Tuesday, 2 February 2021
Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I'm very glad to make a contribution to this debate this evening on the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Bill 2020, and I stand in strong support of the amendments moved by Labor's shadow minister, the member for Hotham. This is an important piece of legislation that enables the creation of a Serious Incident Response Scheme for residential aged-care facilities. The scheme will help reduce abuse and neglect by requiring care providers to manage incidents and to take reasonable steps to prevent them. This includes the organisation wide governance systems for management and reporting of incidents of abuse and neglect. This is an absolutely vital step which Labor has consistently called for. But, frankly, it's nothing short of shameful that the government has taken so long to act.
The creation of a serious incident response scheme was recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission in its Elder Abuse—A National Legal Response report, which was published back in 2017. That was four years ago. This same recommendation was made by the Carnell-Paterson Review of national aged care quality regulatory processes, which was part of the inquiry into the South Australian Oakden facility for dementia patients.
In 2018-19, there were more than 5,000 reported cases of abuse—a number that has been growing year on year. As shocking as this figure is, the Morrison government's own report, which it commissioned KPMG to do in 2019, found that these 5,000 reported cases of abuse are just the tip of the iceberg. The government was given this report in November 2019, detailing the scale of the problem and the urgent need for action. But what did the minister do? Nothing. That's right—nothing. Not only did he do nothing but he actually sat on the report for a further six months. Australians weren't told about the terrible extent of this situation until it was quietly released in June the next year. Make no mistake: it is very serious indeed. Clearly, 5,000 older Australians being abused in a residential facility every year is a national tragedy, but the KPMG report estimated 50,000 cases of assault and abuse in aged care across Australia go unreported every year. Just take a moment to let that number sink in. Unfortunately, the Morrison Liberal government didn't see this information as being urgent enough to release immediately or as a matter worthy of national attention.
Even after the government revealed the damning truth about the state of Australia's aged-care system, older Australians and their families had to wait another six months for this legislation to come before this parliament. This is absolutely shameful. Thousands and thousands of cases of abuse quite likely went unacted on because this government didn't seem to understand or heed the urgency of the situation. So Labor are glad that this bill has finally come before the House, but we have been a long, long time waiting. While we still have concerns that it doesn't also encompass home care, for example, we will, of course, support its passage today. But we need to recognise that this appalling delay in responding to the calamity of abuse in our aged-care system isn't an aberration. No, it is absolutely par for the course when it comes to the way in which the Morrison government has managed—or, more accurately, mismanaged—the care of older Australians.
Let's be clear: the scheme created by this bill, while important, goes no way to repairing the damage done to Australia's aged-care system under this government. It's not just residential aged care that has been neglected by the Morrison government. Sadly, the situation is just as bad when it comes to the home-care packages. Alarming new data that Labor secured through Senate estimates revealed that there are close to 100,000 older Australians who are still waiting for packages that have been approved, and my community in Newcastle learnt that 2,600 people in the Hunter aged-care planning region are now languishing on a waitlist for aged-care home packages that they have, again, already been approved for but don't have a hope in hell of being able to access because of the lengthy waitlists that now exist. The diabolical reality of the home-care system under Mr Morrison is that too often someone has to die in order for a new home-care place to become available. Older Australians are now having to wait two years or more to access the packages they have been approved for. Shamefully, more than 30,000 older Australians died waiting for home care that they'd been approved for in the three years to mid-2020.
Make no mistake, Australia's aged-care system is in crisis as a result of the reckless underinvestment and mismanagement by the Morrison government. Aged care is a Commonwealth responsibility, yet the Morrison government washes its hand of any responsibility. Well, Prime Minister, it's time you stepped up—no more excuses, no more dodging and weaving—this crisis in aged care is on your watch, and it's time you fixed it.
