Monday, 21 June 2021
Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading
Scott Morrison has neglected older Australians and the aged-care system for eight long years, bringing it to the point where it is a national disgrace. When it comes to older Australians, this government has just two settings: carelessness and callousness. This is a generation that has given so much. They deserve our gratitude and our respect, but what they've got from this Prime Minister and his government is contempt and neglect—a government that has turned its back on them, a government that produced, finally, support for a royal commission after years of campaigning from this side of the House. And, when that royal commission produced its interim report in 2019, it had a one-word title that summed up the state of aged care in this country, and that title was Neglect. In one word they summed up this government's attitude towards aged care and towards older Australians, older Australians who built this nation; older Australians who've worked, who have paid their taxes, who have raised children and grandchildren; older Australians who are entitled, in their later years, to live with dignity and respect. We saw last week an attack on the retirement incomes of future older Australians with the government's attacks on superannuation. The government want to reduce the living standards of older Australians in the future, and, when it comes to those who may need aged care either in the home or in aged-care homes, they neglect them.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety's final report and its 148 recommendations make it absolutely clear Australia's aged-care system is one that is in crisis. Royal commissioner Lynelle Briggs summed it up. This is a royal commissioner who is an esteemed Australian, a former public service commissioner, someone who has had great experience in the public service here in Canberra and has served governments of all persuasions over a long period of time, someone whose appointment by this government signalled that this government respected her views, and this is what she had to say in her statement:
At times in this inquiry, it has felt like the government's main consideration was what was the minimum commitment it could get away with, rather than what should be done to sustain the aged care system so that it is enabled to deliver high quality and safe care. This must change.
That is a damning indictment by the government's own royal commissioner Lynelle Briggs.
The Prime Minister is responsible for this debacle. It is the Prime Minister who was personally responsible for the funding cuts. It is the Prime Minister who was responsible for the terrible neglect that has been identified in this royal commission. Our most vulnerable citizens, those who require care in their later years, are being neglected—maggots crawling from underneath bandages! There was the damning indictment of half of the residents of aged-care facilities being malnourished, half literally starving, and we know that some of that is a direct result of coalition ideology put into practice, coalition ideology that was all for the for-profit sector coming into aged care. We know that some people have done very well out of it, with their his and her Lamborghinis, driving around the suburbs of our capital cities. At the same time those older Australians in their care are literally not being given enough to eat. The coalition have had eight years in government, and over those eight years it has got worse, and giving them another three years won't fix aged care. Older Australians can't afford another three years of this government. The only thing that will fix aged care is a change of government, a government committed to caring for Australians throughout their lives from child care in their early years to Medicare in their middle years through to aged care in their later years. We, on this side of the House, care. It is a great divide in Australian politics with those on this side of the House who care about those people we represent, whether they live in our cities or our regions, whether they're men or women, whether they're young or old, whether they're wealthy or not. We care about them.
Those opposite just care about themselves, and we've seen that today, in the middle of a pandemic, when they focused, just as they did during the bushfire crisis, on themselves with the replacement of a Deputy Prime Minister and the failed and flawed Barnaby Joyce coming back into the position of Deputy Prime Minister. Even though this scandal-ridden former Deputy Prime Minister had to resign in shame as a result of things that he was directly responsible for, they would have us believe, and the Australian people believe, that all of that will just be forgotten. A thoroughly decent man, the current Deputy Prime Minister, Mr McCormack, has been driven out—hounded out—of office, just showing once again their priority. Instead of concentrating on fixing aged care, fixing that crisis and fixing the rollout of the vaccine, what is their priority? Rolling the Deputy Prime Minister. We on this side say to Australians that we are on your side. Those opposite, we know, are on their own side, as seen in their actions. And now they're going to bring back the person responsible for sports rorts, who had to resign for using taxpayer funds inappropriately. But all's forgiven there as well. What a farce.
