Monday, 21 June 2021
Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021 and I want to speak today about Beryl and Quentin. Beryl wrote to me just last month. She lives in my electorate of Paterson along with her husband, Quentin. She wrote outlining her long list of concerns about the lack of care her husband, Quentin, was receiving during his stay in aged care. Sadly, Quentin has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. This has resulted in him losing most of his cognitive functions in communicating and comprehending conversation. He struggles to understand what's being said to him and around him and he struggles to let others know what he needs and what he has to do himself. Beryl has said that her husband has experienced a significant lack of care regarding showering and general hygiene. Quentin wasn't even being provided with hot water when being showered. Can you imagine someone who's confused and not sure what's happening being showered with cold water? The mind just boggles. At times he was left to sleep in soiled sheets. How distressing for him and for Beryl, who has found him in this situation more than once. Quentin has multiple health checks that have been neglected and therefore his cholesterol has risen dramatically over the last six months.
The sad reality is that stories like Quentin's and Beryl's are all too familiar, because some aged-care facilities aren't being adequately funded or properly and competently managed. Beryl has shared her story and Quentin's story with me in the hope that our Prime Minister will actually hear what is being said and will act on stories like these. I don't think that this is a failure to listen by those opposite. I think they're hearing what's happening—how can they not?—but the issue is they're not acting. They are not acting, and these people need action from their government. That is one of the principles of winning government, of having the privilege of governing. People vote for you. They vote for you under the assumption that you will act once you are the government, not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to their plight. And that's why we need action from this government.
The inadequacies of the Morrison government in responding to the royal commission into aged care—look, they really are quite appalling. There's no sensible-thinking Australian who would say: 'There's nothing more to be done for this. We're thinking about what we can do, but we're just not there at the moment.' Surely we have heard enough horror stories. Surely we don't have to hear any more before this government will take appropriate action.
It has been three months since the final report from the royal commission was handed down. The sector is no better off; there has been no road map to suggest how we are going to improve this really diabolical situation. And consider this: we live in a First World country, where ageing should be something that is celebrated, where people should be confident that the people they love will be competently cared for. God forbid you could consider increasing staff or wages for hardworking carers! The figure of $21 an hour really is an insult to those people who are far more than just carers. They are pseudo nurses; they are often pseudo doctors; they are certainly pseudo psychologists; pharmacists—they are doing everything that is being asked of them in these aged-care facilities.
And it's not just about not being paid adequately; this is also about respect. These people are often the salt of the earth, and they're the people with the biggest hearts in our community. They don't do their job because it pays $21 an hour, let me assure you of that. They do it because they have an overarching sense of purpose. Of course they need to put food on their tables, but they do it because someone has to, and they want to. They want to be there when that frail hand reaches out. They want to be there to give that touch and give that love back to that person. At least that's what most of the people who work in aged care have described to me. It's far bigger than just a job.
I would say to this Prime Minister: action speaks louder than any other thing that you can do. We know that the royal commission graphically highlighted the tragic outcomes for and neglect of older Australians. Two-thirds of residents were found to be malnourished or at the risk of malnourishment. And, as my colleague the member for Dobell, a qualified pharmacist, has outlined most graphically today, the use of medication as a chemical restraint is shocking and abhorrent. It cannot be the case that we are just doping up our elderly Australians to keep them sedated and quiet in homes. That cannot be their existence in the latter years of their lives. We cannot accept this for any Australians, let alone those who—we rightly say—have paid their taxes and paid their dues to their country. Surely we are better than this here in Australia. This government has failed to listen. It has failed to listen to 22 experts, and now even its own royal commission. It's like we are in some sort of twilight zone here. I have to pinch myself when I think about it.
The hardest decision a family member can make is to move a loved one into permanent residential care. I know that there are many people across Australia who battle with that decision. We all want to die peacefully in our sleep in our own home at a ripe old age, surrounded by people who love us. That's the dream. But so few people in Australia get to have that dream. Many more should be able to, but we know that, if they're in a nursing home where there's not adequate staff and that's not being managed properly and they're being medically and chemically restrained—what sort of an existence is that for someone?
As I said, the hardest decision a family member will make is to put someone into care, and I know that personally. Just this last weekend I've had to have the conversation with my sisters and my mother about her leaving our family home, a place where my family has resided for generations, and going to a home, and it is absolutely devastating. People don't want it to happen, but it does happen, so we have to make sure that, if your life, after a well-lived life, is about to be reduced to a room about the size of a cupboard in a nursing home, those final years are the richest, safest, most social and best that you can have. If that's what has to happen for you or if you choose to do that, it should be a terrific experience—for all Australians. We here in this place have been charged with that, and I again appeal to the Prime Minister, to this government, to the aged-care minister: liven up, become active about this, get actions into place, give our elderly Australians the absolute best twilight years of their lives so that we can proudly know that we have done our utmost for them.