Possibly the most compelling insight into the depths of Australia's aged-care crisis can be found in the title of the interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. After months spent reviewing the evidence, Neglect was the single most accurate term that this august and independent commission could find to describe the diabolical state of Australia's aged-care system. The interim report found that, under the Liberals, Australia's aged-care system is failing and failing badly. The media statement accompanying the interim report explained:
Commissioners describe the many problems that older people and their families have in trying to get access to aged care services, service shortfalls, the dispiriting nature of residential care, serious substandard care and unsafe practice, an underpaid, undervalued and insufficiently trained workforce, and isolation of young people with disabilities.
Commissioner Richard Tracey AM couldn't have been clearer in his summary, which said:
The neglect that we have found in this Royal Commission to date is far from the best that can be done. Rather, it is a sad and shocking system that diminishes Australia as a nation.
The interim report of the aged-care royal commission was released in October 2019. At that stage, no-one had even heard of COVID-19. The words 'lockdown', 'iso' and 'hotspot' were not yet part of our daily vocabulary. But when COVID-19 arrived the system, which was already in crisis, fractured further along the fault lines that had developed under the Morrison government. The very foundations of Australia's aged-care system buckled under the pressure of this deadly disease, and the Morrison government did not do enough to stop it—685 Australians in residential aged-care facilities died. Some families and loved ones were forced to say goodbye in online videoconferences. Mothers and fathers, beloved grandparents and cherished uncles and aunts were taken too soon, all because the Morrison government failed to have a proper plan for COVID-19 in aged care.
Labor has a plan and has been calling on the Morrison government to act now on minimum staffing levels, on more home-care packages, on transparency of funding, on public reporting, on adequate personal protection equipment, on better training and surge workforce strategy and on additional resources for the royal commission. But this isn't just Labor's perspective—no. In it's report, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety itself found exactly this: that the Morrison government did not have a plan to manage COVID-19 in aged care. We now have, in black and white, confirmation that the Prime Minister and his incompetent minister Senator Colbeck did nothing to prepare the aged-care sector for the impact of this deadly virus.
The commissioner said that the Morrison government is responsible for aged care and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic in aged care was insufficient. Let's be clear—there can be nothing more serious than the deaths of Australian citizens on a minister's watch, and close to 700 older Australians in aged-care facilities lost their lives because this government did not have a plan. The Senate understood the gravity of this situation when it censured the aged-care minister in September of last year, but still the Prime Minister refused to act.
The Prime Minister has shown again and again he's too weak, too compromised or too arrogant to hold members of his government accountable for their actions. He consistently does nothing when the member for Hughes continually compromises Australia's national health response by spreading grossly irresponsible lies about COVID-19. He stayed silent when ministers falsely accuse families, students, jobseekers and Australians with a disability of owing money, a disgrace that's created untold pain and prompted a $1.2 billion court settlement for 400,000 Australians. He stayed out of it when his government spent $30 million on a piece of land in Western Sydney worth only $3 million—notably, a piece of land that was owned by a Liberal Party donor. But you'd think that even this 'born to rule, protect your mates' Prime Minister couldn't possibly sit back and do nothing as hundreds of Australians died in facilities that his government was responsible for. But that's exactly what he did.
As long as we have a Prime Minister that fails to act on egregious acts, as long as we have a Prime Minister that refuses to adhere to the important principles of ministerial responsibility and as long as we have a Prime Minister that thumbs his nose at scrutiny and chooses his colleagues over his nation then situations like this will continue to happen. We've already had 30,000 older Australians die waiting for a package that they were entitled to and we have 100,000 more still waiting. If those numbers don't scare you, Prime Minister, I don't know what will. No-one should have to die waiting.
In closing, I'd like to reiterate that Labor does support this bill but there is no excuse for the time it has taken to get to this parliament. The tardiness of this bill is just another example of the callous disregard and neglect with which the Morrison government has treated older Australians. We have seen the devastating consequences of the Morrison government's failure to not prepare our aged-care system for COVID-19. It's now time for the Morrison government to stop focusing on dismantling our responsible lending requirements, to stop going after workers' pay and conditions, to stop pulling protections from vulnerable Australians in the middle of a global pandemic, and to start owning up to this mess and focusing on fixing our broken aged-care system.