House debates

Thursday, 5 March 2020


Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 1) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:55 am

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 1) Bill 2020. I want to take this opportunity at the outset to express my complete and utter dismay at this coalition government's handling of aged care. My frustration and disapproval of the government's handling of this crisis—and it is a crisis—is shared by many residents in Macarthur and across the country. It may well be that the chickens are coming home to roost. I have been contacted by numerous local residents who have suffered due to the government's blatant mismanagement of the aged care sector in recent years. I have been contacted by residents who are elderly and suffering and who can barely stand for more than couple of minutes at a time, who are not receiving the support that they are owed by this reactionary government. I have been contacted by sons and daughters and grandchildren who inform me of some of the truly horrific living standards suffered by their loved ones. I have been contacted by concerned neighbours who take it upon themselves to advocate for those who are voiceless and are being left behind by the Liberal-National government. Each and every case I hear is harrowing. People in my community are suffering needlessly owing to the government's blatant failures in aged care.

This is not a problem that's been going on for one year or two years. It's being going on for the life of the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government over six years. We have spoken a number of times in this place about the state of aged care under the stewardship of this reactionary government. The sector has been in crisis for a long time. We have had inquiries, we now have a royal commission, and we have a government that has lacked any leadership to tackle this crisis with due diligence. My heart goes out to the many people who are not receiving the assistance they deserve and to the families and loved ones who advocate so selflessly for justice. We can do better and we must do better.

The government has presided over a growing problem with aged care packages. When I first came into this place, this had been pointed out to the government then. Nothing has happened. Unfortunately the aged care packages being offered to older Australians are going undelivered in many cases, and people are suffering from a growing trend of disadvantages and delays in this sector. I thank my colleague the member for Franklin, Julie Collins MP, for her tireless advocacy in this field. She well knows the difficulty that those in aged care are suffering. I note also the advocacy of the member for Macquarie, who brought forward a motion in the House this week on this very issue.

For many older Australians, be they home owners or tenants, their home is much more than bricks and mortar. It is a catalogue of memories and experiences that have been shared over decades with friends and family in the wider community. There appears to be a belief held by some that once you get to a certain age you're expected to pack up and move into residential aged care. This neglects the many elderly Australians who want to stay in their own homes, and it removes from them part of who they are. Many elderly Australians are more than happy to remain in their homes with the assistance of the much-needed but much-delayed aged and home care packages. For instance, the most recent census found that 95 per cent of Australians aged over 65 lived in their own home.

I would like to highlight another aspect of this matter: the implications that this issue has on other sectors within our economy and society. This includes the cost of family members taking time off work to assist elderly relatives, with a Deloitte Access Economics report finding this type of informal care assistance to be valued at $60.3 billion per annum—a huge sum that shows the sheer amount of unpaid work that's being provided by families and friends to those who need it most. The report, published in 2015, also found that these same family-and-friend services will outstrip the current supply of formal packages within the next 10 years, leaving us with five years to try to correct the problem. Another area that has and will continue to be affected is our hospitals, with applicants ending up in hospital beds for long periods receiving care for injuries and illnesses sustained that could have been avoided had their home care packages been delivered.

Tragically, the Royal Commission into Aged Care, Quality and Safety heard that approximately 44 people a day died in 2018 after they had received approval for a package that was not delivered. These packages were never utilised as they were never delivered to the people who were most in need. This is a very sad state of affairs—and, for the most part, it is an avoidable tragedy, had the government made support more accessible and reliable. I strongly agree with the royal commission, who noted that these deaths are totally unacceptable. These are people requiring high-level, in home aged-care support, who never got it—who died without getting it. This is a tragedy for our nation.

Additionally, figures published in the royal commission's interim report noted that those approved for the highest level packages, levels 3 and 4, had the longest wait periods, with estimations of between nine and 12 months in the period ending 30 June 2018 and over 12 months in the period ending June 2019. These are people who have had formal ACAT assessments and were assessed as being in urgent need of support and as having severe problems, such as mobility issues, continence issues, feeding issues and respiratory issues—a whole range of severe problems—who were not provided with support at the time in their life when they really most needed it. We are failing these people, and it is a tragedy. Two very important facts stand out here. Firstly, the government have failed to improve wait times for applicants in spite of the constant times that we have reminded the government of this. Secondly, those needing the most crucial of services face the longest wait times, often suffering in pain and distress because of the health issues they have.

