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Community Affairs References Committee
Future of Australia's aged-care sector workforce

BOBBERT, Mr Darren, Chair, Northern Regional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation

FISCHER, Miss Krys, Care Coordinator, Northern Regional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation

CHAIR: Welcome. Can you confirm that you have been given information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence?

Miss Fischer : I think I read something about that.

CHAIR: You would have been emailed a form.

Miss Fischer : Yes.

CHAIR: I now invite you to make an opening statement and then we will ask you some questions.

Mr Bobbert : Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians past and present of this land that we are having this meeting on, and all other elders past and present. It is the Wulgurukaba and Bindal peoples. We are with Northern Regional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aged care. It was founded on 4 December 1996 by my mother and father. They worked tirelessly for three years before that. They saw a need in the community. A lot of our elders were not getting their basic needs met such as cleaning of their houses and maintaining their yards, a little shopping and paying bills. My father was a railway worker and my mother was a stay-at-home housewife. They went around to the communities, firstly to our aunties and uncles, and then word got around that they were out and about helping all of our elders. Then they started Twin Cities, as it was known then. I have not had much time to prepare for this because I have just had two weeks of sorry business for my father, whom we laid to rest last Friday. Just bear with me, if you may.

Four December 1996 was when they registered as Twin Cities. Mum still works as a coordinator. She is now out in the community as a support person and spokesperson, just going around to the elders to see if there are any needs that we can help them out with. We do a lot of voluntary work. We work on the weekends. People are old not just between the hours of eight and four from Monday to Friday; it is never-ending. As an example, the Saturday before last I took some clients of mine up to Murray Upper. They are very sick and they wanted to go back to country. Murray Upper is on the other side of Cardwell, which is north of us. That was a Saturday trip—to take them back there and to get some spiritual healing for themselves. There was no pain. It was just taking them back to see their people, to get them to take off their shoes and walk onto country and go to where they were when they were younger. Those are the types of things that we like to do for all of our elders.

But to understand how our elders are dealing with their problems you have to go back to their lives from the beginning. A lot of our parents and their parents and grandparents today have been removed from their traditional countries. That has a profound effect upon—well, it was not my mother but my grandmother. But you will see this throughout everywhere that we go through our new clients referrals, and just their next-door neighbours or whoever is there meeting. Their self-esteem, their sense of being, their roles—it has taken them a lot of time to establish that again. You are talking about people that vary from 60 through to 90 years old—through to 108. An uncle was in hospital the other week. He is 108 years old from Normanton—my grandmother's country. So you have to deal with all of that.

As a proud Indigenous man, every person that I go and see, every elder that I go and see, black and white, you sit down and talk and you hear their stories—where they have come from, their struggles, what they are doing and how they are getting through it. A lot of our Indigenous elders have had other struggles, as well. For instance, in the first 10 to 15 years of their working life they were not paid. As well as the other things on their plate, they have this, as well. So they have always seen themselves as second-class citizens. It is quite hard, because when you sit down and talk—and that is how you work out what needs and services you can provide them—and you start building the relationship with them and gaining their trust, then they open up to you. I get very emotional about it.

I find that with a lot of what they have had to deal with, especially with the stolen generation and the wages conflict, when they were not getting paid, it was hard for them to pass things down to their children—how to save up for a house, how to save up for a car. That economic structure was not there—to pass that down. So then their children are lost—my generation. And their children are lost—the younger generation. What we are trying to do at Northern Regional is kick goals—small goals at first. We are getting through and delivering the services at a personal level. Sometimes we might have to be there for an hour and a half or two hours when it says on our roster that we only have to be there for an hour. But if somebody wants to get something out to you and reach out to you, you cannot walk away and leave them there. I think we care too much.

What we are trying to do now is bring our young people through. Our elders are seeing the young people that are coming through. We are trying to put them into TAFE and into university—to get their Cert III, to get them out and to get them to mix with our elders. That brings our young people out to hear the stories. They are learning respect and self-belief. The No. 1 thing is education. That is what we and our elders are teaching our children—'Get your Cert III', 'Get your Cert IV in disabilities,' 'Do a management course,' and 'We will help you as much as we can.' A young girl will be starting with us very shortly, and she is doing nursing. We are going to help her as best we can—'Go and do your nursing and come here and work for us and, when it is time and you think that you want to go on further and become a nurse or a midwife or whatever, we will help you through that.'

