Monday, 21 June 2021
Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I am pleased to rise today in support of this vital bill, the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021, and to inform members on both sides of the House of the tangible steps the Morrison government is taking to improve the viability and efficiency of our aged-care system, something near and dear to the hearts of all members on this side of the chamber.
When the Morrison government announced the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, we knew this comprehensive review would uncover some hard truths. Australians have the right to expect that all aged-care residents are treated with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, the royal commission has discovered some sobering realities about aged-care delivery in Australia. Unlike previous governments, however, we are acting decisively to get on with the job of implementing these substantial reforms that will shape our aged-care system for many generations to come.
Before I elaborate on the immediate benefits of this bill, I want to unreservedly thank all former and current aged-care workers, particularly in our electorate of Ryan. At no time have the findings of the royal commission been used to cast blame or dishonour on the vital work that you do, and I, along with all the members on this side of the chamber thank you for all that you are doing in the aged-care sector. Families across Australia place a significant amount of trust in aged-care workers to care for and nurture their loved ones in their senior years, and our government is committing to providing the legislative frameworks to better facilitate this trust. Particularly during the COVID pandemic, the important role that these workers played on our front line was evident. They have done a tremendous job in tough circumstances, and I congratulate them again.
This bill directly addresses the findings of the royal commission, which, as I said, told the nation some hard truths about our current sector. The Prime Minister, when he announced it, warned exactly that that would be the case. The bill will bolster our aged-care legislation to ensure all residents receive safe and effective care. This bill clarifies the parameters that aged-care providers must meet, particularly when it comes to restrictive practices. These important clarifications will ensure that aged-care providers meet robust requirements and operate within strict guidelines in administering this practice in order to guarantee that this practice is delivered safely and effectively.
This bill takes tangible steps to address recommendation 17 of the royal commission and supports recommendations 27 and 118 of the royal commission's final report. Although this bill is an essential step in addressing the findings of the royal commission, we recognise that it will not be the only legislative reform to aged care. This is not a 'set and forget' area of policy for this government. We are continually looking at how we can better support the aged-care sector, its workers and its residents. Our history as a government in addressing aged care is substantive and does not involve some of the superficial and bandaid solutions that we saw from those opposite during their time in government. This bill helps underpin this swift and decisive action to address some of the shortcomings of the aged-care sector. We're committed to implementing more meaningful reforms that will dramatically improve aged care for generations to come.
Although the Labor Party talk a big game on aged care, at no stage have they provided anything that remotely constitutes a costed plan to tackle this critical issue. Although the Morrison government would appreciate bipartisan support on aged care, which affects all of us, as you saw from the speech that preceded mine, the Labor Party are simply interested in scoring cheap political points. That is underscored by the speech we just heard from the Leader of the Opposition in which he spoke more about the Nationals leadership than he did about aged care and the challenges facing the sector. When the Prime Minister, as one of his first steps in office, announced the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, again, the Labor Party were nowhere to be found. Rather than supporting this difficult but necessary royal commission, they were instead plotting to address the issue the same way they address any issue of importance, and that is by increasing taxes. The Labor Party have never seen a problem that they didn't think they could solve by reaching into your pocket to take more taxes. This is a bandaid solution. Labor members say: 'Trust us, we're the party that knows how to operate aged care,' but they never thought to call a royal commission when they were in government, and they continue to offer very little in the way of measures to address the findings of the final report. We on this side of the House will not forget—and Australians won't forget—that the Labor Party's answer to supporting senior Australians in the 2019 election was $387 billion in taxes, including the retiree tax. The Australian people know better than to believe the convoluted claims of the Labor Party when it comes to aged care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged every Australian, especially aged-care residents and workers. The Morrison government acted decisively in the interests of the aged-care sector to provide economic and health support to ensure that they had the resources they needed to help us deal with the pandemic. I remain actively engaged with local aged-care facilities in my electorate of Ryan, such as the Cairns centre at Chapel Hill, which have risen to the challenge of COVID-19 in trying circumstances. And they were very trying circumstances—particularly the lockdowns during which friends and families could not get in to see their relatives in aged care.
The Cairns centre in Chapel Hill in particular has a sizeable dementia ward. Those in care at the dementia ward often rely on their partners who are not living in that care facility to visit them on a daily basis for the support, particularly emotional support, that they require. Some of the toughest circumstances that I was confronted with during the COVID-19 pandemic included helping these families navigate their way back into aged care to support their loved ones, but that we did. The Cairns centre themselves reached out to the Prime Minister and to myself to offer feedback on the support offered by the Morrison government during this time. The Cairns centre said: 'We feel safe in your hands knowing that you have our best interests at heart. The direction has been a great help in clarity to help us plan our lives, enabling us to put what is necessary into practice effectively, and was of great assistance in reducing the risk and promoting excellence in care.' This is from the aged-care providers at the Cairns home.
Over 360,000 aged-care workers across Australia continue to care for some of our most vulnerable members of our society and they know the Morrison government is committed to supporting them through this difficult time. Upon medical expert advice our vaccine rollout was tailored to prioritise aged-care workers and residents and to ensure that they receive targeted support to successfully administer the vaccine.
Senior Australians have contributed so much to our society. We owe them a tremendous debt. They've helped foster the values and ethos of our nation and continue to act as role models for much of our younger generation. All Australians have the right to rest assured that older members of their family who are residing in aged care are treated with the utmost dignity and respect. This bill is an important step in the reform of the aged-care sector that is so desperately needed.
The Morrison government continues to deliver record investments in aged care across the country not only to improve aged-care services but to retain and attract more aged-care workers to continue the vital work that they do caring for our senior Australians. Following the final report of the royal commission, the Morrison government will deliver $17.7 billion of funding to reform the sector and ensure that Australians in aged care are treated with respect and dignity. This is the largest investment in aged-care history and is bolstered by tangible and pragmatic steps to increase the viability of the sector. This includes 33,800 subsidies for the vocational education and training places through the Morrison government's JobTrainer initiative that encourage Australians to contribute and participate in the aged-care sector.
This side of the House is not posturing when it comes to aged care. We have a record investment that includes more home-care packages, new Aged Care Quality Standards and a more streamlined assessment process, creating a better overall experience for aged-care residents. The 2021-22 budget has delivered a record investment in aged care to help the 20,394 senior Australians living in the electorate of Ryan. This investment will deliver additional home-care places, more funding for residential aged care and increase the amount of time residents are cared for, while strengthening regulators to monitor and enforce the important standards of care that this government has put in place.
Despite the significance of this investment we're not increasing taxes or shifting the burden on to future Australians. Unlike those opposite, this government will continue to invoke meaningful reforms and investment in aged care and we will do it through a strong and well-managed economy. Following the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, the Morrison government will continue to fully support this comprehensive and thorough process. While this is the first bill—as I said, it addresses the findings of the royal commission—there is a long way to go in meeting and facing up to those hard truths that the royal commission has outlined. But as I said, this is not a set-and-forget policy area for us. This bill is simply a step along a path of meaningful reform for all Australians.
The Australian people know that for real action on aged care those opposite will result only in higher taxes and bandaid solutions. In contrast, this government will continue to act swiftly and decisively to ensure that aged-care residents and aged-care workers are supported and treated with dignity and respect. I am very proud to be part of the Morrison government, that has committed this record amount in the measures in this bill, in supporting and building a strong aged-care workforce and delivering the highest possible standards of care to our senior Australians. I wholeheartedly commend this bill to the House.