I hate using this phrase, but we hear it all the time from those opposite—if you have a go, you get a go. Well, these people have had a go. They've worked all their lives and they've done their best for this country, and we are failing them. It's a phrase that's been all too often used by this Prime Minister to describe the ups and downs that Australians can experience, particularly the ups if they work for it. I encourage you, Prime Minister, to look at the long list of applicants for high-level aged-care packages, their detailed application forms and their current circumstances, and to realise that elderly Australians have for decades contributed to this nation and yet we are failing them. It is time for them to get a fair go and receive their packages. I call on the Prime Minister and the Minister for Aged Care to fix our country's broken aged-care system. It's unacceptable that older Australians are having to wait months, if not years, to receive the home care packages that they deserve. This should not be a political football. Labor is prepared to work constructively with the government to get the recommendations of the royal commission off report pages and into pragmatic policy work and the delivering of services.

We have before us today a bill that the government is attempting to introduce as it pursued the shocking plans to privatise aged-care assessment services—even before the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is allowed to hand down its final report. It's good that we've been able to at least temporarily stop the government trying to privatise the ACAT assessments, but it is shocking to me that the government would try and go ahead with this in the face of the disaster that they have in aged care.

We've just marked the third anniversary since the government handed down their Increasing Choice in Home Care reforms. One has to wonder about the significance of this occasion, given the fact that these reforms have done nothing to address the growing home care package waiting list. More than 100,000 Australians are still waiting to receive the home care package that they've been approved for. I think if anyone has had contact with elderly Australians in this situation, you would realise the terrible health issues that they are sometimes suffering from—incontinence, breathing difficulties, heart failure, swallowing difficulties, nutritional difficulties. They are terrible, terrible issues. That's 100,000 elderly mums and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles who are being sorely let down by this government.

We drill into our children, and have done so for generations, the notion that we ought to respect our elders. We are taught from a young age to care for our elderly population—to treat our elders with compassion and love and, above all, with respect. This is not happening under this government. It appears that this government missed out on this lesson in ethics and civics throughout their upbringing. They are presently letting down over 100,000 older Australian who have helped build this country and who have contributed to our society throughout their lifetimes.

The government's failure in this arena is unforgivable to me. This is not a crisis that sprang out of nowhere. This was a growing issue that Labor had been attempting to work with the government on for years—certainly for far longer than I have been in this parliament. Yet all we've had are empty slogans and no action. This is something that our elderly will look back on with growing concern, particularly as we face health crises in this country. Those opposite cannot deny their complacency. They have attempted to shirk all responsibility to older Australians for years and arguably only sprang into gear following an expose on Four Corners.

I use the word 'sprang' lightly, as this government is still yet to deliver substantive change to the living standards for countless older Australians. It's unacceptable, and we would do well to put pressure on this government to urgently address the crisis which has occurred under their watch. It appears that those opposite only act or show up for the job when their marketing message is at risk. That's all they've delivered to aged care: marketing messages. There has been no substantive change. We must continue to show the government the consequences and the true human cost of their inaction and to keep the pressure on when news cameras cease covering the royal commission.

I think the royal commission's interim report title, Neglect, says it all. Older Australians have not only been sorely let down by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government but been treated with contempt and been neglected all together. It appeared to me that the government was initially going to use the royal commission as a mechanism to delay any action to address the aged care crisis plaguing Australia. They were dragged kicking and screaming to hold the royal commission after ignoring the problems in the sector for far too long, as was the case with the banking royal commission. Then it appeared they would delay taking urgent steps to begin addressing the crises, awaiting the commission's findings.

However, Neglect, the Commission's interim report, put forward three recommendations that require the government's urgent action. They were: ensure older Australians are getting the care at home when they need it most; end the overreliance of chemical restraints in aged care; and stop the unacceptable number of young people entering residential aged care. Those are three recommendations which paint a scathing picture about the government's inability to address problems in the aged-care system. Shockingly, even after receiving such a scathing and public report card from the royal commission, the coalition government's response remains woefully inadequate.

Those opposite, through their marketing prowess, would have us believe that they are taking the necessary steps to address the aged care crisis. For all of their spin, the facts remain, and the government's results are pathetic at best. In response to the royal commission's interim report, we have an extra 10,000 home care packages. For all of their valiant efforts to respond to the commission's interim findings, the government is still presiding over a system in which over 100,000 older Australians remain waiting for their approved aged care packages.

Disgracefully, for all of their spin, the government has still not delivered any funding since December 2017. There's a lot of talk, but very little action. The coalition has merely brought forward funding from other years, or else funded packages through a reduction in residential aged-care places. They are literally taking money from one part of an already struggling and failing system and placing it in another part to paint a more rosy picture for the general population. The government has harped on for too long about their long sought after budget surplus. Effectively, they are stubbornly refusing to put the necessary funding into a system in desperate need of a boost. A hundred thousand Australians are presently waiting for a package that the government has told them they are entitled to, because the government is stubbornly delaying spending money. This is what it comes down to. A budget surplus, we all agree, isn't a bad thing. But when the very social fabric and values that underpin our society are sacrificed to achieve this goal, one has to question the government's judgement and its motives. At what cost must they continue to promulgate a false narrative? (Time expired)


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