It is only small. We have 160-odd clients but it is rapidly growing. We are just dipping out feet into the NDIS, because a lot of our clients who are NDIS compatible do not want to go to the NDIS; they want us to be a part of it. So we have had to go on NDIS now.

CHAIR: So you have become registered for NDIS?

Mr Bobbert : Yes, we have. I tell them that it is about business. I said, 'Yes, it is what you want, but people are there to provide a service, and it is not just you; they also have all these other people on their roster and whatever.' They just seem to be missing the personal touch that we have. Maybe we go a bit too far, but I always say to all of our elders, black and white: 'You've worked all your life; now it is time for us to take care of you and make your life as smooth as possible.' That is what we are here for. I say, 'You've done the hard yards; now let us do the hard yards for you.' And they appreciate that.

CHAIR: Miss Fischer, did you want to add anything?

Miss Fischer : I would like to add that, when we are dealing with aged care and people still within their own homes, there are unique challenges faced when it comes to cultural requirements, and there is a cross-cultural requirement. Some people have one culture; some people have many cultures. For our mob predominantly identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, it is a family connection, and we are finding with the assessments stuff occurring that they are not being done in a culturally appropriate way or in a culturally sensitive manner. A couple of assessments have come through recently that I have actually sent on for a review based on the terminology that has been used within those assessments. It was quite offensive, and I do not think it is appropriate to be using the terminology that has been used.

CHAIR: Can you give us an example of that?

Miss Fischer : One was a young Indigenous man and the quote for his assistance was: 'Needs domestic assistance because he lives in a pigsty.' That is a subjective quote not an objective one, in my opinion. For many people, 'a pigsty' is variable. Another one is where they said a lady enjoys activities, and it was enjoys 'a hoe with the Aboriginals'. We are assuming that she meant 'enjoys hoi'.

CHAIR: Enjoys what, sorry?

Miss Fischer : Hoe, but I think it was meant to say 'hoi', but she did not know how to spell it. So, again, it is just that terminology. We are finding with the elders that the assessments are done via phone, and our elders will not open up to people over the phone. This will sound weird, but you sound white on the phone and they know that and they instantly close down and there is that barrier there, because they are not dealing with their own mob.

Sustaining the workforce structure can be quite difficult because, again, we have the family connections. There is transgenerational trauma that we are trying to address. Government predominantly is seen as the big baddie. So we are trying to break down those barriers and are saying to them, 'Yes, we understand what it was like previously for you being under the act.' We still have clients who will be quite open and talk about their experiences of being under the act.

Mr Bobbert : Some of our clients still have their dog ticket from when they lived on missions. They keep it with them because they think at any time they could be pulled up and asked for their dog ticket. When they wanted to leave the mission they had to show a dog ticket—they had to get a ticket from the protective Aboriginals or the police to say who they were, where they were going and how long they were going to leave the mission for. So a lot of them still walk around with one of those in their purse.

Miss Fischer : I liken that trauma to PTSD. I think when we are trying to address the issues in bridging the gaps a lot more work needs to be done and it needs to be far more culturally inclusive, especially in areas such as Townsville and to the north.

Senator POLLEY: Thank you both very much for coming before us today. It is very helpful. Some of your comments today were very similar to those that we heard from people in the Northern Territory. Nevertheless, there are real constraints and concerns in having a workforce that, as you said, is culturally sensitive. But also, with the changes that are going to take place, it is four days now till the consumer directed care begins. We heard evidence in the Northern Territory that they just do not believe that it is going to be suitable for their clients. Do you have an opinion or a view as to whether the new rollout will be beneficial to the people you are responsible for?

Miss Fischer : With the overall concept, I think yes because they have that choice. But, again, at this moment in time, because it is all through My Aged Care, they are still viewing it as being told what they can and cannot do, even though the end result is that they do have a greater choice over the care they receive. It is difficult in that we get a lot of walk-ins, and we have word of mouth and families saying, 'Go and see Brother Darren because they look after our mob.' That has sorted been removed in the sense that I used to go and do the assessments and we would then sign them up and deliver services, whereas now I have to say to them, 'I can't do them; it's got to go through this channel.' For a lot of them, by the time it gets through to having that phone conversation, they say, 'No, thank you. I don't want it.' People are discussing fee structures. We have our own set of fee structures and, again, when they are told that they might have to pay $35 a week, they are saying, 'No, we just can't afford that, thank you very much.' So they are declining services. So I would like it to be almost a staggered process of not separate rules for people but a different model that is culturally appropriate and takes into account the transgenerational trauma that we are seeing is still very much alive.

