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Tuesday, 11 August 2015
Page: 5021

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (20:15): I rise tonight to speak of the chaos in the aged-care sector in Australia caused by this shambolic government. In government, Labor delivered the biggest reforms to aged care and ageing in a generation: a 10-year strategy known as the Living Longer Living Better aged-care package. It really concerns me that this government has not been able to oversee fully developed aged-care policies, legislated with bipartisan support, and formulated with broad public and sector-wide support.

What we have here is a leadership issue. Labor understood the level of leadership required to oversee the rollout of such a significant reform and put a senior cabinet minister in charge. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Abbott government. The Prime Minister dumped two of the biggest social reforms, Living Longer Living Better and the NDIS, onto an assistant minister. What does this tell you about the regard and seriousness given to aged care and services? No direct cabinet representation. No direct decision making. No longer a priority. As I said, I am concerned for the future of the aged-care reforms. This government have not had their eye on aged care since day one. There is only one issue they are ever passionate about, and that is cuts. Does the assistant minister understand that the government's constant tinkering, short-cuts, last minute decisions and constant cuts give the impression that the government have no idea what they are doing when it comes to aged care.

The same could be said for the way in which the Abbott government has managed dementia care and services. This government's poor record in dementia care is highlighted by (1) the shocking way that it handled the Dementia and Severe Behaviours Supplement, which was a problem created by a lack of leadership and vision; (2) the short-sighted and experimental announcement of their 'flying squads' to deal with residents with severe behaviours; and, (3), in an act that is beyond belief, the government asking tenderers for the 'flying squads' to come up with a model for how it might work.

Dementia is not a disease reserved for older Australians. Approximately 343,000 Australians are living with dementia and almost 30,000 have younger onset dementia. Since the Abbott government came to power, dementia care and risk prevention programs have been defunded, while carers have been overlooked and ignored. One such program is Alzheimer's Australia's Younger Onset Dementia Key Workers program. It will not be funded beyond June 2016. There at least 25,100 people under the age of 65 years living with younger onset dementia who rely on this life-changing program. This is a program designed to ensure that those with younger onset dementia, along with their families, carers and sometimes employers, receive the support they need. As of June 2016 this program will be rolled into the NDIS with no guarantee—no guarantee, Senator Bilyk—that this money will remain reserved for people with dementia or be used in the general disability area.

Through all of these nasty surprises it is evident that the Abbott government has no real plan to deal with dementia, which is now the second-leading cause of death in Australia. The Abbott government has effectively abandoned those living with dementia, abandoned their families, abandoned their carers and abandoned our communities. The government's dithering, delays and disarray are being felt by aged-care workers, providers, older Australians and their families. We need an age-friendly and dementia-friendly government. We need an age-friendly and dementia-friendly government because, in the next 20 to 30 years, 25 per cent of our population will be aged 65 years and over. More of us will live to be 100. We will see an increase in dementia. Almost one million Australians will be living with dementia by 2050.

Dementia is already the leading cause of death in Australia and by 2016 dementia will be the leading cause of disability in this country. This is why dementia must be treated as national health priority. One of the biggest challenges facing the aged-care system is dementia. We need a workforce equipped and trained effectively and a system that supports Australians living with dementia and their families. Our ageing population, the alarming growth in dementia and a significant shortage in the aged-care workforce cannot continue to be ignored by the Abbott government.

All too often, the ageing of our population is painted as a crisis. I believe our ageing population will present some of the greatest challenges of this century, but it will also present some of the greatest opportunities of this century. The government has a responsibility to leverage these opportunities in order to meet the needs of older Australians now and into the future.

Labor takes the ageing of our population seriously, and we demonstrated that when we were in government last. Consultation has always been one of our strengths. Last month we met with key stakeholders and experts in aged care as part of the Tasmania task force. We held a roundtable and discussed the future needs of aged care and the services that are going to be demanded in the future. Conversations called for a coherent aged-care workforce strategy, ensuring this nation has the right workforce to meet the needs of older Australians now and into the future.

There is an opportunity for Australia to have a world-class aged-care system, equipped and supported to tackle the increasing demand and complex needs of our ageing population. We need a world-class workforce to do this. As our population ages, the pressure and demand for appropriate aged-care services will only increase. The aged-care sector will be one of the top growth sectors over the next decades. We need to see a tripling of the workforce in the next 30 years.

In my home state of Tasmania, and Senator Bilyk would understand, we need almost 5,000 more aged-care workers over the next 20 years just to keep up with demand. We need to make aged care a career of choice. We need to attract and develop the right workers. We need to ensure that those who work in aged-care services to support older Australians are renumerated decently and recognised appropriately. We need a strategy to deal with the shortages of workers in the aged-care sector and to make sure we have the right workforce to care for our older Australians into the future.

This strategy was promised by Senator Fifield over a year ago and we are still waiting for it. To date, the only thing the Abbott government has done for the aged-care workforce is to take an axe to the $1.2 billion aged-care workforce supplement, which was designed to deliver better wages, better conditions and a better career path for some of Australia's lowest paid workers; and to cut $40 million in the aged-care workforce measures without any strategic follow-up or investment. Tasmanians and their carers will be placed at risk unless the Abbott government addresses the workforce issues immediately.

This government is the reason why our aged-care system is not world class and this government will turn us into an international laughing stock. The Abbott government has done a great job rubbing salt in the nasty wounds left from last year's budget. It is time the Abbott government took responsibility for the mess it has created. We are all looking forward to seeing some leadership from the government. We know the Prime Minister said back on 9 February—not much of a birthday gift for me—that there was going to be a new start, that good government would start. I know I have got older, but we have been waiting and waiting and we still have not seen that good government.

When it comes to the aged-care sector, the mystery stocktake and the workforce strategy that were promised by the assistant minister have not been delivered. There is no news of it. I can tell you that the Australian people and those on this side will not be holding our breath because we know those opposite do not give aged care the priority it deserves. If they did, they would have a cabinet minister focused on the issues of the ageing population in this country. It is a huge challenge. This government has failed the Australian people.