Thursday, 8 September 2022
Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022; Second Reading
It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak in favour of the legislation that is before us, the Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022. These reforms to aged care are long overdue, and one of the key commitments of the Labor government is to rebuild the aged-care sector to restore dignity, quality and humanity back into aged care.
The royal commission broke many hearts. It exposed the true crisis there is in aged care. But, for many of us, many of the residents living in aged care and many of the families of residents, they were stories that we had heard before. For far too long, the sector had been let fall into the crisis that it is in today. The bill before us introduces a number of key reforms that will help get the sector back on track.
Just by way of example, I want to share with the House some of the conversations that my team and I have been having with people in the Bendigo electorate. So serious were the challenges in our electorate when it came to aged care that we actually ran our own survey and our own consultation work around the same time as the royal commission to share the experiences of local people. We also organised our own rally to give family members and workers an opportunity to speak out and to try and get the former government's attention about what was happening in our region.
I can remember being at the rally and inviting some family members up to speak. I had to do the mental health check and say: 'What we're talking about is quite confronting. If this is a trigger for you, please reach out.' There were lots of tears. There were lots of stories being shared that triggered some really traumatic memories for many of the people that were there because they had lost loved ones in aged care who hadn't received the appropriate support that was needed because the sector is in crisis.
One example of that was Bernadette, who was a primary carer for a friend. Her friend Leonie was in aged care. She contacted us to say that there wasn't enough qualified staff. Leonie had reported that staff did not know what medication she had to take and they were often trying to give her the wrong medication. She said she was unable to walk and reliant upon stuff for toileting but felt really embarrassed and was concerned about pressing the call button for them because she knew how overworked they were. The food was inadequate. Recently Leonie had just been given a party pie and a sausage roll. Her GP recommended that multivitamins be provided to Leonie to compensate for the poor quality of food. This is Leonie's experience. Leonie is one of the people in my electorate that really welcomed Labor's commitment and the reforms that are before us. The 24/7 registered nurse, for example, would ensure that Leonie wouldn't be in that situation going forward; she would actually have a nurse on site to help ensure that she was receiving the right medication and not trying to be given the wrong medication.
Another example: Kylie contacted my office. She is a nurse in residential aged care, and she said that she was heartbroken to be leaving the sector but that she's burnt out. She worked extremely hard. She worked overtime every week and weekends, double shifts when they asked, because she didn't want to leave the residence in the situation that Leonie is in. Years of doing this had taken its toll, and she was burnt out. When asked if she supports the reform for a 24/7 registered nurse to be a requirement, she said yes because it would mean that her employer would have to have a replacement nurse for when someone called in sick. Quite often that isn't the case; it is left up to the facility, and, if they can't get somebody, they are left short staffed.
We acknowledge that there's a lot of training we need to do and a lot of work we need to do to encourage nurses back into the sector, but, if we are able to improve and support registered nurses, like Kylie, then Kylie may come back; she may come back into the sector. They're the kinds of people we need to encourage back in.
I also wanted to share the example of Robert. Robert is a 97-year-old World War II veteran, one of the last remaining World War II veterans that we have in our country. He's living in Bendigo and he does not miss an ANZAC Day. He's in the home-care support system. He fears going into aged care because of the examples that I've shared and that others have shared. So he still lives at home with his 90-year-old wife. They've been together for a while. She's now in a wheelchair on a level 4 package. Robert is on a level 3 package. My Aged Care home care is the only support they receive—there's no family—but it's complex to navigate.
They have a private provider who helps to manage their package, very limited in detail. Robert thought he had been doing the right thing by saving funds for OT work and assisted equipment needed for his wife, but it wasn't right to be doing it that way. He was unaware that his funds could be used to help his wife, which, in turn, then denied him being eligible for a level 4 package and therefore more support for himself. Because he wasn't quite aware of the complexity of managing the case and because he had a private administrator based in Melbourne, he couldn't get the information that he needed. He was going without the extra support to help his wife toilet. Here he is, a 97-year-old World War II veteran, living at home, trying to live longer and live better at home, supporting his wife to toilet because he wasn't aware of how his package work properly. He ended up coming to my office, asking if we could move him from a level 3 to a level 4 package. We contacted My Aged Care to find out that he couldn't move to a level 4 because he hadn't spent all of the level 3. We had to unpack the miscommunication.