Senator POLLEY: Are the majority of your carers Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander?

Miss Fischer : Yes.

Senator POLLEY: What is the retention rate? Twenty-five per cent is fairly typical within the aged-care sector. Is yours higher or lower? Do you have continuity?

Miss Fischer : Most of our staff have been with us in excess of 10 years, so we do retain our staff quite well. We recruit and we take on trainees—and again it is about empowering our own people to deliver services in a culturally appropriate way. If they stay, they stay; if they move on and go into a different area, then that is okay too. We just like to give people that opportunity.

Senator POLLEY: Do you do in-house training? That was another issue for remote areas. Having staff is fantastic because they do tend to stay, but it is about equipping them and skilling them up, which is an issue in some circumstances because they have to go away from their base. Is that similar to the experience you are having?

Miss Fischer : We are very blessed. We have a very close working relationship with a local RTO, so we do training services with them and through them. We have found that the trust that has been established with that RTO means we are able to connect with the students in a different model so that each learner has their needs met and obtains their qualification. It might just be delivered in a bit of a different way.

Senator POLLEY: Within the training, how much is around the cultural necessities and the need to be sensitive? People have different needs, so how much of your training is done around that area?

Miss Fischer : A lot. The majority of it always centres around how we do it and how we do it culturally.

Senator POLLEY: So were the comments that you made about terminology in relation to non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

Miss Fischer : Yes.

Senator POLLEY: I want to talk about dementia and how prevalent that is within your communities. In your experience of dealing with the Commonwealth government, what else can the government do to ensure that your clients get the best possible care, in terms of having a career structure or recognising additional skills?

Miss Fischer : I would love to see across all communities, across all tiers of government a broad spectrum reconciliation action plan that has tangible outcomes identifying positions and funding. We are seeing a lot of training funding being removed—workforce fund is one of them. If it is not deemed a shortage skill then funding is not there for trainees and for different areas. If you have already done one sort of training and you now want to upskill to further your employment then you cannot because you are no longer eligible. I think, especially for the Indigenous community, being able to have people stand up and be proud out in the community going, 'Well this is what I have been able to do; this is what I have been able to achieve,' will encourage and give strength to other people to know that that is there and that is available.

Senator POLLEY: We heard that in the Northern Territory. I visited a number of homes that actually are very good and do consider the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural differences in the way they run the whole home but their challenge is that their workforce is ageing. Is that an issue that you are confronted with as well?

Miss Fischer : Yes. Out of the 20 of our staff members, we are looking at five or more that will be headed into retirement in the next couple of years so, again, we have got elders delivering services to elders really. The work ethic is phenomenal and I cannot fault it but how do we pass that along now and still give the people who are looking to retire that sense of worth and acknowledgement of what they have actually achieved over the years? And how do you find the funding to upskill and replace what they bring to the team?

Senator POLLEY: Have you got the potential to be able to skill up the next generation of carers? Or are you going to have to rely on people coming in?

Miss Fischer : I think with the relationship we have with the ITO, we are in very good stead to be able to continue to upskill the younger generation.

Mr Bobbert : Your only problem with the aged care sector in retaining workers is your award. Your award is too low. I am a radio tech by trade. I was with Telstra for 10 years and drove trains for 14 years. I came here to Townsville because my father got sick with cancer so I have gone from a $140,000 job to here. You cannot express the rewards of the job but—

Miss Fischer : You do not do it for the money.

Mr Bobbert : Exactly, you do not do it for the money. The award rate for an aged care worker is abysmal.

Senator POLLEY: I take on board the comment. We have heard it right around the country—that people do not go into this sector for the money but you still get the same hydro bills and electricity charges as everybody else.

Mr Bobbert : That is right. And that is where the upskilling comes into it and then obviously you cannot retain the nurses, managers, coordinators and so forth because they will go somewhere else. They are looking out for their future. That is when you get the next person in and train them and upskill them. We have been fortunate to hold on to everyone that we have so far because they love the job.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can you tell us approximately how many paid employees you have and in what capacity.

