South Australian Centre Alliance Member of Parliament Rebekha Sharkie has introduced a bill into Federal Parliament this week calling for greater transparency in how the aged care sector spends the government funding it receives.

Ms Sharkie, who is Federal member for Mayo, introduced the Private Member’s Bill on Monday.

If adopted, it will require residential aged care providers to disclose their income, spending on food, medication, staff, training, accommodation and administration and how much they pay their parent bodies.

Under the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Financial Transparency) Bill 2020, providers would be required to submit an annual report to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, who would then make it public.

The bill also seeks to amend the Corporations Act 2001, to ensure residential aged care providers include detailed financial information in their annual statements.

Ms Sharkie said the bill aimed to improve financial transparency in aged care.

Rebekha Sharkie

“My bill simply seeks information from providers so the Government and the public will have a clearer picture of how facilities are resourced,” Ms Sharkie said in a statement.

“This will be crucial if we as a Parliament are to engage in sustainable reforms to the sector that will improve the experience and treatment of vulnerable elderly people living in residential aged care.”

The bill mirrors the legislation introduced by fellow Centre Alliance MP Stirling Griff in June last year.

“At the time the government was not interested in taking up the legislation. Senior Australians and their families haven’t lost interest and, in the interim, the impact of COVID-19 has only highlighted the under-resourcing in the sector,” Ms Sharkie said.

As previously reported by Australian Ageing Agenda, a report for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety released in September found the sector’s limited reporting obligations hindered its financial transparency (read our story here).

Centre for International Corporate Tax Accountability and Research principal Jason Ward has also produced several reported highlighting a lack of transparency among the largest and also family-owned for-profit aged care providers, one which led to a Senate Economics Reference Committee inquiry (read more here and here).

Independent Member for Warringah Zali Steggall, who seconded the bill, said it was important to know where money was being spent in aged care.

“The sector receives approximately $13 billion per annum in public funding and some $12 billion in private funding. Total profit for the sector in financial year 2018 was $1.1 billion,” Ms Steggall said in parliament.

“Not enough transparency is available on where the funds are spent, giving rise to questions of the quality of care in certain facilities, and this has never been more evident than this year during the COVID pandemic.”

Richard Colbeck

Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck told AAA “the amendment pre-empts the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which has been critical of constant change and ‘moving targets’ in its interim report.

“The Australian Government awaits the Commission’s final recommendations which will be considered when they are handed down in February,” Mr Colbeck said.

Ms Sharkie said action needed to take place now to ensure the transparency of spending in aged care.

“Australia cannot wait for the final report of the royal commission and the delays in dealing with the pandemic to have greater transparency about the financing of the aged care sector,” she said in a statement.

AAA has sought comment from Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors Julie Collins about her support for the bill.

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