Aged care providers have written to federal MPs, appealing to them to pass legislation to introduce the government’s aged-care reform package.

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They say that if necessary, Labor should allow opposition amendments – but it’s important to have the package approved before the September election.

 

Thea Cowie reports.

 

The letter from the aged care providers uges MPs to pass the aged care reform with or without amendments.

 

It’s signed by 22 heads of organisations claiming to represent almost a million Australians.

 

They include aged care providers, carers and consumer groups for the elderly.

 

The groups say they’ve been waiting for this legislation to pass since Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister.

 

Chief executive of Catholic Health Australia Martin Laverty is one of the signatories.

 

“What we’ve got at the moment is consumer groups, unions, provider groups all agreeing that this legislation needs to go through the parliament. There might be some areas where the government needs to concede to the opposition requests for amendments. We say to the opposition and the government – strike a deal this week so that we can be confident that the legislation is going to pass through the parliament before the election so that it doesn’t get forgotten with all of the things the parliament has to deal with.”

 

The government’s “Living Longer Living Better” aged-care reform package would cost three-point-seven-billion dollars over five years.

 

Parliament would need to pass five separate bills for it to take effect.

 

Its supporters say the package would enable an extra 40,000 elderly Australians to remain in their own homes in the five-year period.

 

They say it would also give people greater control over how they pay for their care in residential homes.

 

Catholic Health Australia’s Martin Laverty says expanding the choices available to elderly Australians is the most important aspect.

 

“Choice. If there is one reason why this legislation needs to be passed it is because it gives to older Australians greater choice to stay in their own homes longer if that’s what they choose to do.”

 

The groups say another important element of the reforms would be a proposed nine per cent wage increase for aged care workers in coming years.

 

Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation Lee Thomas says without the pay increase, improvements in aged care will fail.

 

“Wages in aged care is amongst the lowest of the low. It’s nothing for a nurse working in aged care to be earning 300 to 400 hundred dollars a week less than a nurse doing pretty similar work in a public hospital down the street. When budgets get tight at home sometimes they have to make decisions about leaving the sector and going to work in different environments.”

 

But there are only four sitting weeks during which this legislation can pass before the parliament rises for the federal election.

 

During that time the government needs to pass all of its budget measures, changes to the private health insurance rebate and education reforms.

 

The aged care groups say they’ve committed an enormous amount of time, energy and resources to the reforms, in anticipation of them taking effect from July 1.

 

Manager of government business in the federal parliament, Anthony Albanese, says it will be the opposition’s fault if the bills don’t pass.

 

“They’re a confused lot, the opposition. Their natural instinct is to say no to everything. We haven’t had an indication yet of exactly where they stand but we have to assume that they will say no because usually they say no to everything.”

 

But the opposition spokeswoman on ageing, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells says the coalition won’t be rushed into signing off on legislation it’s barely seen.

 

“The debate in the House of Representatives only started on the 14th of May this year. This government, after sitting on the Productivity Commission report for more than 250 days, and then waiting another 327 days before bringing the bills before the parliament. Now the minister is forcing everyone to accept his incomplete and potentially very concerning bills within the next 16 days of parliamentary sessions.”

 

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