Mr Bobbert : Approximately 25. Of those we have ground staff, four home-care workers, four managers and two part time staff, at two and three days per week. Everybody else is a manager. There are two coordinators and two part time home-care workers, and the rest are full time.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What do the full timers do? Are they registered nurses?

Miss Fischer : They are home-care workers as well.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do you have a facility for inpatients?

Miss Fischer : No. It is in the community.

Mr Bobbert : We are not residential.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are your care workers technically qualified or are they just good people?

Miss Fischer : They are all technically qualified.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are all or most of them Indigenous people?

Miss Fischer : Of our entire workforce we have three non-Indigenous staff.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It is good to hear that you are keeping them and that there is not a big turnover. We have heard evidence that in other areas there is a big turnover. A lot of the evidence is that these homes that are community run or not-for-profit simply cannot compete in wages with Queensland Health. Do you have comparisons made? I heard you say that your staff do not leave because they like the job, but do they often comment about their parity with what similar workers in Queensland Health get?

Miss Fischer : For some of them, yes—for the ones that have worked in other places that are not NFPs. We like to give our staff moments where we do debriefing and self-care, so management are acutely aware that it is a tough industry. There is a lot of grief and loss involved. They work out in 36 and 37 degree heat and a lot of our elders cannot afford air conditioning because they cannot afford the power. We have our heat policy and we tell the staff to make sure they are taking appropriate rest breaks in between clients so they can remain hydrated and all of those things. We do not offer the same wages compared to Queensland Health, but what we offer in culture—and when I say culture I mean our working culture—is far and above.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What area do you cover?

Miss Fischer : All of Townsville and down in Bowen.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What about Ayr and Home Hill?

Miss Fischer : We do not do Ayr and Home Hill, just Bowen and Townsville.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do you do Palm Island?—We are hearing from them next.

CHAIR: We have them next.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are you funded by the state and federal governments?

Miss Fischer : State and federal.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do you have a solution for any of the issues you see? You mentioned that wages and salaries would help retain and encourage your existing staff, but do you have any other suggestions or any solutions that might help this committee in its recommendations?

Miss Fischer : Come and sit under a palm tree and speak to our elders, so that they can direct the government on what can be done for them.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: That is important, but this inquiry is more about the aged-care workforce and what we can do.

Miss Fischer : I would say the same for the staff. Management do their best to represent their staff, but if you want the truth you need to go to the ground staff, because there are things they do not release to their managers, and we see that even in our training. Things come up in training that management were not even aware of because the staff do not want to upset management or make it seem that it is a bad place. It is not a bad place, but it is that little issue. It is a broad spectrum—just providing appropriate funding, especially for the littler services so that they can continue to—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What do you mean by 'the littler services'?

Miss Fischer : The smaller not-for-profits and the smaller family- or community-run organisations, not just the larger corporations.

Mr Bobbert : When we go out to visit a lot of our clients and a lot of our potential clients who ring us up and just want us to sit down and have a talk, the main problem that they have with a lot of the providers is that they are in, they are out and they are gone; they do not sit down and listen to the needs of the people. The 27th is when the HCL2s go mobile, and we have a lot of people that want to come onto our books from a lot of the other providers, because they are not getting in and doing what they are supposed to be doing—what they are funded to do. That is to take care of our elders, and we are finding that a lot of these people are coming out, and we are going to have to employ more people—more skilled people and more young people.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are again talking about other providers who do home care rather than in-house care.

Mr Bobbert : Yes.

Miss Fischer : I think the time restraints are a big thing when you have targets that you need to meet.

Mr Bobbert : That is right.

Miss Fischer : Obviously you have to span that over X number of clients over a number of days. You lose that personal connection with people, because you are finding that you have to be in and out. As we know, as you get older you get lonelier, because you do not have those connections.


Mr Bobbert : Yes. A lot of the targets are really high too. There is high expectation on targets, and that is why we do a lot of weekend work, unpaid—just voluntary. With the people that we do not get to, we get to them later.


Mr Bobbert : It is just to keep the trust, because you are dealing with a lot of people from whom the government is taking away a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and they are finding it hard to make ends meet and to trust people. That is the main thing: they are finding it hard to trust people.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is there any general desire expressed to you for people to live in a facility rather than in their own home?

Miss Fischer : No, they want to stay in their home.

Mr Bobbert : Yes.

