Thursday, 5 March 2020
Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 1) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I'm speaking in support of the amendment. There are several concerns that we have about the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 1) Bill 2020. Although we don't wish to hold the bill's progress up through the parliament, we are going to put forward some concerns. The concerns relate to the royal commission and the fact that the royal commission still hasn't completed its work. The government here is bringing forward this particular piece of legislation despite the fact that the final report of the royal commission won't be handed down until November.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will hand down its final report in November. There has been an immense amount of change regarding the sector over recent years. The royal commission may make a range of recommendations around home-care packages and their programs, and it may include what to do with unspent funds that have been part of the evidence presented in the hearings. Given the evidence provided in aged-care financing and the authority's report, some have put forward their concerns about increased risk to the financial viability of some service providers.
Why make legislative changes now when the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety won't even hand down its report until November 2020? We know that this government is renowned for its piecemeal reform. Last month marked the third anniversary of the government's increasing choice in home care reforms, and three years on the question is being asked: what's been achieved from these reforms and older Australians choosing to receive aged-care services in their own homes? These reforms have done nothing at all to address the growing waiting list for care packages. There are still more than 100,000 older Australians waiting for an approved aged-care package. Sadly, almost 30,000 have died over the past two years waiting for that approved aged-care package.
My office received a call last year from a 93-year-old constituent who was complaining that, despite the fact that she had no direct relatives in the local vicinity that could care for her and she was living on her own in quite a large residence, she had still been waiting over 12 months for the approval of her aged-care package. And that is not uncommon, unfortunately, under this government and their approach to aged-care packages. That's why many older Australians, who've worked all of their lives and paid their taxes, are so frustrated with this government when it comes to aged care packages.
The government did release an additional 10,000 spots in their last budget, but the sad thing about that was that the funding wasn't additional funding. It came from earmarked funding already within the budget, and it says everything about this government's approach to budgeting and the way they mislead the Australian public about providing funds and additional services for people and how they're funding them. Around 25,000 older Australians entered residential aged care prematurely over the past two years because they couldn't get access to approved home care packages. With an ageing population, this is a problem that is growing in Australia and it's something that all of us, as local members of parliament, are experiencing in our interactions with constituents: the frustration that elderly Australians are facing with the government's system of not supporting and not providing adequate response times in respect to applications for in-home aged-care packages. That's putting pressure on the residential aged-care sector, and with an ageing population it's only getting worse.
The waitlist times under this government have blown out. Older Australians waiting for high-level packages are waiting almost three years to get care that they have been approved for. The median waiting time for older Australians going into residential aged care has grown from more a month when the Liberals and Nationals took office to now over 100 days. It's grown exponentially under their watch, and the Productivity Commission report on government services, released in January this year, revealed that older Australians waiting for high-level home care packages are waiting almost three years to get the care that they've been approved for. The report also revealed that older Australians are waiting longer to enter residential aged care. The government has made improvements to the transparency of home care fees; however, home care recipients are still raising concerns about the rising cost of administrative and daily fees that are deducted from their packages, therefore impacting the amount of care hours that they can access.
Then there's, of course, the royal commission. The findings that have been uncovered under the royal commission's auspices have been quite shocking. The royal commission handed down an interim report on 31 October last year, and that report was titled Neglectone word. The commissioners put forward three recommendations that required urgent action. The first was to ensure that older Australians are getting the care at home that they most need. Second was about the over-reliance on chemical restraints in aged care throughout Australia. The third recommendation was to stop the unacceptable number of young people entering residential aged care.
I must say that it's heartbreaking to see a young person, particularly a young person with a disability in their 30s or 40s, lingering in an aged-care facility, where they certainly don't belong. In a wealthy nation like Australia, with the living standards we enjoy, that should be something we avoid at all costs. Again that is an important recommendation of the royal commission that we hope the government will deal with.
The government's response to the interim report has been woefully inadequate, especially in relation to addressing the home-care packages waiting list. The commissioners recommended urgent action to address the home-care packages waiting list, but the government has put only 5,500 home-care packages into the system since 1 December last year. This is simply inadequate when 100,000 older Australians are waiting for their approved home-care package.
Another example of the Morrison government's piecemeal reform was the attempt to privatise the very successful aged-care assessment teams, the ACAT services. This is one element of the aged-care system in Australia that actually works very well and which there has been very little complaint about. But this government, like many Liberal governments throughout the country, saw an opportunity to privatise another essential service. It wanted to try to make bucks out of contracting out this essential service. Thankfully, at COAG last week the government was forced into an embarrassing retreat on this plan to privatise the assessment of aged-care services. The government confirmed that it has abandoned the current tender process after its plan was panned by state and territory governments, aged-care experts and even its own members of parliament.
Labor has proudly stood up for these assessment teams; for the rights of older Australians, who deserve the best aged-care services; and particularly for the government commitment to those aged-care services in the future. The Morrison government must now give a clear assurance that this important work will continue to be done by experienced and well-qualified assessors in conjunction with the states and territories. That's what older Australians want when they're accessing aged-care services and that's what they deserve. Labor will keep fighting to ensure that those important services are maintained and are properly resourced with well-trained staff by the Australian government.
The Morrison government's privatisation plan was ill-conceived from the beginning. In January the aged-care royal commissioners issued an extraordinary public correction in response to the minister for aged care's false assertion that they supported the plan to privatise aged-care assessments. That was a disgraceful misuse and manipulation of the royal commissioners. It's quite extraordinary for royal commissioners to go out of their way and issue such a statement. I think it highlights just how misleading this government has been when it comes to aged-care services. It goes to what we've seen around the sports rorts and the lack of leadership that came from this government in the management of the bushfire crisis throughout the country in recent times. They do all they can to avoid scrutiny and all they can to avoid providing the truth and facts to the Australian public. That was highlighted by the royal commissioners' response and their claims about being misrepresented by the aged-care minister through those comments.
Just last week the government's plan to outsource the assessment of aged-care services was rubbished by one of its own federal MPs in a speech in this parliament. Thankfully, that member of parliament stood up and had their voice heard when it came to providing support for those important assessment teams.
This government's piecemeal and mismanaged reform before the final report of the royal commission in November again is an example of the government asleep at the wheel. Basically it hasn't got a plan, particularly when it comes to aged-care services in the longer term.
There have been four different ministers since this government was elected to office, and there's been no consistency of approach in this portfolio. I've mentioned the over 100,000 Australians that are on the waiting list for in-care packages, and the piecemeal approach to providing funding—providing some in one budget and cutting funding for aged-care services in another. There's no consistency. There's no plan. Just like their management of the economy, there is no plan for aged-care services in this country, and Australians are suffering.
After ripping billions of dollars out of the aged-care system initially, they've lurched from one crisis to another. The money that was ripped out in those earlier budgets of the Abbott and Turnbull governments—money that was ripped out when the Prime Minister was the Treasurer, I might add—are now seeing many Australians missing out on the care that they deserve. This government must do a better job to ensure that older Australians get the quality care and services that they deserve right now, not at some stage into the future after the commission has reported.