Mar 20, 2002

Governor-General’s Speech – Aged Care, Children Overboard

GOVERNOR-GENERAL’S SPEECH: Address-in-Reply

Aged Care; Children Overboard

20 March 2002; 21 March 2002.

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (7.06 p.m.)—I rise to make a contribution to this address-in-reply debate. I particularly want to speak this evening about the ageing and seniors area, for which I have been given responsibility. Aged care is of course a major issue confronting Australia. It is an issue which will become more important as the population ages both in real numbers and as a percentage of the population.

At the moment, government policy has resulted in a crisis in aged care. There are no beds and no nurses; there is no funding, no care and no shame. Today in question time the government showed that they also have no hide. The Minister for Ageing, the member for Menzies, was asked a dorothy dixer by his side about the National Strategy for an Ageing Australia. We raised the National Strategy for an Ageing Australia before, in the opportunities I have had to contribute to debate in the previous few weeks. But what the minister said should be of great concern. He said:

This is in the context of having just a few weeks ago released the government’s framework document on a National Strategy for an Ageing Australia. In the coming weeks and months I will be engaged in a series of consultations right around Australia …

He went on to say:

It is important that we engage the Australian population in relation to these issues—and engage not only the general population but also professional, business, academic and other groups, many of whom have already started to take a keen interest in looking at the precise policies and programs that we need to put into place in order to address these issues.

I was amazed to hear the minister make that statement. There were a number of things wrong with it. The first is that he said that the national strategy was released just three weeks earlier. Of course, that in part is true—but it is only a half-truth, because it was the second launch of the same document. The National Strategy for an Ageing Australia was also launched by the former minister, the member for Mackellar, during the federal election campaign, but because she proceeded with that launch contrary to advice from her own department that it was contrary to the caretaker provisions, given that the federal election had been called, we had a launch but no distribution of that document. That infamous act during the election campaign cost the Australian taxpayer $42,300 in printing alone. That copy essentially had to be pulped, just as surely as the minister’s career was pulped after the federal election. When the minister launched the strategy in October 2001, she said:

I believe that the National Strategy for an Ageing Australia sets the agenda for many of these changes and my thanks go to my colleagues in the ministerial reference group for their constructive contributions to the development of this strategic framework. As well, I wish to recognise the expert advice we received from the multi-disciplinary Expert Advisory Group and the Business Mature Age Workforce Advisory Group. Contributions from the business sector, industry bodies, academia, community organisations and individuals also helped to inject valuable community debate into the national strategy development process.

Compare that with what the minister said today. The former minister said in October 2001 that this is the end of the consultative process and that here is the strategy which has cost some $6.1 million, four ministers and four years to produce. The minister today intimated that when he launched the same document three weeks ago it was the beginning of a consultative process. You cannot have it both ways. It is either the beginning or the end, and it depends on which minister we believe. Today’s comments are consistent with the minister’s comments in February when launching the strategy.

There is one difference between the two versions of the document. It is a 77-page document. Not a word has been changed in any of the chapters; not a word has been changed from the prime ministerial message at the front. The difference is that there are different forewords—one from Minister Bishop and one from Minister Andrews. Minister Andrews, in his copy, has changed it so that it says:

As a first step, I am delighted to announce the next phase in progressing the National Strategy for an Ageing Australia by using this strategy as a springboard to engage with the community on the issues of ageing.

When confronted with this contradiction, one has to look at the facts to see who is right. In fact, both the former minister and the current minister have been derelict, because neither of them, in either of the forewords, mention that this strategy—when it was announced in 1997 by the then Minister for Aged Care, the member for Bass, Warwick Smith—was a part of the government’s policy to be produced in time for the International Year of Older Persons. Was that in 2001, when Minister Bishop released her document and said, `This is the end’? Was it this year, when Minister Andrews launched it as the beginning of a process? Mr Deputy Speaker, you know full well that this year is the International Year of the Outback. The International Year of Older Persons was not this year or last year; it was 1999. The government embarked on a process in 1997 to produce a strategy by 1999, and now in 2002 they are saying, `Here is a document. Let’s consult about it.’ The contradictions and deceptions from this government know no end.

The fact that the government is three years late fades into insignificance compared with the answer that we got in the Senate estimates committee from Dr David Graham, First Assistant Secretary of the Aged and Community Care Division of the department. When he was quizzed about the time line of the strategy, Dr Graham could not provide details of when it would be completed, released and implemented, other than to say, `This century.’ The year 2050 is probably the outer limit, but we are planning issues around that time frame.

You should be concerned about that, Mr Deputy Speaker, as should I, because the chances are that we will not be around in 2050. The member for Gilmore agrees; she probably will not be here either. Given medical technology and advances, we might all be here, but surely that is not a basis for a government strategy which they said, when announcing it in 1997, would be ready for 1999. If we want a specific policy from this government, we have to wait until the year 2050. That is the real position.

