7 September 2012
CURTIS: Peter Dutton, welcome to Capital Hill.
DUTTON: Good to be with you, thanks Lyndal.
CURTIS: The Government has announced a $3.7 billion aged care reform package. It is built on some of the recommendations of the Productivity Commission into aged care, although not all of them. What do you think of what the Government's done?
DUTTON: It is interesting that you use the figure of $3.7 billion, because when you drill down, it is actually an injection of a couple of hundred million dollars over a four-year period. They are really robbing Peter to pay Paul. So, out of a portfolio spend in aged care of about $11 billion a year, it turns out that it's much less of an injection than what you'd expect. I think that's frankly why a lot of stakeholders are pretty disappointed with what the Government's announced and people have been completely underwhelmed with what the Government has announced by way of their response to the Productivity Commission Inquiry.
CURTIS: We will deal first with the biggest area of unhappiness, the Government's changes to what's called the Aged Care Funding Instrument. The Government says it was always going to pull back funding after a period of catch-up. Do you think the industry understands that?
DUTTON: I don't think the industry understands that. I don't think that's what they were led to understand before the last election either. Nobody from the Government was out there saying they were going to have this massive claw-back. I think while some stakeholder groups came out when they saw a $3.7 billion figure and praised the Government for that, when they have looked into the detail and seen the changes to the ACFI, I think most people have been disappointed. The starting point for the Coalition is to say we want to see people live their latter years with dignity and with the services and support they need and I thought that was the idea of the Productivity Commission recommendations. It seems the Government hasn't been willing to embrace those. As I say, when you cut back the spin of the $3.7 billion, it is nowhere near that sort of an investment. I think that's why most people are pretty disappointed with the Gillard Government at the moment.
CURTIS: But one of the changes the Government has announced is to increase the supplement, the accommodation supplement it provides, from $32 to $52 a day, saying that acknowledges, that takes into account the capital costs; that if someone builds a new home or there is substantial renovation, they can get the increased supplement.
DUTTON: Well the figures people understand is that for full pensioners, they won't be paying more under the Government package, but for part pensioners and indeed for some self-funded retirees on lower incomes, in particular, they will be paying anything up to $10,000 a year extra for these packages. I don't think the Government made that known at the time of the last election. It is why there is a start date for the changes of 1 July 2014, again, in a similar way to the trickery around the Gonski funding and around the dental care package funding. They have pushed it out beyond the next election because they know that this isn't a positive in the Australian community, that people are negative on it and that's why they've got a start date beyond the next election.
But doesn’t that contribution to their own care from people who can afford to do it, which is capped annually and capped at a lifetime rate, doesn't that exactly pick up on the Productivity Commission recommendations which was to have people contribute to their own care if they could afford to do so?
DUTTON: Well again Lyndal, the Productivity Commission made a number of recommendations and the Government's plucked the eyes out of it. They haven't embraced it fully as they said they were going to. If there is a change at the time of the next election, it will be one of the day one priorities for a Coalition Government because we've got huge pressures on our aged care system, Lyndal, and I think, as I said before, people want to see a dignified existence for their parents and grandparents. At the moment, the Government is just making it harder for families, not easier.
CURTIS: So if there is a change of Government at the next election, would you pick up more closely the Productivity Commission recommendations?
DUTTON: I have been impressed with the work of the Productivity Commission, there is no doubt about that. The advantage the Government has over us, is that they have a Federal Department of 6,500 staff and they have economists and all sorts of people that can provide advice to Government that's not available to Oppositions. But certainly for us it will be a first priority and I want to assure all families that the Coalition is well and truly committed to getting a better response to the Productivity Commission report so that we can put ourselves on a sustainable path going forward. I want to make sure that we can provide an adequate return on capital and that will mean we will get more beds open, that will mean we will have more people with the services that they deserve and instead of spending taxpayers' money on new bureaucracies, we will be redirecting money into frontline services so that we can deliver better outcomes for people who deserve to age with dignity either in the home or in aged care facilities around the country.
CURTIS: So is it fair to say that your policy is going to look much more like the Productivity Commission recommendations than not like them?
DUTTON: That is certainly the direction in which we are headed. We want to see the advice the Government hasn't made public, but obviously they have received from the Department. So we want to look at all the expert advice and from there we will be able to make our priorities known.
CURTIS: Even though that may mean not picking up on the recommendations that we have spoken about that people who can afford to contribute to their own cost of care do so more than they do now?
DUTTON: As I say Lyndal, we want to do it responsibly. I know that there is a lot of money that has been spent by this Government in these new bureaucratic structures, not just around aged care, but across the portfolio of health and ageing generally. I think that if we can redirect some of that spending on bureaucrats and put it into the frontline services, then we can really get a good outcome. I don’t think the Government has been without good intent. I think the Gillard Government has had good intent, but they have just squandered the opportunity and they have spent the money on bureaucrats, instead of on patients and on aged care recipients. I want to make sure that we make it easier for those people as they age and age gracefully, I hope in good surrounds, both in their own homes and aged care facilities around the country.
CURTIS: One of the other big challenges facing the aged care sector is the workforce that will be needed, not only now, but into the future. The Government says it is spending $1.2 billion on addressing those workforce challenges. Doing it through effectively aged care employers having to meet performance indicators and they get extra money if they do, for things like wages growth and career progression. Are those the right sort of ways to address what is a pretty big challenge for the sector?
DUTTON: Lyndal, I want to make sure that we can particularly get retention right. Working in aged care is not always the position of choice for many, particularly registered nurses, but it's ultimately a very rewarding area. I want to make sure that we have in place a system that does encourage world's best practice when it comes to aged care. I want to make sure employment arrangements deliver best outcomes in terms of the care provided to the residents. The best way in which we can do that is to make for a profitable industry where there is a good return on capital. If we encourage that environment, I think we can get better outcomes. It seems to me though, again, when you dig into the detail of this particular aspect of the package the Government has announced, it's more about driving the workforce into the arms of the union movement, into the HSU, the disgraced HSU that on the one hand the Labor Party is trying to walk away from when it comes to Craig Thomson, but this package is more or less directed at trying to herd the workers in aged care into the HSU and other unions within that movement.
CURTIS: Finally, the Government will need to bring legislation to Parliament to enact some of these reforms. While you haven't seen the legislation yet, is it fair to say that given your response today, you would be likely to reject it?
DUTTON: Lyndal, the test for us will be, as it has been over the last four years, is whether this is good legislation. If it is, then we will support it. We will base that, in this particular scenario, on whether or not it is going to reduce the regulatory and red tape burden. We still want safeguards in place, but we don't want the increasing bureaucratic dead hand the Government is placing on the aged care industry.
CURTIS: But from what you have said, you don’t think the Government meets the test?
DUTTON: We haven't seen the legislation, but if it is all about just pushing people into unions, increasing regulatory burden, and not about getting better outcomes for aged care residents, then we won’t support packages which are basically about spending more money on bureaucrats. We want to see the money get to the frontline. If we can move amendments to bad legislation or if we have to oppose bad legislation, we will do that. But if it is good legislation or if the Government can improve it, of course the Coalition is about trying to improve the situation for aged care residents across the country.
CURTIS:Peter Dutton, thank you very much for your time.
DUTTON: Pleasure, thanks very much Lyndal.