BILLS – Aged Care (Single Quality Framework) Reform Bill 2018 – 10 September 2018

Senator REYNOLDS (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Home Affairs) (19:44): I too rise to speak on the Aged Care (Single Quality Framework) Reform Bill 2018. Before I go into the specifics of the bill, I’d like to first of all congratulate all senators in this place for your support for this important bill and for the bipartisanship, if not multipartisanship, you have all shown. I think it does demonstrate, particularly with the issues that we’ve had in the last couple of weeks, that as a parliament we can still come together and debate robustly but also very constructively. Nothing is more important than doing so on this particular bill. I would like to congratulate my friend and my colleague—the minister, Ken Wyatt—for his tireless commitment to supporting the most vulnerable in our community. The introduction of this bill is another important step in strengthening the cop on the beat for our most vulnerable in aged care.

That said, I was a little saddened to hear those opposite saying in one sense how bipartisan it was but also continuing to peddle some untruths about the situation of the Morrison government and, in fact, the coalition government over the last five years. I’d like to specifically rebut some of the more blatant things that were incorrect that were said. Just because you said it several times in the debate this evening does not make it true. I’d like to put on record the facts. The fact is that every year under us home-care packages have gone up, residential care places are up and every year aged-care funding has actually increased—despite what those opposite keep asserting. Today, more than 1.3 million senior Australians are accessing some form of support in the Commonwealth aged-care sector.

There haven’t been cuts, as we have heard from those opposite tonight. In fact, under the coalition government, since elected, aged-care spending has increased on average by 6.1 per cent each and every year we’ve been in government. I will say that again, because those opposite keep talking about funding cuts. The fact is that aged-care spending has increased by 6.1 per cent every single year of our government. This year alone, the Morrison government is providing record aged-care funding of $19.8 billion, which is $5.5 billion more than what Labor provided in their last year of government. It equates to an additional 14,000 high-level home-care packages over four years at a cost of $1.6 billion, which is on top of the 6,000 high-level packages already released this year.

I’ll now come to the bill itself and what this bill is actually about. The Aged Care (Single Quality Framework) Reform Bill 2018 contributes to the implementation of the Australian government’s 2015-16 budget decision to work with the sector to develop a new, unified quality framework that includes a single set of consumer focused quality standards that will apply across all aged-care programs. This bill also lays the foundation for the introduction of a single set of aged-care standards, to be called the Aged Care Quality Standards, to apply to providers of Commonwealth funded aged care. The single quality framework places consumers at the centre of their care and focuses on giving people greater choice and greater flexibility. It is part of the reforms being progressively implemented in aged care to create a competitive, market based system where consumers drive quality and where red tape is reduced for providers of aged care. By providing for a single set of standards that apply across all aged-care programs, the amendments are intended to, once implemented: drive improvements to the quality of care delivered to all older Australians; decrease the regulatory burden on aged-care providers; and encourage innovation, excellence and continuous improvement, which are so important in all sectors today.

Currently there are four sets of quality standards that apply to providers of aged-care services. The first one is accreditation standards, which apply to residential aged-care services and some form of flexible care. The second is home-care standards, which apply to home-care services, Commonwealth home-support program services and some form of flexible care. The third is transitional care standards, which apply to providers of transitional care. The fourth is the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program quality framework, which applies to providers under that program. With these amendments, provision will be made for the same set of quality standards to apply across all types of aged-care services for the very first time. The introduction of new standards will also reflect contemporary evidence and community expectations of the quality, care and services, with the accreditation standards being updated for the first time in 20 years.

The Aged Care Quality Standards will also be enacted through amendments to the Quality of Care Principles 2014, issued by the minister for aged care under the Aged Care Act 1997, which is consistent with the manner in which the current accreditation standards and home care standards are issued. Principles are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and also to disallowance, meaning that the final content of the Aged Care Quality Standards will be able to be transparently reviewed by the parliament. Additionally, a single set of standards will increase consistency across aged-care services, and it will also make it easier for consumers and their families, carers and any other representatives to make choices about care and services, including as care needs change. Not only will the standards focus on quality and safety for consumers, they will also encourage providers to offer care and services that promote quality of life and wellbeing by placing greater emphasis on consumer choice and identity and by partnering with consumers in their care.

The Aged Care Quality Standards will be made under the reforms to this bill. They have been developed through significant consultation as well as through co-design with the aged-care sector. The Department of Health has undertaken research and consultation with the public, the aged-care sector and other government organisations. A standards technical advisory group was also established by the department. The Australian Aged Care Quality Agency is developing guidance and also educational material to support assessment of the standards and has conducted field testing of the draft set of standards. Additionally, in October 2017, the government released the Review of national aged care quality regulatory processes, which included recommendations regarding the content of aged-care quality standards. These recommendations are being addressed through the new Aged Care Quality Standards.

This bill also makes amendments to the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency Act 2013 to provide the chief executive officer of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency with the power to accredit residential aged-care services and also to conduct quality reviews of home-care services in accordance with the requirements of the new Aged Care Quality Standards. The chief executive officer of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency will also have the power to assess the quality of flexible care services, Commonwealth Home Support Program services and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program services through a specification instrument to be made by the minister for aged care.

The bill also makes amendments to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 so that protected information is exempt from the provisions of that act. Protected information is information collected by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency in the course of its functions that is either personal information or information that relates to the affairs of the approved provider. The Australian Aged Care Quality Agency Act 2013 already contains criminal penalty provisions for the unauthorised disclosure of protected information.

The Aged Care Quality Standards are an important part of the broader aged-care regulatory framework. They promote consumer confidence that Australian government funded aged-care services are safe and of a consistent quality by setting out core expectations that apply across all services. This bill is an important part of the government’s reforms to promote quality aged-care services that focus on outcomes for consumers. Again, I thank all in this chamber for their support and engagement on this bill, and I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time. 

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