The release of the state-by-state application figures for the 2008-09 Aged Care Approvals Round (ACAR) has demonstrated a clear disconnect between the Minister for Ageing and the industry.

Justine Elliot described the level of interest in the latest round as “healthy” and “competitive” but the acting CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), Pat Sparrow said the latest ACAR results served as a warning signal.

“The figures speak for themselves,” said Mrs Elliot. “Nationally, the aged care sector has sought 12,857 places for 7,663 on offer. That is a 5,194 over-subscription.”

While Applications for residential licences exceeded the number of available places in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia there were under-subscriptions for the second year in a row in Western Australia and Tasmania.

In both states applications were made for less than half of the available beds and the ACT and the Northern Territory recorded under-subscriptions for the first time ever.

Ms Sparrow said the information released by the minister did not provide a full picture.

“What the figures don’t give is a breakdown between the applications for high and low care and the different regions within the states,” she said.

“There could be high competition between two or more providers in one area with other regions experiencing shortages.”

The minister said that the government’s Zero Real Interest Loans (ZRIL) package is assisting providers in Western Australia and Tasmania.

However the CEO of Aged Care Association Australia WA, Anne-Marie Archer said the ZRIL could not be seen as a fundamental solution to the long-term problems in the boom-state.

“It is not the panacea by any stretch of the imagination,” Ms Archer said. “Providers still need to service those loans and over here we are experiencing delays in development applications because the costs of land and construction have skyrocketed and we are unable compete in the labour market.

“This means that in the not-too-distant future we are going to have a desperate shortage of beds which is going to cause problems for the state health system.”

Ms Sparrow said the Rudd Government needed to develop “visionary” policies for the nation’s ageing population as it has done in other important areas, such as housing, homelessness and the environment.

“What we are ready to do now is fix some of the structural issues in the system, such as the funding indexation and the capital support for providers,” she said.

“There is also a need to sit down and talk about how the system will need to change to cope with the increasing care needs of clients as the number of family carers declines.”

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