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Wednesday, 4 December 2019
Page: 5007

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (12:37): I rise to make a contribution on the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (New Commissioner Functions) Bill 2019. This bill transfers additional aged-care regulatory functions to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner and is the next phase of the establishment of the role of the safety commission and the commissioner. From 1 January 2020, the commissioner will be responsible for approving aged-care providers for the delivery of aged-care services, home-care services and flexible care services; undertaking compliance and enforcement actions, including monitoring the compliance of approved providers and imposing sanctions where providers do not meet their aged-care responsibilities; and the administration of the responsibility of approved providers to make compulsory reports of assaults.

These functions and this bill are a very important next step. We know that there needs to be serious reform in aged care. We know that from the interim report of the royal commission, but, even without that, just listening to the lived experience of residents, and also the families of those who have passed on, is particularly important. Listening to the lived experience of care workers also is very important, as is listening to organisations who provided a lot of evidence to the royal commission. It's obvious that serious reform is necessary.

These reforms are the second phase of this process and are part of the government's response to the Carnell-Paterson review. The first stage of the reforms came into effect this year with the establishment of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and the accompanying commissioner—the inaugural commissioner—Janet Anderson. The establishment of the commission marked an important step towards better oversight of the aged-care sector as a whole, allowing for information to flow more readily and easily, rather than being siloed in the various agencies in the Department of Health. We have circulated a number of amendments because we don't actually think that there's enough in the current legislation to ensure fully transparent and accountable oversight. I'll come to that later.

This bill includes reforms that are an important step towards strengthening the commissioner's existing regulatory functions and powers. It is incredibly important that we get these changes right if we are serious about creating a strong commission, giving strength to the commissioner and avoiding in the future the regulatory failures we are seeing presently. This bill didn't go to an inquiry, and I think that is a shame, given that there are a number of important issues that are still to be addressed. That's why a series of amendments have been circulated. I understand these reforms are very important, and we don't want to see them held up. We will be supporting the bill, although, as I've just articulated, we will be proposing a suite of amendments that I believe strengthen the commissioner's functions and powers. They have the support of many in community based organisations working in this space who have been calling for some of the amendments for a long time. They called for them in the first round of the rollout of the changes initiated by the Carnell-Paterson report, which established the commissioner and the commission. They called for those amendments and they have continued calling for those changes.

Our main concern with the bill is it doesn't address key changes identified during the establishment of the commission last year. We have previously supported stakeholder calls for the commissioner to receive complaints about My Aged Care, the Aged Care Assessment Team and the Regional Assessment Service systems. My Aged Care is the single entry point for older people to access information on aged care, referrals for eligibility, assessments and connections to appropriate services in their local area. I would be extremely surprised if other members of this place had not received strong criticism from constituents trying to access aged care—both older people and their families. I would be very surprised if they hadn't also received complaints about that system. There are myriad problems continuing to plague the My Aged Care website and call centre. Evidence provided to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety indicated:

… older people have trouble using the contact centre and website, they face confusing and duplicative assessments and they are not supported to connect to services.

In 2017-18 the Commonwealth Ombudsman received 164 complaints about the Department of Health, with 44 per cent of these being about My Aged Care.

It is clear there is a need to provide people with an effective and adequate mechanism to lodge complaints about My Aged Care and assessments, given this is a crucial element of our aged-care system. The commissioner already handles complaints about other aged-care services. It makes sense that they also handle complaints about My Aged Care and assessments. While I appreciate that the commissioner is taking a 'no wrong door' approach, we believe that the commission will not be seen as a single point of contact for older Australians until they are able to receive complaints about My Aged Care and the assessment process. When you think about it, the very process whereby you first make contact with the system is flawed, yet people can't complain about that to the commission. This is why I've circulated amendments that allow the commissioner to deal with complaints about the performance of the assessment process and electronic platforms relating to aged care, such as My Aged Care. I hope the government will seriously consider these and take on board these important amendments.

One of the key recommendations of the Carnell-Paterson review was for the enactment of a serious incident response scheme. In March this year a report was released by the government that recommended the scheme be overseen by the commission. I understand that a consultative process for the Serious Incident Response Scheme has been finished. At estimates we learnt the government is still working on the finer details of the scheme. It is crucial that we get this scheme right, but I have serious concerns about the time it has taken to get this scheme off the ground, particularly when you think about what we're hearing at the royal commission.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Gallacher ): Senator Siewert, you will be in continuation. It being 12.45, we will proceed to senators' statements.