Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 2) Bill 2020; Second Reading
We are almost at the end of a royal commission into aged care in Australia. It has been talked about a lot in this parliament and I have no doubt that it will continue to be talked about a lot in this parliament. Citizens, aged-care providers, academic experts, medical experts—a whole gamut of people—gave evidence to the royal commission, and commissioners examined what should be a system that we are proud of. We should be looking after the people we value—they have lived lives that have contributed to the quality of the lives that we're all living now—with love and care. Before turning to why such a royal commission would have an interim report entitled Neglect, we should all pause and ask ourselves: how did we get to a position in Australia where we needed to have a royal commission into aged care? What does that reflect on us as a society and a community? What does it reflect about the priorities that we have shown as communities, people and governments? Sadly, and to our shame, it reflects very little that is good.
The fact that we have a royal commission reflects positively on the people who pushed for it over and over again and didn't want to see others suffer the way their parents, their loved ones, their husbands or their wives had suffered in aged care, and, disturbingly, their children sometimes had suffered in aged care, because we've seen the number of young people with disability in aged care. It's a good thing that we have a royal commission and that we are coming to the end of it, and it's a very good thing that, in the finest tradition of our democratic system, our aged-care commissioners have been and continue to be fine, upstanding and diligent individuals who are taking their responsibilities incredibly seriously. It is now the responsibility and the privilege of those of us elected to be in this parliament to make sure that the work of that royal commission is implemented and make sure that the effort that people have put in to make submissions and contribute to that royal commission is honoured. It's the right and the privilege of all of us, but it's particularly the responsibility of the current government.
As many people speaking before me have said, this legislation today, the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 2) Bill 2020, brings in some reforms that we are all hoping will assist in the home-care system. But it is fair to say that it's a small change. As the member for Moreton said when he spoke before me, whilst it's a good change and we hope it will free up some money that is being held that should be going into home-care packages, it is arguably not the most urgent reform out of all of the reforms needed. When we have royal commissioners who, a year ago, handed down a report that described our aged-care system as a shocking tale of neglect, a sad and shocking system that diminishes Australia as a nation, it should be the case that any recommendations made by that commission are implemented immediately. It's perhaps intellectually correct to say we'll wait for a final report, but it's not the correct thing to do morally when we know and have evidence that it's a sad and shocking system that diminishes Australia as a nation.
I have no doubt that every other member of this parliament has constituents that have contacted them and has had the experiences that I've had of speaking to families in utter distress, particularly during this year of COVID in 2020, about the experience of their parents in particular, and their grandparents, in aged care. Every single member of this parliament who represents an electorate in Victoria has had the added experience of constituents beside themselves with fear and then with grief about COVID-19 going through the aged-care system and, tragically, taking the lives of people before they were ready. They may have been elderly and they may have been sick, but they weren't ready to go, and their families weren't ready for them to go and certainly weren't ready to lose their loved ones without being able to give them a final hug or touch their hand. It is a shocking tale of neglect that our aged-care system, which is the responsibility of the federal government, wasn't properly prepared to deal with the pandemic. We can never let that happen again. Once is horrific. If it ever happens again, it will be a sad and shocking occurrence that diminishes all of us in this place and, in particular, those who are currently charged with the responsibility of not just funding but regulating the aged-care system.
Is it any surprise then that a growing number of Australians want to age in their home or age in place, and that a growing number of Australians don't want their parents ageing in a residential facility? That is not intended to be any sort of criticism of the amazing people who work in aged-care facilities: the registered nurses, the aged-care workers and the people who work in administration. They are some of the most amazing people, who do a job that is often as much about love as pay, because we know they are overworked and underpaid.
We also know that people who work in aged care in homes are amazing people. Between the ages of about 60 and 72, my mother-in-law was an aged-care worker who cared for people in their homes. She used to describe the women she cared for as her 'old ladies', which always filled us with a little bit of laughter, of course, because Betty wasn't a spring chicken. She would tell me stories about what it took to care for people in their homes, particularly people who were suffering from dementia. A number of the women that my mother-in-law cared for were Holocaust survivors and had been in Auschwitz, and had dementia, and they would often be reliving something that no-one should live once, let alone twice. I don't know how my mother-in-law did that job. I'm so pleased that she did. I want to honour right now everyone that does that job of caring for people in their homes.