This minister is saying he is going to go out there to consult. By the time 2050 comes, and governments come and go, who knows who will be the minister. I am sure of one thing: it will not be the member for Menzies. I am certain of that. It is an outrage that this situation has been allowed to develop and that Minister Andrews was prepared to get up in parliament and clearly create a great deal of confusion, if not a misleading of the people of Australia today.

Minister Andrews, of course, went to a great deal of trouble. He spent $4,500 on the relaunch of the strategy document. We had to get it all reprinted, at a cost of $3,600 on top of the $4,500. They spent $2,900 on sandwiches, $1,000 on a banner and $600 hiring a photographer. Once again, the government was prepared to spend taxpayers’ money promoting its agenda and trying to kid people that somehow there was something different. Fortunately, the people from the community sector who were invited to the first launch were also invited to the second launch. That is why they are angry about the abuse that we have seen already from this minister.

If you compare the answer of the minister today with what Minister Bishop said and what the foreword of the two documents says, it is game, set and match when you look at the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care annual report for 2000-01. There is a section on page 82 that says `Progress with the National Strategy for an Ageing Australia’. It says:

The consultation phase and development of the Strategy has been completed.

Either this report of the Howard government’s health and aged care strategy implementation—this annual report—is wrong or the minister today was wrong. It is simply the case that the crisis in aged care, which is there, requires a response other than PR strategies. It requires funding and it requires real action. And it requires the government to get on top of this portfolio. If there is something that is characterising this government, it is `no knowledge, no care’.

Whether it is the issue of Senator Heffernan’s disgraceful abuse of parliamentary privilege and his denigration of Australian institutions with the assistance and support of the Prime Minister, whether it is the lies that were told about children being thrown overboard—

Interjection

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—I ask the member to withdraw that.

Continue

Mr ALBANESE—Whether it is—

Interjection

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—Would the member for Grayndler withdraw.

Continue

Mr ALBANESE—I will not withdraw that lies were told about children overboard. I certainly will not.

Interjection

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—The inference is that the government told lies. I ask you to withdraw.

Continue

Mr ALBANESE—The government told lies about children overboard.

Interjection

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—I ask you to withdraw.

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Mr ALBANESE—I will not withdraw that the government told lies about children being thrown overboard.

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Interjection

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—I ask you to withdraw whether you want to argue with me or not. If you do not withdraw, I will have to report you back to the chamber.

Continue

Mr ALBANESE—That is okay, Mr Deputy Speaker. I stand by my comment. In terms of the children—

Interjection

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—That will be the adjournment of the committee. I ask the member for Gilmore to move the adjournment of debate.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Gash) adjourned.

MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER – 21 March 2002

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (9.31 a.m.)—Mr Speaker, on indulgence. The sentence that I said yesterday was:

Whether it is the issue of Senator Heffernan’s disgraceful abuse of parliamentary privilege and his denigration of Australian institutions with the assistance and support of the Prime Minister, whether it is the lies that were told about children being thrown overboard—

Interjection

The SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler is speaking on indulgence. If he says something that I believe abuses that indulgence, I will require him to resume his seat.

Continue

Mr ALBANESE—That was my statement, `whether it is the lies that were told about children being thrown overboard’. It did not name an individual. To retract a statement that one knows to be true is indeed to be guilty of telling a lie. I was not prepared to do that. Everyone knows that children were not thrown overboard.

Interjection

The SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler will resume his seat. The member for Grayndler runs the risk of compounding the abuse. I have spoken to the Deputy Speaker, as indicated. The concern that the chair has, and the concern that all members have, is the obligation that the member for Grayndler has in common with all other members—that is, to follow the instructions of the chair. It was, in fact, his defiance of the chair that has brought this matter about. Having looked at the transcript and having spoken at length to the Deputy Speaker—the member for Grayndler knows the consequences of his action—I was prepared, if he were to apologise to the House and to the Deputy Speaker for his defiance of the chair, to consider his apology. But he has to recognise that, no matter what he feels about what he said, his defiance of the chair is the matter that has brought this matter to a head.

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (9.35 a.m.)—Mr Speaker, I certainly wish to indicate to you and to the Deputy Speaker that it is unfortunate that this situation has arisen. I certainly do not have any intention of defying the chair in an inappropriate way, and I respect the fact that you have put those views forward. However, I was in a situation whereby I certainly could not withdraw, and I regret this situation.

Interjection

The SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler cannot elaborate. I require him to apologise unreservedly to the Deputy Speaker.

Continue

Mr ALBANESE—Unfortunately, due to the issue of children being thrown overboard, that is something I cannot do because there were lies told about it—

Interjection

The SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler will resume his seat!

Interjection

Interjection

The SPEAKER—The member for Batman!

Interjection

Interjection

The SPEAKER—The member for Batman is warned! I have no choice, given the circumstances, but to name the honourable member for Grayndler.