Miss Fischer : For a lot of them, it has been their family home.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, of course.

Miss Fischer : It is where they raised their children and their grandchildren, so it is that connection and the connection to their community, because people know that they can just drop in and people know where they are, whereas the fear is that, if they go to a residential facility, people will not be able to access it due to there being no transport and things like that.


Miss Fischer : So remaining in their home is their priority.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks for that. If any of your people want to put in even an anonymous submission to this committee, encourage them to do that.

CHAIR: Let the staff know.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes. Thanks for that.

Senator WATT: I am aware that in the community generally across Australia, as well as issues around provision of aged care to elderly people, there is also an issue around lack of care for severely disabled younger people who end up being put in aged-care facilities, and there are issues around whether that is appropriate. Are you seeing anything like that in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community?

Mr Bobbert : Yes, that is everywhere. Yes, that is huge. The thing is that I went up to NDIS late last year, in November, and the NDIS as set up in Townsville did not have an Indigenous community liaison officer there. We have a huge Indigenous community in Townsville, and there was not one. Just by chance, one of my brothers is a client, and a good mate of his works up at the NDIS as a community liaison person, and he grew up with blackfellas, so he is our go-to bloke, because he gets the job done. We were disappointed in that, because we see a lot of our brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews who just get shunned. I do not know whether it is the money. Before, there was not any money there. You have to go into the aged care because there is nothing set up for the younger people. There was just a neglect.

Miss Fischer : And, again, you have the parents who are now ageing. Who is going to look after the children with disabilities, the grandchildren with disabilities? It is a big concern for our clients.

Mr Bobbert : That is right. TAIHS—Townsville Aboriginal and Islanders Health Service—have a thousand people there who are not registered with the NDIS, and a lot of those are younger. The simple fact of the matter is that people talk to them on the phone or whatever, and they say, 'We're from the NDIS,' but they are actually from a provider. And they go, 'Oh, okay—yep, yep, yep.' And the next thing they know they have signed up to the NDIS and the have got a $20,000 plan that they know nothing about. We are finding that everywhere.

Senator WATT: In terms of workforce issues, do you expect that, as the NDIS does come online and more people become eligible for packages, there are going to be pressures on you to find workers to provide aged care services when it could be the same kind of people who are being drawn into the NDIS workforce as well?

Miss Fischer : Yes. We are finding financial issues around ensuring that they are upskilled to be able to provide services under NDIS, as well as being responsible for obtaining yellow cards for our staff. That is a pretty big whack in one hit for any smaller organisation, I think. Based around the fact that it is a changing industry and that it is no longer 9:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday, we are now looking at how are we going to retain staff on the hourly rates that are offered within the sector for time frames that are no longer during daylight hours and are on weekends as well. It is a challenge.

Mr Bobbert : There is another point, too: a lot of Indigenous disabled people would feel more comfortable with their family—we have got big families, and families are there to help. There are people at home all the time, and they are helping, and my suggestion was, 'Let's make [sound dropout 10:57:10 - 10:57:25] that is his uncle's favourite nephew. He does it for free, anyway, but to give him like a wage to help him with his uncle—to take him down the beach and put him in the sand and let the salt water cover him; things like that—like our way.

I have a group of brothers that I take to the rock pool every afternoon. There is a few of us working, out of hours, and we take them down there and we have got the salt water therapy. I have the pump-up tyres for them and the weights for their feet, and we walk through the water and there is four or five workers and four or five brothers that we take down there. We have been doing that for a while. That is not paid, but that is what we do for our mob.

Senator WATT: What more do you think we could be doing? With that point you are making that many older Indigenous people would prefer to be looked after in a home setting within their family, what more do you think we could be doing to ensure that people looking after them, whether they be next of kin or employed staff, are adequately trained and resourced to deliver the care in that kind of family setting?

Mr Bobbert : For us to train someone up it costs money so, at the end of the day, if we have people ready to go—and we have a tonne of people that are ready to jump on board with us, but we just cannot handle it at the moment because the funds are not there to bring in people to train up to help uncle and aunty. There is a process that you have to go through and jump over hoops and over hurdles and all the rest of it—and we are doing that, slowly but surely. Like I said, we were not going in NDIS, but we found that 30 or 40 of our clients are now NDIS-compatible but they do not want to go anywhere else; they want to stay with us. So we have said, 'Oh, okay—oh geez!' So the first thing we did was train up all our staff with a Cert IV in disabilities. There is your ground base, and as we get more people in we have to train them up. But, obviously, that costs money. Maybe if we can put together a plan, package or program or something—I don't know. She does all of that.

