I am really saddened to have to stand in this place this afternoon to make some note about the responses the Minister for Ageing gave to us on questions that covered a whole range of issues in the aged care industry. We have the absolute horror of the allegations of elder abuse that has come forward, and I think it needs an immediate response. It is not being bulldozed, as the minister said, into a knee-jerk response . What we and the wider community expect is that the horror of these allegations is acknowledged and that there is some form of urgent response to those issues of abuse. There is no other way to describe it. It seems to me that a process must be put in place to have an urgent response to those issues.
Wider issues were raised this afternoon. There was the issue of the systemic operation of aged care in our community. In terms of the responses the minister gave, we were able to extract some information today that were actually supplementary responses to questions that were asked yesterday specifically about the accreditation of an aged care home on the Sunshine Coast, the Immanuel home. Senator McLucas, who asked very specialised questions yesterday about that process, was not able to get any answers. When I asked follow-up questions today, the minister had obviously receive some information overnight. Perhaps, as he acknowledged, he watched Lateline and saw some of the issues that were being raised across the board, and he was able to respond to us on that. He was able today, not yesterday, to give us some detail of the accreditation process that was put in place for the age care home on the Sunshine Coast. He was able to, ponderously, go through step by step how the accreditation process operates. What he could not give us was any sense of genuine confidence that that accreditation process was responding to-and I quote directly from my question and from the accreditation process-'a record of persistent failure to comply with accreditation standards over the last three years'.
We are not talking about an urgent issue about which no-one had any knowledge; we are talking about an established age care facility that was subject to the accreditation process, which we worked through in the Senate Community Affairs References Committee and which tabled the report, to which Senator Marshall referred, Quality and equity in aged care. We were given advice then about how the accreditation process operates. A range of witnesses came before that inquiry, raising concerns about how they felt the process operated and wanting to be involved in some solutions, because everybody shares the concern about ensuring that our older Australians have access to safe, quality aged care. The minister made that point yesterday, and I think again today, that we all have this concern.
Through the aged care Senate inquiry, which, as Senator Marshall said, reported to this place in June 2005, we gave 51 unanimous recommendations that were gathered together over months during that inquiry and while working with many of the same people that the minister has said he will be meeting with in early March. I will call it a meeting; he may call it a 'summit'. But it is not that urgent, because it is taking several weeks to happen. Many of those people, if not all of them-and I will check that to make sure-gave evidence to our inquiry. One of the core aspects of that was the absolute necessity to have community confidence in the assessment process. We know there must be standards in terms of care for aged Australians. There are a range of those, and anybody can access that through the website or contacting the accreditation agency, and there are processes for each agency to be assessed. The minister did talk through how some of that occurred.
What we did not have was immediate action on a persistent failure to meet those standards over three years. Minister, this is not a knee-jerk reaction. We want some confidence in a system that is public and has been lauded as one of the best in the world. I do have great respect for the people who work in this system. But where there is persistent failure to meet standards there must be immediate action; otherwise, how will things be fixed? Minister, do not feel bulldozed into taking action, which you said maybe you felt today; actually feel the commitment to take action to meet the expectations of the community. (Time expired)
Question agreed to.
28 February, 2006