Monday, 21 June 2021
Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I want to dedicate this speech to an amazing family from my community: Edgard Proy; his father, Silvio; his son, Oscar; and their beloved Monica: mother, grandmother and wife. Edgard is someone I've spoken about before in this place. He fought for his mother to be released from the chemical restraints that an aged-care facility put her in when she and Silvio had to make the hard decision—and Edgard had to be part of that—to go into an aged-care facility. Monica had dementia, and Silvio had suffered a stroke. That aged-care facility put her into chemical restraints in order to 'control her and her behaviour'. Edgard fought for his mother, and he fought for her to be released from those chemical constraints. It took two years to wean her off the medication, with the help of loving and dedicated carers. Edgard then, in 2019, fought for the practice of excessive chemical restraints of people in aged care to end. He bravely told his mother's story and his family's story publicly so that it could be part of the consideration of the aged care royal commission so that others didn't have to go through what Monica went through. Sadly, Edgard and Silvio and Oscar lost their beloved Monica recently, but her legacy lives on. This bill, the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021, is proof of that, because this legislation does prevent the overuse of restraints and restrictive practices in aged care, except in the most extreme cases and only as a last resort. That's why I'm very pleased to be supporting this bill put forward by the government and supported by my Labor colleagues.
It's a little bit disappointing that the royal commission's recommendation around the introduction of an independent expert approval for the use of restrictive practices was rejected by the government. I understand their reasons for doing so, but it is a shame. Nonetheless, on behalf of Edgard and his family and everyone who's had a loved one go through what Monica went through, I'm very pleased to support that part of this legislation.
We all know that there are a lot more problems in the aged-care sector. Some of them stem from underfunding, some of them stem from practices that are more about profit than about care, and some of them stem from systemic undervaluing and a lack of support of the workforce. I recently wrote to my entire community proposing that together we should fix the aged-care system, because aged care affects us, our parents, our grandparents, our friends and our community, and more than half of all Australian women and about a third of Australian men will end up in residential aged care. Sadly, we know that it is the case that over the last eight long years Australians and their families have suffered through an aged-care system which has been in crisis, and this crisis was born significantly from budget cuts and from prioritising competition without regulation.
We all know that there was a royal commission with an interim report that was titled Neglect. We've all heard about the maggots in wounds and that two-thirds of aged-care residents have been malnourished or at risk of being malnourished. There are key recommendations of the royal commission that have not been accepted by the Morrison government, and I am deeply disappointed by that on behalf of my community, particularly the failure to accept that a registered nurse should be on duty at all times, to increase the wages of nurses and carers, and to implement a comprehensive workforce plan, because the truly amazing and dedicated people that work in aged care are the soul of that system and we must value them more.
Of course, as many of my colleagues have said, the bungled vaccine rollout put residents and community at risk, and in Victoria we saw the tragic consequences of that and the tragedy of COVID escaping quarantine for so many individuals and families last year. So we do need to fix aged care, we do need to have minimum staffing levels, we do need to have greater transparency about the use of taxpayer funds and we do need to ensure that all residents and staff get the vaccine urgently.
As I said in the letter I sent to my community recently, 'Let’s fix aged care once and for all.' I asked my community to fill in a survey, and I'll just give this chamber, this parliament, a small flavour of some of the comments that have already come back—I think this survey has been in letterboxes for not much more than 24 hours—'There should be enough fully qualified personnel working in aged-care retirement homes to cater to those in need. It's a basic proposition, and it's a shame on our country that people still think the government needs to hear it.' I've got a constituent whose mother went through 'hell' in an aged-care home. His wife had to complain many times and, in fact, burst into meetings of the staff at that facility in order to try and get something done. I have a constituent who saw an elderly woman tied to a chair in an aged-care home. I have a constituent who has worked in aged care for 20 years and is concerned about the lack of referrals to Dementia Support Australia from aged-care facilities in my community. We know that dementia is the No. 1 killer of women in Australia and the No. 2 killer of people overall. Surely there is more need for the free and available services of Dementia Support Australia. Is the government informing aged-care facilities that the Dementia Support Australia service is there?
I have a constituent who worked as a PCA in a facility that had run out of adult nappies, and that short time as a student nurse taught my constituent that one day they or their family might be subject to these basic failures. As they wrote to me: 'Aged care needs to be so much more than just money. It needs money, of course it does, but it needs all of the attention and proper regulation to ensure nothing slips through. The elderly aren't useless. They are Australians who have paid their taxes, served their country and it's up to us to protect them at all costs.' I couldn't put it any better than that member of my community, who took the time to write to me: 'The elderly aren't useless. They are Australians who have paid their taxes, served their country and it's up to us to protect them at all costs.' We must do more. We must do better. The Morrison government must urgently do better, and we're not going to stop asking them to do so.