The truth is that in 2019, when that interim report titled Neglect came down, the government could have acted. They could have put extra money into aged care, could have reduced the home-care waiting list, could have addressed the malnourishment that was happening, could have addressed issues such as regulation of aged care. But they did absolutely nothing. They waited until just before a federal election to say: 'We'd better put a few dollars back in. We've got a trillion dollars of debt, so let's not worry about the fiscal measures here.' But we know that after the next election, if they're successful, the cuts will come. We know the deferrals of increased funding will come. We know that the excuses will be there. They'll say, 'We've got to change,' just as they did in 2014. But when they had the opportunity, they slashed and burned the budget, and they would do the same thing again. The fact is this Prime Minister has selective hearing. His hearing fails whenever experts are speaking to him. His hearing fails whenever people with experience are speaking to him. He failed to listen to Australians in aged care, to their families and to the workers in the system. He failed to listen to the findings in 22 expert reports, and now he's even failed to listen to his own royal commission. When the Prime Minister talks about quiet Australians, they're not actually quiet; it's just that he doesn't want to listen to them. He doesn't want to hear what they're saying. Now they can't be trusted, with the spectre of an election, to respond appropriately.
The government's response to the royal commission and the aged-care crisis through this legislation falls short—massively short. It fails to deliver lasting improvements and reforms and it simply ignores many key recommendations. The Prime Minister must explain why he has rejected those key recommendations. For example, he must explain why he has rejected the call to have a nurse on duty in residential care 24/7, a key recommendation to improve care. It shouldn't be beyond the comprehension of the Prime Minister and those opposite, given the royal commission, to get the idea that nursing homes, as we used to call them, should have nurses. But, apparently, that's beyond their comprehension because this legislation before us today doesn't respond to that. There is nothing in this legislation either that will deal with the issue of the underpayment and overwork which aged-care workers have to suffer, nothing at all; there's no improvement there. We on this side of the House have said very clearly that we would support a case before the Fair Work Commission for an equal value case, as we did with other feminised industries—as we did with the social and community services award in 2012, in the Gillard government. How is it the case that an aged-care worker doing heavy physical work as well as mentally stressful work can be paid more for stacking shelves than for looking after vulnerable Australians? How is that the case? I have met with those workers, many of them largely from migrant backgrounds and overwhelmingly female, who are in it because of their compassion. They say that the people they look after are their friends. The idea that they're unable to look after them is just extraordinary.
The government also hasn't fully implemented the recommendations around transparency and accountability. The royal commission made a recommendation to increase the basic daily fee to providers of $10 per bed per day, to address widespread malnourishment. Just think about that—$10 per bed per day, to feed people. Maybe there is someone on the other side who thinks that they can feed a loved one for $10 per bed per day, but it just says it all. The royal commission recommended that strict reporting requirements be attached to this condition. Are any reporting requirements part of this legislation to make sure that the money actually goes into care and better food? Not at all.
The contempt for the aged-care sector has been brought home by the current pandemic as well. Aged-care residents and aged-care workers were supposed to be in category 1a, right at the front of that queue—and we know the queue was supposed to be at the front of the world. But we find that now, in late June, aged-care residents still haven't been fully vaccinated, and the government has no idea how many aged-care workers have been vaccinated, because they told them, 'Just go and see your GP.' There are no records. What could go wrong? They also removed the requirement limiting aged-care workers to one residence during the pandemic and then wondered why the virus spread, when we know that overwhelmingly the deaths here in Australia from COVID-19 were of aged-care residents, and that a large part of that was from workers working in multiple facilities in order to put food on the table for their families. Yet this government lifted the restriction there. They said there would be 13 vaccine clinics for aged-care and disability workers set up by the end of May. There are three, and they're all in Sydney. They just don't care.
The fact is that this government have failed when it comes to aged care. They have presided over eight years of neglect. This legislation doesn't fix the problem. It doesn't even respond to the recommendations of their own royal commission. It is very clear that this legislation won't fix it, but a Labor government will.