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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2257


Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (22:39): I rise to speak on the Abbott-Turnbull government's record of treating ageing and aged care in this country as an afterthought. Today is another day with a government without a plan. We have a government without a tax plan, a government without a plan to fund health and education, a government that is still unable to show any leadership when it comes to ageing and aged care in this country. The revolving door of Malcolm Turnbull's ministry has seen the embarrassingly belated appointment of Sussan Ley as Minister for Aged Care, with Malcolm Turnbull initially neglecting to appoint anyone—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, you need to address people in the other house by their correct titles.

Senator POLLEY: Prime Minister Turnbull initially neglected to appoint anyone with responsibility for ageing or aged care. There were a few concerns that we might be heading down the same road as the former Liberal Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who shamefully disregarded aged care by not appointing anyone with responsibility for ageing and those sorts of issues.

Along with the new portfolio, the new Minister for Aged Care also inherited a long list of unfinished business left behind by the former Assistant Minister for Aged Care, Senator Fifield. I would hope that Minister Ley would use her new appointment as an opportunity to continue to roll out Living Longer Living Better, the aged-care reforms undertaken by the previous Labor government. We were hoping she would be able to come in and clean up the mess that had been left behind. Unfortunately, that has not been the case—and I will go to this in further detail in a moment.

Mr Turnbull's revolving ministry has also see the Assistant Minister for Health, Ken Wyatt, have the role of Assistant Minister for Aged Care added to the list of his duties. We welcome the clarification of his responsibilities because at Senate estimates in February it was very difficult to ascertain from the government who was actually responsible for aged care. There was no hope of having any clarification of who was going to be minister for ageing because they do not actually have anyone. It is quite obvious that this government does not give to older Australians the respect they so richly deserve.

The belated appointment has caused some confusion not only for us on this side of the chamber but, more importantly, for the community and the aged care sector. But we have a bit more clarity now. At estimates in February, I started by asking a very simple question to ease the department and the minister into this issue: how many aged care facilities in the country had the Minister for Health, Sussan Ley visited? There was silence because they could not answer the question. The minister could not answer the question and the department gave the lame excuse that they do not keep the minister's diary. We in this place all know there was never an expectation that I would ask a question where I would think that the department actually did keep the diary of the minister. But we in this place all know that the department would give a detailed briefing to the minister before she would undertake any visit to an aged care facility. They simply were not prepared to give an answer. I asked if they could come back before the end of the session and still they were unable to do that. They have actually taken the question on notice. What we in the opposition do know, with the limited resources we have access to, is that the minister had been very social on social media, highlighting all the photo opportunities in her area of responsibility around sport. Alas, there was nothing to do with the aged care sector. I am quite disappointed and, no doubt, the sector themselves are going to be very disappointed.

But can I just return to the fact that it is very evident that the heat is certainly on the new Assistant Minister for Aged Care to do a much better job on leadership and consultation with the sector than his Liberal predecessors have done. The shadow minister for aged care, Shane Neumann, and I have travelled extensively around the country listening to not only the sector but consumers as well. There is a stark contrast between the government and the opposition. At the forthcoming election consumers and the aged care sector will have a very clear choice about which party has a committed appreciation of the work that is undertaken in this sector by the providers and the workforce and what is in the best interests of older Australians.

But let's move forward. We are now halfway through March but still we have not seen anything from the Turnbull government in relation to aged-care policies. Ageing and aged care still are not at the forefront of the government's thinking, and it is quite clear that the government has no plans to tackle the biggest issues faced by the sector. Dementia remains one of the greatest challenges of our ageing population, and the Turnbull government has not shown any ability to treat dementia as a national health policy. Today and yesterday Alzheimer's Australia held a two-day summit here in Parliament House. It was about the consumers—people who are living with dementia and their carers. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear firsthand from those who are living with dementia, and those who care for them, about the issues they confront on a day-to-day basis.

It is extremely disappointing that the government have failed to realise how significant this issue is. But what they have done since coming to power is axe a $16 a day supplement for those who experience dementia and also have severe behavioural issues. That supplement was paid to aged-care facilities for residents who needed that extra help. But the government just cut it. And not only that but they slashed $20 billion from innovative care projects and announced experimental untested flying squads to deal with severe behaviour in residential aged care. Well, I think they have actually bombed out. In fact, they have gone to ground, because we have not heard anything of them. And not only did they abandon those people with severe behavioural problems, they abandoned the life-changing Younger Onset Dementia Key Workers Program in June this year. They disregarded Brain Matters, the world's first dementia risk reduction program.

Whether it is residential aged care, supporting people in their homes or dealing with the workforce, the government has failed miserably when it comes to aged care. We need to see a change from this government to give aged care the priority that it so richly deserves. They have walked away from people who work in this sector, some of the lowest paid workers in this country, the majority of whom happen to be women. The government will be judged by the Australian community. One thing is for sure: each and every one of us, if we are fortunate enough to be able to age, will need to consider these issues. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that until you are confronted with having to put either one of your parents or your partner into aged care you really have not had anything to do with it, and it comes as quite a shock. Those people on that side have a very short window of opportunity to actually change their reputation when it comes to aged care in this country. (Time expired)