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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7891

Ms McBRIDE (Dobell) (17:56): It has been said that a comfortable old age is a reward for a well-spent youth. Those of us privileged to know or to get to know Australians now in their 80s and 90s know that they don't ask for much and they don't complain. They grew up in the Great Depression and served and lost loved ones in the Second World War and, in the case of many post-war migrants, experienced the hardships of war. They worked and raised families in the early post-war years without many of the things we take for granted today. High school education wasn't possible for many young people, who left school early to help support their families. Free universal health care didn't arrive until the seventies, when I was born. Women earned less than men doing the same work, like my mum, a primary school teacher. And occupational superannuation was limited to a lucky minority, mostly men, until the introduction of the superannuation guarantee in the nineties, well after many of this generation had reached the end of their working lives. They just had to trust—trust that there would be an adequate age pension to support them in a modest retirement. This is a generation who are used to doing it tough and who are reluctant to ask for help, even when they really need it.

A well-spent youth—so where is the reward and where is the dignity? How must older Australians feel when the activities of day-to-day living and caring responsibilities become too much and they ask for help, and that help just isn't there? They are told that they must wait, and then wait and wait some more. And that is just what is happening across Australia.

The latest data on the waiting times for home care packages, released belatedly on Friday, shows that more Australians than ever are waiting for home care. The waiting list for home care packages grew from 105,000 in December last year to 108,000 at the end of March—in just four months. Of these 108,000 older Australians waiting for a package, around 54,000 are receiving no package at all. There are waiting times for people with high needs, many living with dementia. This is deeply personal for me. I lost my dad to younger onset dementia earlier this year, and the many people that I have met through his journey are waiting. They need care. They can't wait. It's not fair and it's not safe. I don't know that knowing they are in the national prioritisation queue would be much solace to the over 54,000 people still waiting at the end of March.

On the Central Coast there are now 771 people waiting for packages and not receiving assistance while they wait. That compares with 750 at the end of December. While we are talking about numbers, we should not forget the very human face of aged care. Last week I spoke about two of my constituents, Enid and Warren, who approached my office for help. Enid is 94 and is vision impaired. She looks after her husband, Warren, who is 97 and living with dementia. As his illness progresses, understandably Enid is finding it harder and harder to care for Warren at home, which is his wish. Enid and Warren do receive some care, but not enough. In April last year they were approved for a higher, level 3, package. They're still waiting. For 16 months they've been waiting for this care at home. They've continued to contact My Aged Care and their provider, but to no avail.

Enid called my office last week out of desperation. When she asked for help, she said it was because she just couldn't do it anymore. Sadly, she told me Warren had said to her, 'I don't know why you're even bothering to call. We'll be dead before the package comes through.' My office contacted My Aged Care only to learn that Enid and Warren were not even a high priority for home care. They were considered medium priority. They were waiting for 16 months—97 years old, living with dementia, and were not a high priority. I don't know how this prioritisation is assessed. Figures released on Friday show the annual cost for level 3 care is a maximum of $32,500. This is a government that can find $17 billion for tax cuts for big banks and can't find an extra cent for aged care.

How can this government look at people like Enid and Warren and tell them there isn't $32,500 to help them spend their final years at home together? Enid and Warren are just two people out of 108,000 nationwide. They matter, as does everyone else. Their situation is heartbreaking but, on a national level, this is a disgrace. The government must tell these older Australians waiting for the assistance they desperately need when the 14,000 packages announced in the budget will be released. The Turnbull government need to act with urgency. They need to act with compassion. They need to act with empathy, and they need to act now. It's unfair and it is unsafe.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Gee ): There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.