they receive—something that meets their needs. This includes the around 12,000 residents of Forrest in my electorate who are over 70 years of age. This demand will only increase as the boomers and future generations require aged-care services. The demand for care will rapidly grow in the near future because of two major drivers: the rapid increase in the proportion of the population who are aged, and the exponential increase in demand for services by the aged population.

The increase in demand for services is an issue that all levels of government have struggled to come to grips with. In my parents day, when you got old and you perhaps had arthritic pain, it was to be endured. Today, those creaky joints are often replaced, and the expectation for such procedures and more advanced procedures is growing.

The Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Increasing Consumer Choice) Bill 2016 will create the legislative framework for a more flexible, consumer driven aged-care system that will support older people to remain living at home. The greater percentage of people want to live at home until they simply cannot. This bill will give effect to the first stage of the home-care reforms announced in the 2015-16 federal budget, amending the Aged Care Act 1997 and the Aged Care (Transitional Provisions) Act 1997 to give effect to the first stage of the home-care reforms announced at that time.

These changes will provide consumers with more choice and control over their aged-care services and, importantly, will reduce red tape and regulation for aged-care providers—something you hear about when you walk through their doors. The changes will also lay the platform for future aged-care reforms, which will be guided by the Aged Care Sector Committee road map for reform, which was jointly developed with the sector. The government has a strong track record when it comes to aged care. The changes announced in the budget will build on our successful record and set the platform for future reform.

The 2011 Productivity Commission’s report Caring for older Australians identified a number of key weaknesses in the system, including that it is difficult to navigate, that services and consumer choice are limited, and that coverage of needs, pricing, subsidies and user co-contributions are inconsistent or inequitable. The government have implemented a range of measures to address these weaknesses. Some were started by the previous government but this government have landed those changes and are going further—moving the system more in line with the Productivity Commission’s recommendations.

The reforms will be implemented in two stages. In the first stage, commencing February 2017, funding for a home-care package will follow the consumer. This will enable the consumer to choose a provider that is suited to them and to direct the funding to that provider—the choice is in their hands. The consumer will also be able to change their provider if they wish, including if they move to another area to live. Once these changes come into effect, providers will no longer have to apply for home-care places through the Aged Care Approvals Round, significantly reducing the red tape burden for businesses. The changes will also establish a consistent national approach to prioritising access to care.

Building on this first stage, the government has also indicated it will move to a single, integrated care-athome program. This is a major policy change which has received widespread support, and the implementation arrangements for these changes have been developed in close consultation with stakeholders, including the National Aged Care Alliance and groups representing consumers, carers and providers.

The second stage will build on these changes by integrating the Home Care Packages Program and the Commonwealth Home Support Program into a single care-at-home program—further simplifying the way that services are delivered and funded. The government intends to introduce the new integrated program from July 2018.

In January this year, the government transferred responsibility for the aged-care complaints scheme from the Department of Health to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner, creating a more independent and robust approach to complaints. The My Aged Care gateway is now supporting people to find their way through the aged-care system. In spite of some initial difficulties, it is now undertaking assessments for those people who need low-level care at home. It is increasing its role as the one identifiable place to go for information and support to access aged care.

There has been significant work done to address inconsistency and inequity in the pricing and consumer contributions to the cost of their care. The Productivity Commission’s report also stated that competition rather than extensive regulation is the key to delivering innovative quality services and an efficient and sustainable system. The government maintains a crucial role in setting policy and in ensuring safety and compliance in agedcare services. It will be there to promote equity of access, provide support for vulnerable consumers and address market failures. But is has to be acknowledged that market-based solutions and consumer choice will increasingly be driven by and the driving force for quality, value and performance of services. Moving to a market-based system, giving consumers choice and allowing providers to run their own services is central to the government’s plan for the future.

I want to talk about Capecare, one of the leading providers of care and accommodation services for seniors in the south west, located in Busselton, right on the shores of Geographe Bay. Capecare’s board has always been very proactive. John Reid, the chair of the board has always been a hardworking passionate advocate and is an a persistent and effective leader who has a very clear commercial focus on Capecare as a business while never forgetting that he is there for the people he is seeking to provide services for—our very respected and valued senior citizens.

The facility and services have consistently evolved to meet the changing needs of their clients and the Busselton-Dunsborough seniors community. One thing that attracts people to Capecare is their multilevel service approach, with just one organisation that can manage the individual changing needs of their clients as they move through their lives, starting with completely independent living through to complete nursing home and dementia care for both high- and low-care residents. This gives the people who live at Capecare incredible confidence and comfort —knowing that, no matter what their aged-care needs are or may become in their lives.

Capecare has an innovative and proactive approach to providing for those needs. Care can be provided in their nursing home or hostel environments with 24-hour care, and people can have domestic assistance, therapy and activities included. For people who wish to remain living independently at home, Capecare offers in-home services as well as day respite. Capecare was founded by Jack and Maud Ray over 50 years ago. A new hostel wing was completed last year, with 54 new rooms. It is now the largest regionally based independent aged-care provider in Western Australia, employs over 200 staff and stays very closely connected to the local community, which is particularly important in aged care, through its more than 125 volunteers. I commend the bill to the House.