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Thursday, 12 December 2013
Page: 2544


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (09:59): There are 350,000 workers in the aged-care sector who tonight will discover that they will not get the pay rises and better working conditions that they deserve and need. We will need a million workers in this sector by 2050. Not only will childcare workers and automotive industry workers now have a very bad Christmas, but aged-care-sector workers will as well. This government is attacking workers once again. The Labor government Minister for Mental Health and Ageing was actually doing what needed to be done in this sector. There is a 40 per cent turnover in this sector, and what we did was in accordance with the agreement undertaken with the National Aged Care Alliance—providers, unions and everyone in the sector. We negotiated across the country, consulted widely with stakeholders and made sure that we did what we needed to do to put a provision in place.

In 2008 the Productivity Commission said that, despite the fact that the now Prime Minister in his previous ministerial guise did everything he possibly could, allegedly, in terms of several initiatives to assist provision of extra funding for the aged-care sector with better wages and conditions, the aged-care providers did not pass it on. The Productivity Commission found that in 2008. As a result of two Productivity Commission reports, the first one being a draft report of 507 pages, and the final one undertaken after further consultation, the Labor government then announced the Living Longer Living Better package of $3.7 billion, which was accepted across the aged-care sector as the right way to go. Central and core to that was a $1.2 billion workforce supplement—better working conditions and more funding, because we know, of course, that this is a big challenge. If you are in an aged-care facility and you are wanting better quality care you need good nurses, good personal carers, good administrative staff and high-quality professionals to look after you. We saw in the third Intergenerational Report the necessity for Australians to care and to spend more money on the aged-care sector in this country. We need the kind of assistance that the Living Longer Living Better package provided.

The coalition government could not even get the senior minister in the portfolio in here to move this disallowance motion. The Assistant Minister for Employment had to do the dirty work today. These workers need the kind of assistance that this aged-care package would have provided. On 25 September we witnessed a terrible decision made by the senior minister in this portfolio, the Hon. Kevin Andrews—the Minister for Social Services. He made a terrible decision with two determinations to effectively suspend the operation of the workforce supplement. It meant that unions, aged-care providers and those people in the aged-care sector who needed to get access to that supplement, which increases from one per cent to 3.5 per cent across the forward estimates, could not get access to it. Before that decision by the coalition minister it was clearly working. Senate estimates provided the answer to the question: was it working? The answer was yes. One hundred million dollars of the $1.2 billion had already been accessed by the aged-care sector. Why? Because the aged-care sector liked the workforce supplement. They said: 'We would like to pay our workers better. We would like to provide career structures and professional development. We just do not have the funding.' Clearly, what was offered was accepted and we would have seen this funding rolled out, but 350,000 workers in the sector will go to Christmas knowing they will not get the assistance they need.

Not only are the coalition government getting rid of the workforce supplement, which the member for Port Adelaide in his previous guise as the minister in the previous government provided after extensive consultation, but they are also getting rid of the workforce supplement in relation to dementia and for veterans in multipurpose services. This is the party that went around before the last election saying that they supported veterans and alleging that we did not support veterans. Over there they are getting rid of the supplements for veterans with mental health problems. How heartless is that before Christmas? We know that 50 per cent of patients in public hospitals have cognition difficulties. We know that there are about 250,000 people in this country with dementia problems, and it is going to increase massively to close to one million by 2050. We know that there are 16,000 Australians with early-onset dementia under 65 years of age, but the dementia supplement is going. That is what they are doing. It is heartless, it is cruel, it is wrong, and it is not the way to go.

One of this governments first acts was undertaken back on 25 September. We filed a motion in the Senate which would open the gate. We got the support of the Greens. That was introduced by Senator Helen Polley, the shadow parliamentary secretary for aged care, and was being debated last night. With the support of the Greens the gate would have been opened. A decision would have been made this morning. What those opposite have done is close the gate entirely. They have made sure that low-paid workers in this sector cannot get access to that funding. The aged-care providers, whether it is TriCare, Regis, Carinity, PresCare or Blue Care, are all saying the same thing. The not-for-profits and the for-profits need this supplement. They need it to provide assistance to their workers because they cannot afford to provide it themselves. Ratios are difficult, profitability is challenging—that is what they are saying.

In this shadow portfolio I have met with a number of aged-care providers in relation to this issue. I have met with the leading peak bodies and the consultation was extensive. They need this supplement. Those opposite have the temerity to say that it is about unionism. It was not just about unionism; it was far more than that. Seventy-five per cent of workers in residential aged care are covered by collective agreements. Sixty per cent are in flexible community care arrangements. We made provision that, if there were fewer than 50 operational places in relation to the assistants working in aged care, they did not have to have a collective agreement. Small operators, community based care services in the aged-care sector, could get access if they signed the workforce supplement agreements. If they did what they proposed to do in terms of career paths, wage increases and better conditions in the workplace they could get access to the supplement. It did not have to be all about collective agreements. The union supported it, I admit that—the nurses supported it, United Voice supported it and the HSU supported it. But the aged-care sector wanted it; and the employers wanted it.

Those opposite said, and took the policy to the last election, that they would put this money back into the general pool of aged care. They have put nothing back into the general pool of aged care. They have not given any details whatsoever to the sector about how that money will be used to enhance the working conditions of men and women in this sector. Not a skerrick, not a word, not a dot, not an iota has come from those opposite about how this money will be used to help workers in this sector—nothing, complete silence.

When we asked the question in Senate estimates about what was going to happen—silence; a political vacuum from those opposite. What we believe will happen is that they will snaffle that money, the $1.1 billion that is left, and put it towards other purposes. There is no guarantee at all that that money will go to the wages and conditions of workers in this sector and no guarantee at all that those opposite will actually assist those people who work in this sector. We know this because day after day, in speech after speech in this place, those opposite attack the workers in this sector and the unions that represent them. We have heard it whether it is the aged-care sector, the childcare sector or any other sector.

We debated in the last few days the ABCC; we debated registered organisations; we debated a whole host of areas. But today, without any notice whatsoever, except for it just being on the Notice Paper, we have these disallowance motions. They are there without prior consultation with stakeholders, without prior consultation with the aged-care sector, without prior consultation with the unions or the workers or any other organisation. They are there like a Christmas grinch—that is what it is like. Today, there are people across this sector who will be surprised, stunned and outraged, just as we on this side are because we are the ones who want to stand up for workers. You can tell by the speeches made in this parliament and by votes in this parliament that we on this side of the chamber, the Labor Party, are the only ones interested in assisting workers.

This motion should be opposed. It should be opposed by every single person. If you say you care for workers in the aged-care sector, vote against this motion.

The SPEAKER: The question is that the motion be agreed to.