Monday, 21 June 2021
Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading
There are many lessons to be learnt from the royal commission into aged care. We had a royal commission which reminded some in Australia that aged care matters, that it is a fundamental part of our society and that if we fail on aged care it hurts all Australians. Older Australians have spent their lives working for Australia. We in this place owe it to them to ensure we have the highest quality aged-care system we can have, one that doesn't deprive them of dignity but celebrates them in their old age, and one that does not punish them. The numbers in the aged-care system are significant. In 2020 some 335,889 Australians were using some form of aged care. The federal government last year spent some $21.2 billion on aged care. This should be a source of pride for the government, spending a large amount of money supporting many hundreds of thousands of Australians. But, as the royal commission told us, what is currently happening in our aged-care system is a source of shame.
This bill is needed, and the Labor Party supports it. But, as the royal commission made clear, there is much more that needs to be done. There is much more that needs to be done although this government has had eight years in charge of this system. They have had eight years when it's been under their watch and, after almost eight years, we did see a plan put forward on budget night to spend $17.7 billion on aged care. But, as is customary with this government, the plan is lacking the transparency that the public would expect about where that money goes and how it actually improves the quality of aged care. What we've seen is a $3.2 billion cheque to supplement the basic daily fee, with $10 per resident. But we've had no assurance on whether that goes to food, cleaning, health care, wages—we just don't know. When you hear a story like that and the government's approach is 'money in, no reform', you start to get a picture of how we've ended up with a trillion dollars of government debt in this country. The royal commission did provide the road map and it did provide findings that were horrifying. While this bill addresses some of those problems, it is only a very small step in the right direction.
The royal commission outlined 148 recommendations—some straightforward and sensible, some heartbreaking even to admit that we need to do. It took almost three years to get the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, a bit longer than expected. It was a pretty shocking report. In it's own words, the royal commission's said it was a 'woefully inadequate' system. It is a system in which Australians 'have their basic human rights denied'. The royal commission said that when it comes to Australians living in aged care:
Their dignity is not respected and their identity is ignored. It is most certainly not a full life. It is a shocking tale of neglect.
One in three Australians using the current system experience some form of substandard care. What we saw in the royal commission was not a mystery, but the commission made very clear what causes these issues and what needs to be done to address them. Our aged-care system is poorly funded, poorly governed and poorly led, and Australians are the poorer for it. When we come to the question of physical or chemical restraints, these rob Australians of their dignity and of their autonomy. In just a few months in 2020, the instances of restraint numbered in the tens of thousands. Stories like this, at that scale, do not belong in Australia.
We also need to acknowledge that, while we have a large number of residents in aged care, we have a huge chunk of our neighbours, family and friends working in aged care. This bill fails when it comes to the urgent and pressing needs of workforce for aged care in Australia. The last census estimated that some 366,000 Australians worked in aged care, two-thirds in direct care roles. Most of these workers are women. In budget week we had a number of those women here talking to us about what they need to be able to keep doing jobs that they love. As they are always forced to point out, love doesn't pay the bills.
I met with one worker, Jude, who's a proud Western Australian. She came all the way here to parliament in budget week to share her story. She said that she gets out of bed every day because she wants to care for people. She's worked in aged care for a long time. She's seen this government's record on aged care. She was disappointed in what she saw in the budget and its complete lack of support for workers. She's worked in aged care for decades. She's seen workers pushed out of the system, burnt out, underpaid and underappreciated. The royal commission confirmed this. It said that many of the workers in aged care are overwhelmed, underfunded or out of their depth. And, again, we have a lack of investment in proper training when it comes to aged care. By the time we get to 2050 it's estimated we'll need a million direct care workers. That is a huge part of our economy. We need workers like Jude, and Jude is not going to be there. She's close to retirement. She told me that it's estimated that, within the next two years, some 15,000 of the workers in aged care will be over the age of 60. This is not sustainable. People who work in aged care do a fantastic job, but they're doing too much of it—for love, not for money.
Also, I want to acknowledge there are a lot of people who volunteer in the aged-care sector, whether it be providing friendship or some level of assistance in the NGO charity-led aged-care sector. I acknowledge Mike Farrell, who works for me part time and has volunteered in aged care, something that I know many young Australians do as a way to connect with older Australians and gain their wisdom and experiences. Again, that's why we need to make sure, when we're talking about how we look after those older Australians, that we have the capacity to learn from them and that we have the capacity for them to have the comfort to be able to share experiences in the last years of their life and not be scared, worried or indeed mistreated when they are in aged care.
The scale of the royal commission is also something that I think should not be lost on this place. The royal commission received 10,500 public submissions, many of which drew on the 22 expert reports that came before. And now we've got a Prime Minister who fails to listen to his own royal commission. We know that the royal commission response was sort of dropped out when the Prime Minister was having a couple of politically difficult days. There wasn't time for the media to properly analyse the report before it was released and the Prime Minister stood up to take questions. But, as we've seen as we start to dissect this report, as we start to pull it apart, not only does it not have anything for the aged-care workforce; it expects aged-care workers to deliver more for less, hoping that somehow this will improve the system.
We had a recommendation from the royal commission that nurses be on duty 24/7 in residential care. We still don't have a comprehensive response from the government about that problem. We still have, despite the announcements in the budget, 100,000 Australians on the home-care waitlist, waiting for their chance to get the care and support they need in their homes, and they live in our communities across Australia. We should also make sure that where we can, where it's effective for the individuals, where it's effective for the government, people can stay in their own home, can stay living in their community, because that also means they contribute so much more to their community.
Before I conclude my remarks, I just want to say that Australia does have a proud record on health. It's not surprising that Australia, with a universal public health system, ranks very high in life expectancy. An Australian can expect to live to 82.8 years, well above the OECD average. But, if we fail to invest in aged care, where people need it most, if we fail to listen to the royal commission and, at the same time, if we start dismantling the proper universality of that public health system, we're actually just going to compound these problems for the future, leaving people with worse health outcomes at retirement, worse health outcomes when they do enter the aged-care system. That will put more pressure on our hospitals and leave older Australians financially worse off in the last years of their life. I will conclude my remarks there.