Thursday, 8 September 2022
Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022; Second Reading
Like others in this place, I've reflected a number of times on the importance of respecting Australians in their senior years. It's not just about good manners, although that's a big part of it; it's about recognition of their hard work and the contribution that they have made to their communities, to broader society and to their country. Older Australians really deserve dignity as they age and they deserve a government that will actually look out for them. Our value as a society is found in how we actually treat each other, but there is little pride to be found in the treatment of people in aged care and the hardworking staff as well in that industry.
'Neglect' is probably the best single word that can be used to describe how they have been treated, or not treated. That is a simple yet poignant way this issue has been described by others. That is why the Albanese government have committed to putting the care back into aged care. We want to rewrite that, reverse that neglect and actually care. It's what we promised at the last election and it is what we are delivering with the Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022, which will implement three of our urgent reforms to aged care.
It will require approved providers of residential aged care to have a registered nurse on duty 24 hours a day seven days a week from 1 July 2023. This will extend to specified kinds of flexible care. This is something we will work closely with state and territory governments to implement. For aged-care residents and their families in my electorate of Wills, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, this is incredibly important. It will mean fewer unnecessary trips to the hospital simply because a nurse is unavailable. That will take pressure off our health system. These trips, usually at all hours of the night, cause a great deal of stress to residents, and their families, and add to the already significant workload of the people who care for them.
Fewer unnecessary trips to the hospital will also reduce exposure to illnesses—a risk of which we have been acutely aware, of course, during the pandemic. We are also particularly conscious of this in my electorate of Wills, where significant outbreaks have occurred across aged-care homes. For the families whose relatives contracted COVID-19 in aged care, I know how important this reform is. It's critical. I've spoken to dozens of them—family members and people in aged care—including those who lost loved ones, tragically. They have all told me about the greater investment in care hours required to improve the living conditions in these aged-care facilities. It was a constant theme, a constant refrain.
Affordability is another challenge that the Albanese Labor government is committed to addressing. This bill will cap the amount recipients can be charged for the administration and management of home-care packages and remove exit amounts entirely. More than 210,000 Australians currently receive home-care packages, and I know, from the dozens of stories that have been shared with my electorate office, just how much cost remains—an ongoing stress for recipients and their carers. By capping these fees, we will make it more affordable for people receiving home-care packages and we will make it clearer, providing a better picture of expected costs—which can be exceptionally difficult to fully grasp when navigating what is a very complicated system.
So improving transparency in the sector is a priority for the Albanese Labor government. Australians across the country have been rightly shocked about the secrecy of and scandals arising in this sector. It has been shocking—shocking to ordinary Australians, to people who have family members in aged-care facilities. There have been all the front-page reports of the lavish lifestyles of aged-care home executives and the owners of those facilities—just shocking! I think it's been a direct hit to that sense of fairness that Australians hold so dear. All this was happening while residents were slapped with increasing fees and aged-care workers remained some of the lowest-paid workers in our economy.
So the final part of this bill will give Australians a greater picture of the operations of aged-care providers, including where they are directing their money. It will shine a light and give transparency. It's very important. It will require the secretary of the department of health to publicly provide information about the expenditure of aged-care providers. This will include information on the expenditure directed towards staffing and care hours, food and nutrition, cleaning, administration and maintenance, as well as the profit and loss—the bottom line. This information will be made easily available to the Australian public, to those family members, providing them with the information they need to make decisions about the care for themselves or for their family members.
Now, this is what real action looks like, from a government that is actually committed to respecting older Australians and to putting their care back into aged care. It's not rhetoric. It's not grandstanding. It's not talking about it. It's actually doing something about it.
As a government, we will also continue to seek further reforms, including working with the sector to implement mandatory nutrition standards, to ensure that all people in care receive high-quality, nutritious food. We will mandate an average of 215 minutes of care per day, as recommended by the royal commission into the sector. Just like providing more nursing hours, this will reduce the workload of staff and provide more time for the provision of basic standards of care—which, frankly, we should all expect as a baseline, a minimum.
Now, I know how important this is for the hardworking staff who care for our older Australians. It's a tough job—probably one of the toughest jobs out there. The care, the commitment that they make, is really incredible. It is really giving of yourself; it's highly stressful but it's also very, very difficult work, and it requires a lot of skill and a lot of compassion. A lot of hard work goes into caring for our older Australians. It has to be acknowledged how difficult that job is.
And it's often a thankless job. That's something that we're trying to redress here by acknowledging the hard work of age-care sector workers. We know how insufficient their pay is for the level of work they do, for that type of commitment. That's why it's so important that we address these issues and put the care back into aged care—acknowledge and reward, through their better pay, the aged-care workers who do that thankless job to look after older Australians. We can make a real difference to the lives of older Australians and give them the dignity that they deserve, given the commitment and contribution that they have made to this nation over their working lives.