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Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Page: 2445


Senator WATT (Queensland) (18:32): I'd like to make a short contribution on this bill, the Aged Care Amendment (Movement of Provisionally Allocated Places) Bill. As has already been outlined, Labor will be supporting the bill. It is fairly non-controversial legislation. It goes essentially to making procedural changes to allow the Secretary of the Department of Health to allow approved providers of residential aged care to move provisionally allocated residential aged-care places from one region to another within a state or territory.

I want to take the opportunity to talk about matters involving aged care, because they have been a matter of great concern across the country generally and have given rise to a royal commission, which is underway as we speak. The issues concerning aged care have been of particular concern on the Gold Coast, in my home state of Queensland, in recent times because of the dreadful incidents we saw at the Earle Haven nursing home only a few weeks ago. For those who don't recall, what happened was that over 70 frail residents of the Earle Haven nursing home needed to be moved because of the sudden closure of that nursing home over what appears to have been a contractual dispute, although those matters are still under investigation. What was very concerning was that that sudden closure occurred after a very long history of sanctions being issued against the operators of the Earle Haven nursing home by federal government regulatory authorities. I recognise that there are a number of investigations underway, which I hope will get to the bottom of these matters, but I know that all of us in Queensland were very concerned that an operator could continue running for so long when it had such a question mark over its capacity to deliver services and to treat residents and their families properly, not to mention the staff, who were underpaid as well. There were a number of incidents where the Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union, on behalf of staff, took legal proceedings over underpayment and the failure to pay superannuation, and a number of sanctions were issued by federal authorities over very serious matters like failure to provide adequate nutrition for residents and failure to ensure hydration of residents—really basic matters that go to the health of residents in these facilities. I know that in my mind, and probably in the minds of many other people, it raised questions about how many care facilities there may be in Queensland or across the country which similarly have been the subject of many sanctions by federal authorities yet continue to go on. Those matters are under investigation.

I again commend the Queensland state member for Gaven, Meaghan Scanlon, for her great leadership in managing this dispute. She was there from the first moment the problems arose and continued to be there well into the night on the day that people were moved. The problems around aged care on the Gold Coast were something she had been raising well before this incident and she has continued to do so.

Also concerning in recent days has been the continuing failure of the owner of the Earle Haven facility to appear at a state government inquiry which is looking at these matters now. On two occasions now, the owner of the Earle Haven facility has failed to appear when called at this inquiry. To be fair, on both occasions he has pleaded illness, and we can only presume that he is telling the truth and there is a genuine reason for his absence. But it is important that he does come forward and participate in this inquiry so our members of parliament in Queensland can ask legitimate questions about how these events occurred.

The other thing I want to point to regarding aged care generally is the worrying responses we had from the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians today during question time about very serious matters involving aged care. Now, I know that for a long period of time the Prime Minister has continued to deny that he, as Treasurer and then as Prime Minister, cut funding from aged care in Australia. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, the facts are very clear. All you have to do is look at the budget papers and they will tell you that funding for aged care was cut by over $1 billion by the Prime Minister when he was the Treasurer of this country. It is another example, a little bit like what we saw with 'Shanghai Sam', where the Prime Minister tries to get away with saying one thing when the actual facts demonstrate he is not telling the truth. He is earning a reputation as someone whose statements can't be trusted, whether they be about former members of this parliament and nicknames that he may have decided to use against them or about other matters, including things he did to cut funding for aged care and many other services when he was the Treasurer.

I know the Prime Minister wants to disown his past and the cuts that he imposed on aged care and many other services in this country but, unfortunately for him, the budget papers tell the real story, and we will continue to remind people of that. It is no surprise then that, because of the cuts that the current Prime Minister, as Treasurer, imposed on aged care, we are now seeing growing waiting lists for a range of aged-care services in this country. The opposition tried to highlight that in question time today by asking the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck, who is here now, to confirm that there are more than 129,000 older Australians waiting for their approved home care packages, an increase of 21,000 from March 2018. We got all sorts of numbers, all sorts of statistics and all sorts of explanations from the minister, Senator Colbeck, during question time but not a straight answer to the one question we actually asked. The minister then also refused to confirm that there are more than 75,000 older Australians who aren't receiving any home care package at all.

What he has tried to do when being asked about people who aren't receiving home care packages—as did previous coalition ministers for aged care—is go off on a tangent and talk about the fact that some people are getting some form of assistance even though it might not be what they're actually assessed as needing, as if that is some sort of brilliant excuse. The reality is that there are tens of thousands of Australians who have been assessed by the federal government's own department as needing a certain level of aged care but are not receiving it because of the backlog on the waiting list, which is there because of the Prime Minister's cuts that he imposed when he was the Treasurer. Unfortunately for older Australians, the chickens are starting to come home to roost. Because of the cuts the Prime Minister made to aged care when he was the Treasurer, those chickens are coming home to roost and are being seen in growing waiting lists for home care and other types of aged care.

The most concerning result of these cuts and the increased waiting lists is that, tragically, we have seen about 16,000 people in Australia die while being on the waiting list—16,000 older Australians who deserve our respect, our support and our assistance in their elderly years have, due to cuts that this government has imposed on aged care, died while waiting for a home care package or some other form of aged-care service. That is a disgrace and is a direct consequence of the cuts that the Prime Minister, as the then Treasurer, imposed on aged care. I really hope that the minister does take a bit more interest in the number of people who are on these waiting lists and does a bit more to try to restore the funding that his own Prime Minister took away when he was the Treasurer.