Monday, 21 June 2021
Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading
When you stand for office in this country you have to stand for office on the assumption in this place, if you're one of the major parties of government, that you might win government. Well, those opposite did. Eight long years ago, they won government. I came into this parliament in 2013 on their win, and one of the first things I did as the member for Lalor was visit one of my local aged-care facilities after the 2014 budget to hear about the cuts that this government made to the aged-care sector, cuts that meant that a local facility in my area was incredibly concerned that people with severe dementia were not going to get the quality of care that they required, their neighbouring residents required or the staff required, and that has been the story of this government. Their first act in aged care was a cut to the most vulnerable, our elderly, and, more precisely, it was a cut to our most vulnerable, those who are suffering from severe dementia. That's an extraordinary thing for those opposite to choose to do when they gained the privilege of government, and nothing has changed.
We're here tonight debating a piece of legislation that provides too little too late, that is supposedly in response to a royal commission called by those opposite after 22 other reports said that our aged-care system in this country was in crisis. There are 148 recommendations from the royal commission. But let's not forget the title of the interim report that came down during the COVID pandemic. The title was Neglect. The story of our aged-care system was neglect, and tonight we're here talking about a piece of legislation that does the bare minimum to improve that state of affairs.
We're looking at money going into aged care, but the biggest thing, the most distinct thing, that came out of the royal commission was the notion that we needed transparency about the spend, the notion that accountability would be built in if we had transparency. But what does this government do? This government then makes a monetary commitment with no accountability, with no transparency. That's $3.2 billion with no strings attached to ensure this goes to actual care or better food rather than management bonuses or a new office fit-out.
It takes me back to the middle of the pandemic, and, as we heard the member for Lilley say, aged-care workers work on $21.09 an hour. In light of this government's original cut in that budget, I went and met with aged-care workers in Victoria. It was one of the most compelling things I've ever attended. I listened to the aged-care workers who were sitting beside me, telling me, in tears, what the election of this government had meant for their workplaces. They said it had meant they couldn't sit with someone when they delivered a cup of tea anymore and that it was breaking their hearts because they had known some of these residents for years. They said it was a pattern of behaviour that was no longer afforded in the aged-care centres where they were working, and so they had to say to our elderly citizens, people's parents: 'Here's your cup of tea. Sorry; there's no time to chat. I've got to go and deliver the next cup of tea.'
These are the stories that the royal commission heard, and worse—we've heard ad infinitum the references to maggots—but it's not just those graphic stories that speak of the neglect. It's the bedsores and the other things when families find out about the living conditions of their aged parents in aged care—things that are completely and utterly avoidable and that this government has an opportunity to fix right now, as I stand here tonight. But it chooses not to. It chooses not to build in accountability and transparency. It chooses not to ensure that staffing ratios work to support residents and provide care. It chooses not to insist upon a resident nurse 24 hours a day, as recommended by the royal commission. Nothing should surprise us in this space. Really, seriously, nothing should surprise us. The reason it shouldn't surprise us is that during the pandemic we saw this government's attitude to aged care writ large. Everything that happened in aged care last winter is indicative of where we are now with a government not prepared to embrace transparency in this space.
Let's just go through that a little. This government and the minister responsible for aged care last winter failed to protect our elderly during the pandemic, and they are still failing. There were a litany of errors. Funding was provided for PPE but without an audit to see if it was spent. Even after the tragedies in New South Wales, I couldn't be told whether or not each facility in my electorate of Lalor had purchased the required PPE, because there was no audit, no closing of the loop so the government had assurance that the money provided by it was used appropriately for PPE. So we entered the winter in Melbourne, and in my community absolute disaster followed. When we asked Minister Colbeck, he claimed that the staff had all been trained. Well, if they'd all been trained, you would have thought that the infection rate would be under control fairly quickly, and that wasn't the case. That wasn't the case in every aged-care centre in my community.
Last winter in the electorate of Lalor there were 472 confirmed COVID cases linked directly to aged care. Of those, there were 220 staff members infected. There were 192 residents infected. There were 60 in a bracket called 'other', whom I assume were the families of aged-care workers who took COVID home. Last winter I watched aged-care workers change their clothes behind their car in a public street before they went home. That was in Australia in 2020. Most sadly, there were 67 deaths in aged care in my electorate last winter. They were 67 deaths that could have been avoided if this government had taken the pandemic seriously enough to ensure that the aged-care sector was prepared, trained and provided with the appropriate equipment; if it had ensured that people weren't working in more than one facility.
Despite all that has happened, we had to walk into this place in the last sitting week and remind the government that they had lifted the requirement that aged-care workers not work in more than one facility. There has been a litany of failures from the government, and tonight's legislation just adds to those failures, because the government refuse to understand that transparency is the key to improvement. They've absolutely refused to understand that and it was with tragic circumstances in my electorate. What happened in my electorate is indicative of the way this government sees aged care and their refusal to accept the federal responsibility, because let's not forget last winter they didn't want to accept responsibility for aged care. They kept suggesting that it was somebody else's fault. We had over 680 residents die in aged care. We had a minister who didn't know the number of cases and deaths in aged care at Senate estimates in August. He said he didn't feel personally responsible for the deaths. He said he didn't know how many aged-care workers were vaccinated in June this year. They haven't learnt any lessons about what the pandemic should have taught us about aged care, but they haven't learnt any lessons from the royal commission either. They're coming into this place to bring in legislation that does not do enough.
This one's personal for most of us in the House. I can stand here and tell you that my mum's 93 and she's still living at home. Fortunately she's still independent. She recovered from a broken hip last year in the middle of the pandemic and is back to her bright self at home. She has seven surviving children but the highlight of her week is the visit from her home-care support because that person has become a real friend to my mum. Outside of the family that's probably the person she relies on the most to walk through the door. I'm telling you that person is not paid enough to look after my mum. My mum deserves better and so does the carer who comes and so diligently and carefully, with affection and love, showers her and assists her to dress three times a week. That is gold. That is so much more than 21 bucks an hour. You've got to be kidding in this place.