Also, so much of their packages had been lost in an administration fees, and that speaks to one of the other reforms before the parliament today: capping home-care charges. This bill reflects our commitment to cap the amount that can be charged by administration and management for people receiving home-care packages, and it removes exit amounts altogether.
That has definitely been the experience of Robert, and that's part of the problem we have with this sector. Private managers, private providers and private organisations are also not very good at sharing with their clients or customers how best to use their packages. So a year and a half down the track, this very kind, very gentle and very strong World War II veteran is calling my office to find out what can be done to support his wife. It shouldn't be this hard. A veteran should not have to come to their MP's office to get support to help toilet his wife. That is why the capping of home-care charges is important. It will encourage more not-for-profits to be in the sector and it will probably see the exiting of many that are in the sector to make a profit and not to deliver a service. These proposed changes provide pricing transparency for people like Robert and for providers, and creates greater clarity about direction and direct and indirect costs. All of these changes are necessary.
Robert isn't the only one who has raised home-care changes with me. There's a group in Castlemaine, and this is one of the key issues that they spoke to me about in the lead-up to the election: the frustration that they're looking at, with their money dwindling and not actually going on support for them but going in administration fees. Then there's the cost of exiting, so they feel trapped with a dodgy provider and they can't move to the next without paying an exit fee. So they welcome these changes that are before us today.
The other key change that is really being welcomed by people in my electorate is transparency of information. In this bill we are committing to improving integrity and accountability in aged care, providing greater transparency about what aged-care providers are spending money on. That goes to the food example that I used in the case of Leonie. Part of the frustration that Leonie and her friends spoke to my office about was that it is expensive for a lot of our older residents to be living in aged care. They've had to sell their homes or the money has gone into a bond. They are paying a lot to be in these facilities and yet all they get served is a sausage roll and a party pie. It's not good enough, when they feel they're paying a lot from their income. Having transparency of information will hold the sector accountable and will keep it honest. It allows residents and family members to know exactly where the money is spent. It also allows our parliament and our government to really understand where the money is going in aged care. If all the money is being spent on staff and we need more, then we can look at that. But if the money is going into mega profits for non-for-profits or for individuals then we need to know that.
These things are why these changes that are before us are so necessary. The legislation that we have is a part; together with the other legislation that was moved through in the first sitting fortnight this is our demonstration as a government that we're getting on with the reform that the sector requires. We do not want to be here in three to four years time and still have family members coming into our electorate offices crying because their loved one has passed away in pain, or were in a position where they didn't get the help that they needed. We want everybody to live their best life and, when they exit this life, to go with peace and dignity, and in humanity. We want to see that return to our age-care sector.
In the few moments I have left, I do want to thank everybody who continues to work in aged care—who has just hung on. The last few years have been really tough: the short-staffing and the pressure on the sector. But it's been particularly tough in states like my state of Victoria, where we've had the longer lockdowns and longer exclusions not allowing family members and friends in because of the risk of COVID in aged care. It was done for health reasons—aged-care is quite susceptible to COVID, and we've lost a lot of older Australians to COVID—and a lot of the residents understand that, but it has taken its toll, not just on the residents but also on the staff. They are burnt out. To those who've hung on and are still there, all I can say is that it will get better. These reforms that Labor is moving on in government will improve the aged-care sector. We are committed to seeing wages lifted for these aged-care workers, these angels who have hung on to make sure that residents have the support they need. I say to them: we understand things have happened that have broken your hearts, but thank you for sticking it out, because it will get better.
These reforms are a step in the right direction, but we acknowledge there's a lot more to do. I look forward to being able to go back out to these facilities when they do have a 24/7 nurse on and there is a replacement if that person is not able to be there. I look forward to activities officers being genuine activities officers and not having to drop activities to double up as a PSA because someone has called in sick.
The transparency—making sure we know where the money goes, whether it's taxpayers' money or whether it's individuals' money—is critical.
Finally, on home-care packages: there's a lot of work we need to do to clean up this sector, and the capping of home-care charges is just the beginning.
Older people deserve our respect and support, and I'm proud to be part of a government that is moving on implementing many of the recommendations of the royal commission.