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Monday, 25 October 2021
Page: 9963

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL (Lyons) (16:06): [by video link] Many times I have stood in this place to speak about aged care in this country. Once again, the message is the same: the government cannot be trusted to fix aged care. Labor supports action to fix the aged-care system but is concerned that the bill we have before us, the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 2) Bill 2021, falls short. The government has fobbed off, delayed or outright rejected key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and this is extraordinary. Of the 148 recommendations, more than half are not being implemented or are not being implemented properly, and this bill is no different, with alterations and with a number of items missing from the original royal commission recommendations that it claims to be addressing.

It's concerning that older Australians, aged-care peak bodies, providers, workers and unions were not consulted in the drafting of this bill, despite the impacts that this bill will have on them and the sector, with changes to residential aged-care funding, workforce screening, provider governance and banning orders, along with a code of conduct. These are not small changes, and there needed to be proper consultation. For this reason, Labor will move a motion to refer this bill to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for further inquiry.

Older Australians helped build this country. They worked hard, paid their taxes and raised their families. They rightfully expect that the federal government will support them in their later years. It's what they deserve. It's what they've earned after a life contributing to the community. The Morrison government has consistently let them down and failed these Australians and their families, and this is an issue that impacts all of us. We will all grow old, and we all have loved ones who are getting older and frailer. Labor believes that those who built this country and earned our respect deserve so much better from the system.

It is, frankly, nothing short of a disgrace that this government has neglected older Australians and the aged-care system for eight long years. The royal commission graphically highlighted the tragic outcomes of this neglect, including maggots in the wounds of residents and two-thirds of residents being malnourished or at risk of malnourishment. The Prime Minister failed to listen to Australians in aged care, he failed to listen to their families and he failed to listen to workers in the system.

Aged-care workers are exhausted, they are overstretched and they are underresourced. As we saw during the pandemic, they lack the resources they need to take care of frail older Australians. It's quite simple. Labor believes these workers should be paid more and there should be more of them. Earlier this year, I was able to meet with Rachel, Chrissie, Karen and their colleagues—members of the Health Services Union, who travelled to Canberra. They work in the aged-care sector and they told me about the HSU's Change Aged Care campaign. Their compassion for the people they care for was evident, but so was the need for better pay, more support and job security for the incredibly important work they do. A similar campaign by the United Workers Union has identified several workforce issues within aged-care facilities in my electorate over the past few months, including unfilled shifts, understaffing and excessive unpaid overtime. A key theme of that campaign was more time to care: older residents in aged care simply need more time with the people who care for them. The women I sat down with are incredible, hardworking women—just ordinary women who you would see every day in the street: mums, even grandmothers, doing hard physical work. They would sit with residents during their lunch breaks because they had no time during their paid shifts. These are incredibly dedicated people doing this work, and they don't do it for the money; they do it because they care.

A properly and transparently funded aged-care sector will lead to better pay and conditions for all aged-care workers, and only this can ensure the high-quality care that all older Australians deserve. We all know that the aged-care sector will likely face a critical workforce shortage in the coming years—a shortage of more than 110,000 workers over the next decade. What we see with aged-care work is that it's so hard for young people who come through that a lot of them don't stick it out. They can go and get a job somewhere else that pays better and has less onerous conditions, so there's a lot of churn in this industry. What we need are long-term workers, people who stick it out for years, who residents get to know and who get to know the systems in place. We need a better place, better pay and a workforce with better conditions.

But it seems that creating and training the workforce that cares for some of our most vulnerable citizens is simply not a priority for the Morrison government. Just last month we heard reports of the government dragging its feet on funding for a new respite and training facility in northern Tasmania. Community Care TASMANIA has announced plans to develop a respite and training centre for excellence, with the proposed facility to include six rooms, each available for respite care, along with a communal lounge, consultation rooms, nurses' offices and a training facility. CCT approached the government to provide $2 million as part of a federal infrastructure grant program. Funding was supposed to be announced in July, but so far it has been crickets from the government. I would hate to think that this funding is available but that it has simply not been announced because the government is more interested in announcing funding close to an election than getting the funding out the door so that these residents can start getting the care they need and these families can get the respite they need. That would be terrible, if the funding has already been made available but simply not been announced because the government is more interested in its own political fortunes and an election announcement rather than getting the money out the door. I hope that's not the case. But Labor knows that nothing will change in the aged-care sector without real reform to the workforce. Unfortunately, we have seen nothing from those opposite to improve wages for overstretched, undervalued aged-care workers, and this has to be a major priority of any aged-care reform: better pay and better conditions for the people who provide the care.

When it comes to reforming the aged-care sector, there's a laundry list of what this government simply has not done. Of the 148 recommendations from the aged-care royal commission, more than half are not being implemented, or are not being implemented properly, and that beggars belief. The government has ignored the recommendation to require a nurse to be on duty 24/7 in residential care and the government has failed to clear the home-care package waitlist of 100,000. Only 80,000 packages were included in the budget over the next two years and thousands more Australians joined the waitlist every year. The maths do not add up.

I receive calls to my electorate daily from concerned families whose loved ones have been waiting months or even years for the support they need to continue living in their own homes. The assessments are done, the packages are not funded but they're assessed as having deserved the packages, and some people are dying before the funding they have been assessed for becomes available. It is an absolute outrage. Just a few weeks ago my office was contacted by Sandra about much-needed in-home support for her partner, Richard. Richard had been on the waiting list for a home-care package since November 2020—11 long months during which his health deteriorated to a point where Sandra was struggling to provide the level of care Richard needed. Sandra's own health and wellbeing was going downhill as the physical and emotional demands of being a full-time carer were beginning to have an impact on her. My office was able to assist with getting Richard's home-care package approved, but it should not take intervention by a federal member of parliament for people to simply get the support they desperately need.

We know what the Morrison government is not doing, but let's consider for a moment what it is doing. This government is gifting $3.2 billion to aged-care providers via a basic daily fee increase with no strings attached—billions of dollars with no mechanism to ensure that any of it goes to actual care or better food and not to management bonuses or a new office fit-out. We've seen the reports in the press of the aged-care providers on the mainland with their Maseratis and expensive mansions. There is nothing in this package to stop people like that from buying a new Maserati or a new mansion. It's an absolute disgrace that the government is handing this money over without the strings of better care or better staffing. It's simply not good enough.

The Prime Minister 's record proves he simply cannot be trusted to fix aged care. This is a government that threw $20 billion at profitable companies but refuses to do what is desperately needed to fix aged care. Older Australians deserve so much better. Older Australians deserve dignity and respect. After eight long years of Liberal-National government, another three years, clearly, will not fix the aged-care crisis. Only an Albanese Labor government will get this job done.