Thursday, 8 September 2022
Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I rise to support the amendments to the Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022. Aged care of course is a very important issue within all of our communities. As I often say in this place, I come from one of the most rural and regional electorates in Australia. It is a great concern to me how these individual units are affected by any changes we make in this place. We are all very aware that staffing issues are a problem right across the industry, but they're more acute in rural and regional Australia than they are in the cities.
We've had some difficulties in the recent past. I've had a major—for us, let's say a major—sized unit of around 80 beds having some real difficulty meeting standards. It's fair to say that we absolutely need our facilities to meet those standards but, given the degree of difficulty that's evolving at the moment, sometimes I think it needs a little bit of a soft touch to make sure we don't run the risk of closing these beds. In another case, in the City of Whyalla, we've had a community owned service which operates all of the residential care spaces in Whyalla under extreme pressure and forced to close one of their three facilities.
In that space, I'm very pleased that the former government stepped into the breach and assisted Helping Hand to come to Whyalla and provided around $3 million worth of assistance to actually keep the facility going—to get their management systems in place and to make sure that we have a seamless change in managing and ownership in Whyalla. Helping Hand have been there for most of this year—a little more than that—and they need to make a decision in the very near future about whether they are going to go past the 12-month point and actually purchase the facility and stay in Whyalla permanently.
In the lead-up to the election, I secured an electoral commitment from the coalition to advance $10 million for capital works in Whyalla. I don't make any bones about this, and I've spoken to the health minister, Mark Butler about this: it was not matched by Labor, but it was a very welcome offer from the coalition. I've spoken to the minister since, just saying how important it is that we secure this support, even though I understand it wasn't a Labor commitment. I believe there is a funding round coming up in November. I've also spoken to the local state member there, Eddie Hughes, who is a Labor member, and we are as one on this issue. We just simply need to get capital investment into Whyalla to secure the long-term management of a larger organisation which has the efficiencies which actually come with being able to run that type of organisation.
One of the problems we had, of course, was with Kindred Living at the facility that was closing; we just could not get enough registered nurses. In fact—it is one of those paradoxes, I suppose—the hospital, too, was struggling for registered nurses and so it set up a modus operandi, if you like, which led to the raiding of registered nurses out of Kindred Living, which only exacerbated the problem. People have asked me, 'Why couldn't we stop the hospital raiding that staff?' But you are going to have a shortage of nurses somewhere. The problem is that we have a shortage of nurses, whether that's in the hospitals or in the aged-care sector. So we know that we have to address that as a matter of urgency.
I am confident the Minister for Health and Aged Care is listening and that we will reach a position where we can secure that long ongoing service from Helping Hand. I know it would be difficult for him to sign off on some kind of grant in front of the process. I think that is right, and he is holding his ground in the right manner. But as long as the government, the Labor Party, are committed to making sure that we have long-term, classy operators in Whyalla and that we achieve some reinvestment to get rid of the shared rooms and shared bathrooms I'll be pleased. If we know anything after COVID it's that we don't want shared bathrooms in aged-care facilities. So we will move the dial forward, and I give my assurance to the people of Whyalla that I will not rest until we have nailed down that long-term commitment from Helping Hand and that we have a commitment to build new facilities and upgraded and expanded facilities at Whyalla.