But we know that not enough people are able to get the help they need to be cared for in their homes, because of the huge list of people—102,000—waiting for home-care packages. Over three years, 30,000 older Australians have died waiting for their approved home-care packages. Over two years, more than 32,000 older Australians have entered residential aged care prematurely. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer and members of the government like to talk about the number of aged-care packages that have been funded—and they have funded more packages; there were 23,000 packages in the October budget—but the sad reality is that that number doesn't touch the sides. When one of the draft recommendations of counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was to clear out the waiting list for home-care packages and do so by the end of next year, we know it's an urgent priority. So more has to be done and it has to be done now.
If we can't spend the money to do that now—in the global pandemic, with the amount of money that's being spent on various things—then it's hard to know when we could spend the money to make sure that older Australians are able to die at home, having lived their final years in comfort and dignity. We also know that being able to age at home increases your life, is good for you and is good for your family. We need to facilitate more of that. I join others in calling on the federal government to do more, because there are still over 100,000 people waiting.
In conclusion, I want to briefly talk about what is happening in my community. This is incredibly exciting and it is a tribute to some amazing medical practitioners and academics at Peninsula Health and Monash University. This is supported by this federal government; it was supported by me as the candidate and by federal Labor. Had Labor won the election, we would also be putting in the funding that the federal government is to support these projects. When parliament finishes this week, I'm looking forward to being within the next week and a half at Frankston Hospital with the current Minister for Health for a sod-turning for one of the three projects which I want to talk about briefly. These projects are happening in my electorate of Dunkley, based in Frankston, but they are going to benefit the wider bayside and peninsula area as well as the whole country and, we believe, probably the world.
One of the reasons why Peninsula Health and Monash University, which are located very close to each other in Frankston, have joined forces to do some world-breaking research into healthy ageing, mental health and addiction is that, sadly, in some regards we are a community where addiction, mental health, and healthy ageing or not-so-healthy ageing are significant issues. About 32 per cent of our population are aged over 60, compared to Greater Melbourne's average of about 19 per cent. The first project I want to talk about is what was initially going to be called a health futures hub but is now going to be called a Centre for Healthy Ageing. Again, it is a collaboration between Peninsula Health and Monash University, which the health minister has been active in supporting. As I said, I was very proud as a candidate and now as the member for Dunkley to support it.
The centre is going to focus on: designing and delivering new and better integrated models of care for vulnerable people; improving outcomes in aged care; helping people have greater independence so that they can live at home for longer and avoid unnecessary hospitalisations; and looking at how we can help older people to age in their own environments, to live well at home and to live well in residential aged care—for example, how we can help people better recover and rehabilitate from falls or not have falls in the first place. There are going to be living labs. There are going to be academic researchers. There's going to be practical, hands-on work by practitioners to develop models that can be scaled up and rolled out across Australia. It has been my pleasure to have worked with Professor Christina Mitchell, the Academic Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University, and Felicity Topp, the CEO of Peninsula Health, as they put together this model. This is a great example of institutions collaborating and then going to government to ask for support and absolutely bowling over everyone to whom they present their project.
The second thing that we are very much looking to forward—and I'll be attending the sod-turning with the minister very soon—is the academic centre at Frankston Hospital, which is also going to be a brand-new hospital thanks to half-a-billion dollars from the state government. The academic centre is a collaborative project between Monash University and Peninsula Health that will train medical practitioners and will improve study and teaching. There'll be a sod-turning soon. It is going to be a terrific addition to the health and education hub that all of us in Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula region believe my electorate of Dunkley and Frankston can be.
The third project happening with Peninsula Health that is absolutely going a long way to help people age well in their homes is called MEPACS. It is an alert system which is now both on iPad and a digital alarm with a connection to a call centre in Carrum Downs. Older people, if they don't answer the phone in the morning, will get a call from MEPACS. If they fall and have a problem, they can press the button and they will get a call from MEPACS. It is an amazing service, which Peninsula Health has promoted across the country, and it is staffed by amazing people. We need to do more to help people age better in their homes, and I very much look forward to being part of my community's and the broader national effort to do so.