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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 2522

Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (19:20): I rise in tonight's adjournment debate to talk about my experiences in the 'Walk a Day in the Shoes of an Aged Care Worker' campaign earlier this month. This is a very important initiative that highlights the work that our carers do across the country in looking after elderly Australians. I know that a number of my Tasmanian colleagues are also rolling up their sleeves and experiencing firsthand what aged-care workers do in their day-to-day jobs.

As part of the 'walk in the shoes' event I was able to spend a few hours with an aged-care worker as part of a buddy shift to give me a small taste of their daily routine. Spending time with these workers at a Hobart aged-care facility in my home state of Tasmania gave me an insight into the daily tasks they face. We were constantly on the go, providing care and support to high-care residents. My tasks included assisting in dressing residents, helping out with meal times and providing the general care to residents that they require.

I do think it is important for me to point out that these tasks that I performed are, of course, not the only duties undertaken by the workers. Due to privacy and OH&S issues it would not have been appropriate for me to do things such as bathing and toileting residents or dispensing medication. Also, my buddy's shift started at 7 am and my shift started at 8 am.

After my buddy shift I also had the opportunity to join members from my shift and other workers from the aged-care facility to discuss aged-care reform over a cup of tea. This was a rare time for them to catch their breath and to take a moment to have a chat and outline to me their experiences and thoughts on aged-care reform. They spoke to me about the challenges of working in the industry and the constraints of the current aged-care system. Conversations like these with people at the coalface of the sector are vital in broadening our understanding of the issues faced. I undertook to pass on their feedback to the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mr Mark Butler.

While I only participated in the event for a few hours, this gave me the opportunity to get an understanding of the dedication and professionalism of our aged-care carers. They work tirelessly to provide the best possible care to the residents they look after and I applaud their passion and commitment. Working conditions are often difficult, dealing with people with dementia and other illnesses. I have always supported aged-care carers and now more than ever can appreciate and value the work that they do. There are around 300,000 aged-care workers in Australia just like the ones I spent time with in Hobart. Quite simply, they are looking after our grandparents, mothers and fathers when they are most in need. I am not overstating the importance of aged-care carers when I say that society as we know it would not function without them. We owe it to our elderly to ensure that they receive the highest possible quality of care and we owe aged-care carers the utmost dignity and respect for providing this care.

I thank all of the aged-care workers who partnered with me during my buddy shift; their patience and guidance was probably tested but it was also greatly appreciated. I also thank the Tasmanian Health and Community Services Union, HACSU, particularly the State Secretary, Mr Chris Brown—no relation, even though we are in Tasmania—and organiser Meagan Lewis for facilitating the Walk A Day in My Shoes event. It was organised as part of the Age Well campaign, which I am sure all senators know quite well and which is focused on reforming the aged-care sector. The Age Well campaign is being driven by an alliance of organisations in the aged-care sector who recognise the need for reform. There are 28 member organisations under the umbrella of the National Aged Care Alliance, including Aged and Community Services Australia, Anglicare, United Voice, the Health Services Union, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian Nursing Federation, the Council on the Ageing, Catholic Health, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, the Returned and Services League and Uniting Care, just to name a few. These organisations represent all facets of the aged-care industry from consumers to providers and their unions.

In February the organisations involved in the Age Well campaign released their blueprint for aged-care reform, called 'Preparing for our future now'. The blueprint outlines major reforms to the aged-care sector, including: building community care and wellness services that maintain a person's independence for as long as possible and that minimise the need for more expensive services; increasing Australia's ability to pay for aged-care services through a combination of government funding and co-contributions from older people according to their financial capacity; and improving the affordability of aged care for the community through a reasonable balance between individual responsibilities, support for those most in need and taxpayer funding. It also suggests some initial steps to lay the foundation for real and sustainable change, including announcing a wage-bridging supplement and signing a heads of agreement establishing the payment mechanism and paying the first instalment.

Recently, over 130 older people and their carers and workers from the Age Well campaign converged on Canberra for a day of action. The campaign delegation attended the House of Representatives' question time and the group was acknowledged by our Prime Minister. The Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, also met with the group. The day of action was an excellent opportunity for the group to meet directly with their elected representatives and to highlight the need for reform in the aged-care sector. As the government is aware, as our nation ages so too will our reliance on the aged-care sector and the need for care of our elderly. Over the next 40 years the number of Australians aged over 65 will increase from one in six to one in four. Further to this, the over-85 population will grow from one in 200 to about one in 20.

As I have previously mentioned, we currently have around 300,000 aged-care workers in Australia, but by 2050 we will need more than 500,000 additional workers. By 2056, 25 per cent of Australia's population will be 65 or older, including seven per cent who will be aged 85 years or over. Some 280,000 people have dementia now, with 16,000 of these people under the age of 65. By 2050 there will be close to one million Australians with dementia. I am sure members of the chamber will agree that these figures are startling, but there is no escape from it. We know that there is going be increased demand and pressure on our aged-care system over the next 20 to 30 years. We need to ensure that we put in place sustainable, long-term reforms which meet the future needs and challenges of our ageing population.

The government is determined to get these reforms right. That is why the minister has met with over 4,000 older Australians, their families and their carers, as well as with industry stakeholders through their peak organisations, the National Aged Care Alliance and the Ageing Consultative Committee, and their unions. I had the pleasure of hosting one of those forums in Hobart with Minister Butler. The forum—one of three that were held in Tasmania—was attended by over 100 people, including consumers, carers, providers and unions. It was an extremely productive event, with the participants focusing many of their questions and comments on a more flexible aged-care system that would allow people to stay in their homes for longer. The forum, as I said, was very productive and the feedback I received from a number of people was that we need to work together and get these reforms right. These reforms will not work unless we have everyone from the aged-care sector, including consumers, workers and providers, pulling in the same direction. Failing is simply not an option. We must succeed and we must get this right for the long term.

We need to make sure that these reforms do not just improve aged care over the next five years, but that they are sustainable for the next 20 to 30 years. Whilst our current investment in the aged-care sector is significant, this government recognises the importance of reform to the aged-care sector and to ensuring that we get it right.