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Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Page: 2440


Senator STERLE (Western Australia) (18:09): We know Australia has a growing ageing population. We also know more Australians are choosing to age in their own home. The former minister admitted last year that he needed to intervene, but he did nothing. The next quarterly report on the number of older Australians waiting for care is due to be published soon. Given the seriousness of this issue, I hope the government does not delay the next quarter of data, as it has with past reports.

The government's track record and inaction continues when it comes to addressing the recommendations included in the dozens of reports, reviews and inquiries that have been sitting on the desks of multiple ministers. For example, more than two years ago the Australian Law Reform Commission's final elder abuse report was tabled in the parliament. Forty-three recommendations were put to government by the Law Reform Commission, the majority of which still have yet to be actioned or fully implemented. Last week it was two years since the Tune review was tabled in the parliament, an important review that gave the government a pathway forward about how to address a number of critical issues impacting on the now broken aged-care system. Thirty-eight recommendations were put to government, many of which still have yet to be fully implemented. Last week also marked a year since the then minister for aged care, Minister Ken Wyatt, announced the release of the A Matter of Care workforce strategy. It includes 14 actions to address current and future workforce challenges. How many of those 14 actions have been addressed? To date, none have been fully implemented. What a complete disgrace this is. We know there aren't enough aged-care workers now to care for older Australians let alone those that will be needed over the next decade. In less than a month it will be two years since the Carnell Paterson report into regulatory processes was handed to the government. This report has 10 recommendations, many of which have yet to be fully implemented.

The government has spent the last six years sitting idly by, asleep at the wheel, while older Australians suffer without the care they need. Reform has been ad hoc, and some issues have been poorly addressed, with many areas of concern only partially addressed. Aged care is an area of government that requires constant attention and reform, given the number of older Australians accessing services. It's clear that the Liberals continue to fail older Australians. The government failed so badly that it had to call a royal commission into aged care. At the end of October the interim report of this royal commission into aged care is set to be handed down. There's no denying that the evidence put before the commission has been confronting. It's impossible not to feel deeply concerned about the accounts made, and our thoughts go to those who have conveyed their own or their loved ones' experiences with dignity and respect.

From the evidence given, there's no walking away from the fact that our current aged-care system is not working as it should. Why is this the case? Well, not only has there been inaction by those opposite over six years; there have been funding cuts. The funding cuts have been significant—a $110 million cut to the dementia supplement in residential aged care, almost $500 million cut in the 2015 MYEFO, a $1.2 billion cut to the Aged Care Funding Instrument in the 2016-17 budget. That's almost $2 billion cut from residential aged care alone. And these failures start at the top. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison was the architect of the cuts to aged care that have contributed to this broken system. How can Mr Morrison be trusted to care for and support older Australians? The question the Liberals must ask themselves is: if the aged-care system isn't coping now, how will it be fit for purpose to cater for an Australian population that is ageing? For a long time, unions, the aged-care sector, consumers, families, the media and Labor have been persistent in calling for successful—that was a Freudian slip!—I mean successive Liberal governments to fix and reform the system. Vulnerable older Australians should not be waiting two years for their approved home care package. Funding for residents should not be going backwards. Why hasn't there been a focus on delivering and growing a skilled workforce to care for older Australians?

In the wake of years of inaction, the royal commission is the government's last chance saloon for real action to fix Australia's aged-care system. As I've stated, the interim report is due on 31 October. Making this interim report public is in the best interests of all Australians. The new Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck, cannot and should not add this report to the dozens of other inquiries and reviews that sat idly on the former minister's desk, with hundreds of recommendations unanswered. There will be many Australians waiting in anticipation for the royal commission's interim report, and Labor looks forward to the government making it public immediately.

For a government in search of a purpose, the challenge of how we care for Australia's ageing population is an opportunity to deliver real change on a critical issue of reform. Older Australians deserve much better. The blame for the state of the aged-care system falls fairly and squarely at the feet of consecutive Liberal governments. The government's record over the past six years in relation to aged care can only be described as a bungling mess. The Liberals have never had aged care in the cabinet, and this omission is now showing.

The Prime Minister didn't have the foresight to put aged care in the cabinet after the last election, even after he called a royal commission. There has been a distinct period of funding cuts, a distressing blowout in the home care package waiting list and an admission of policy failure with the establishment of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Essentially, it's an inquiry into the government's own ineptness. The waiting list for an approved package is now at 129,000 older Australians. These are not just statistics; these are real people, vulnerable people, many of whom are frail, unwell and desperate for care. The My Aged Care portal is failing older Australians, their families and their carers. We've also seen the government delay the transition of the Commonwealth Home Support Program transition—again, the new transition date is now, goodness me, 2022.

All up, successive Liberal governments have failed to deliver reform. These are serious issues. The government has abrogated its responsibility to care for and support our most vulnerable Australians. The government's track record when it comes to aged care can only be described as a complete and utter failure. We should judge ourselves as a nation by how we treat our elderly. Older Australians deserve better, and they won't be fooled by the Prime Minister and the Liberals, who have done nothing but cut aged-care funding for years, and they've left more than 100,000 older Australians languishing, waiting for the care they need now.