Senator POLLEY: In relation to your clientele, how many of those would be living with dementia? That is an area, unfortunately, that is on the increase and they need specialist assistance in care.

Miss Fischer : Off the top of my head I probably have six or seven clients with dementia. In the last 12 months I have lost three from advanced dementia and they have gone on to residential services. You are right, it is an area that does require specialist skills. We are a bit blessed that we do have that good relationship with the RTO so we are able to upskill our staff in those areas and utilise free resources, such as UTAS and different places like that, for online courses for the staff, so that there is a little bit of ongoing professional development. It is very difficult with our mob because there is a lot of—I am not going to say there is shame involved with dementia but it is very closed off and not discussed and almost—

Senator POLLEY: There is still a stigma attached to it in the general community as well.

Miss Fischer : Yes.

CHAIR: I have one last question around CDC and the changes next week. You made a comment that you are getting people saying to you that they want to come to you now. When we were in the Northern Territory there was strong concern expressed by some Aboriginal providers about CDC and community and it not quite meeting the needs of the Aboriginal community. Have you come across that as well?

Miss Fischer : It has been very difficult for us, in a sense, and I understand why the government has done what they have done and removed it as bucket funding and now it is individual. But for us as a family unit, as a community, if one is sick at the minute then we all chip in to raise them up to get them better, whereas now we are having to say, 'I am sorry, Auntie, but your budget does not allow it.'

CHAIR: It is just you, yes.

Miss Fischer : It is that concept—that it is now an individual and not a community—that is very difficult for our elders to understand, because that is not how we operate in a wider sense.

CHAIR: That is exactly what they said in the NT.

Miss Fischer : It is a struggle. They are saying, 'What do we have to sign to let sister have whatever she needs?' It doesn't work that way.

Mr Bobbert : You get a lot of elders who want to get out and join the other aunties and uncles in group activities, SSG activities. It is about getting them out and getting them mobile and re-enabling them. Instead of sitting inside the four walls you want to get them out into the community, because that is when they start to fly. In the package, as you said, you can only do so much. But we take them anyway.

Miss Fischer : We are starting to see some of our elders decline their domestic assistance so that they can attend the social activities. That is such an important cultural connection, but so is having their house maintained.

CHAIR: But they still need to have that domestic support as well.

Miss Fischer : Yes. In that sense, it has been quite challenging for us to try and educate our elders that, 'This is now about you, not about everyone as a whole group anymore,' and trying to ensure that we still tick all of the boxes with what we need to have—in agreements and things like that—in a way that they are understanding. It is still 'But I have so much money in the bank.' 'No, you don't auntie; that is not yours.' It is that barrier of understanding and working out the processes. It is a big issue.

Mr Bobbert : There are a lot of elders that want to get the assessment done but they want to get their assessment done by us mob, by someone that they know. I think there is one Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person here for the ACAT assessment team. He is busy. I like to catch up with him every now and again. We just touch base on who needs some help and what is going on, referrals and what not. He needs a hand big time here.

CHAIR: That is one person in Townsville.

Mr Bobbert : Yes.

CHAIR: You said he is an Aboriginal man here.

Mr Bobbert : Yes.

CHAIR: When you say Townsville, how far does he have to cover?

Mr Bobbert : He covers the Townsville district. He needs a hand. He asked for a letter of support from us. I said yes. That was a couple of weeks ago. I have been through a couple of things in the last couple of weeks.

Miss Fischer : Even our working relationship with him has been impacted significantly because before we would just be on the phone to each other saying, 'Yes, this is what this person needs. Can you just pop out, have a coffee and see them?' Now, again, everything has to go through My Aged Care. We have lost that connection between the multidisciplinary team and the consumer. This is all consumer directed, but for us it is actually not working. It is removing that connection that we have all had, and we have built that over a number of years. So it is quite difficult.

Senator POLLEY: It is a bit hard to assess someone without seeing them, because we know that sometimes people are not forthcoming with all the relevant information.

CHAIR: Yes, you have to have known them quite a while in some circumstances. Thank you very much for your time today. It is very much appreciated and extremely helpful for us.