Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 2) Bill 2020; Second Reading
In its interim report, the royal commission into aged care made a specific recommendation to government that it urgently put more home-care packages into the system to address the intolerable waiting list. Put bluntly, the royal commission described the system as cruel, unfair and discriminatory. This urgent call to action was made 405 days ago, and still we have more than 100,000 older Australians waiting for home-care packages. Some, tragically, have passed away before they've received this much-needed support.
I rise to speak on the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 2) Bill 2020 not for what it is but for what it is not. While Labor will be supporting the moving of this amendment to the Selection of Bills Committee, this legislation does not help all those older Australians waiting for home-care packages, nor does it fix the systemic problems underlying our broken aged-care system. After seven years of coalition mismanagement and neglect, problems remain, and they will continue to remain, despite this legislation.
Under this bill, home-care providers will be paid a subsidy for the care and services delivered to a home-care recipient during only a one-month period. This means the government will retain the unspent funds. It should be noted in this House that withholding funds as proposed has the potential to financially stretch service providers. This is especially true for smaller service providers, who are less likely to be holding unspent funds. Regional areas, such as those in my area of Corangamite, are more likely to be covered by smaller providers, so this piece of legislation should be sent to the committee to ensure that we are not disadvantaging older people living outside of large, urban areas.
This draft legislation is more noteworthy for what it excludes than for what it includes. It is no secret that the aged-care sector is failing under this government. The amendment before the House does not implement the wholesale reform needed to protect the safety and dignity of older Australians. The neglect of the sector by the government was brought to light by the royal commission into aged care. The commission's interim report findings have painted a bleak picture of providers who have put commercial profits before vulnerable people. But this federal government knows this well and they knew this before they established the royal commission.
But the surprise of the royal commission the just how terrible things are. The royal commission heard that, every day, 50 Australians living in aged care are sexually assaulted. We should all be very concerned and shocked. We should all want to make a difference in this space. The commission has heard stories about Australians living in aged care with ants crawling over their open wounds. The commission has been told about Australians living in aged care suffering from malnutrition. The commission has been told about the 20 per cent of Australians living in aged care who are receiving substandard care. That only scratches the surface of the issues facing this sector. The royal commission received over 10,000 submissions, and we owe a debt of gratitude to every loved one, provider and staff member who took the time to provide evidence on the failure of the sector.
The first recommendation in the royal commission interim report Neglect was that the government fix the home-care package waiting list. Over the past three years more than 30,000 older Australians have died waiting for their approved home-care package. Over two years more than 32,000 older Australians have entered residential aged care prematurely. This is not acceptable. But, true to form, the federal government has made a stream of announcements but not taken the action necessary to improve the system. I know this because many of my constituents have raised their concerns and their fears with me, and these fears have only been magnified due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost 700 older Australians have lost their lives from COVID in residential care. Many of the workforce contracted the disease themselves. That same workforce fought every day to save every life. Residents died because government and some providers failed to regulate and do their jobs. In my own family I have been touched by this, with the loss of someone close: a loved one in aged care at this time. But every one of these deaths is a tragedy. Every one of these deaths is a lesson. We now know that the government and many providers failed to put enough staff in place. They failed to manage the right workforce mix and provide sufficient training in infection control. Insecurity of employment drove further infection spread to other workers and clients.
The royal commission was willing to put pen to paper on some of those lessons, specifically finding that there was no COVID-19 plan for the aged-care sector. Officials have very plainly said that if the government had moved more quickly to establish better resourced aged-care response centres then lives would have been saved. The Prime Minister has boasted about the number of announcements the government has made in aged care, but they have failed to deliver the policies and resources our aged-care sector needs to survive this pandemic. The federal government promised an effective surge workforce for Victoria but didn't deliver. They promised PPE for all aged-care workers, but too many missed out for too long.
A key theme of the royal commission has been repeated testimony from families and loved ones that they've been kept in the dark when it comes to important issues in the lives of their loved ones in aged care. Aged-care facilities get about 75 per cent of their income from the taxpayer, but, despite the heavy reliance on the public purse, there is worryingly little reporting into how that money is spent. Families of our loved ones in care need transparency and they need accountability, but the government has a strong record of shielding some aged-care providers from that accountability.
Now, the interim report from the royal commission makes note of this lack of fundamental transparency across the sector, but today's debate is not about the gross neglect of Australians in the aged-care system. Instead, more than a year after the royal commission first reported some of the most horrendous stories imaginable, this government, sadly but not surprisingly, has prioritised for a second time the timing of invoicing. Today we debate the government holding onto its money for just a little longer before paying providers. The house is burning to the ground, and this government is talking about what colour hats the firefighters should be wearing. We know this government hasn't turned its attention sufficiently to the vital issue of workforce planning and management, and we need to change this. The nurses and carers in the aged-care sector deserve this, and they deserve our sincere gratitude. This is especially true in 2020, but it has always been true—and I would like to acknowledge Barwon Health in my region, which has provided amazing leadership to agencies and staff in our local health sector. It has helped to keep people safe.
The royal commission's comments on working in aged care was nothing short of harrowing. Workloads are heavy, and pay and conditions are poor, signalling that working in aged care is not a valued occupation. Innovation is stymied. Education and training are patchy, and there is no defined career path for staff. Major change is necessary to deliver the certainty and working environment that staff need to deliver real quality care. To meet ever-increasing demand for aged-care services and support, the workforce will need to be three times its current size by 2050. That's a threefold increase in three decades. Our Labor leader, in his vision statement on ageing, said:
Part of the answer to this crisis must lie in our aged care workforce. Those we trust to care for our most vulnerable, our parents, our grandparents, eventually ourselves.
There are too few aged-care workers, and they are paid too little. They have begged the Government to do something.
Labor is listening.
Our aged care workers need proper pay and proper training.
The aged care workforce must also be able to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate care.
Staffing numbers, qualifications, skills mix and experience, all affect the ability of aged care workers to provide safe, quality care.
Under a Labor Government, solving this will be one of the priority tasks for Jobs and Skills Australia.
I believe in this vision outlined by our Labor leader and I'm proud to support it.
In closing, I present the Morrison government with a checklist it should not need. There should not be a disastrous over-reliance on chemical restraints in our aged-care sector. There should not be aged-care workers who have to choose between meeting the medical needs of one patient over another because of inadequate resourcing. There should not be 50 sexual assaults in aged-care facilities every day. There should not be people living in aged-care facilities that are left in soiled incontinence pads. There should not be people living in aged-care facilities with ants crawling on their wounds. There should not be people living in aged care who are suffering from malnutrition. We should not have a residential aged-care system that fails one in five residents.
This government is failing our mums, our dads, our grandparents and our aged-care workers, and eventually this system will fail us all. It is time for the government to fix this sector or get out of the way and find someone who can.