Monday, 20 March 2023
Private Members' Business
I rise today to speak in support of this very important motion brought forward by my good friend and parliamentary colleague the member for Forrest. She understands the issues and certainly the significant challenges facing the aged-care sector, not just in her region but in rural and regional areas right across Australia. In May last year, Prime Minister Albanese was elected on a promise to fix what he considered to be 'a growing crisis in aged care'. There is nothing more fundamental to meeting that commitment and protecting the lives of our most vulnerable, but Labor has failed on this front. COVID-19 deaths in aged care since the Albanese government was elected have surpassed the total deaths under the former government between 2020 and 2022. In fact, there have been 2,652 COVID deaths in the first eight months under Prime Minister Albanese's watch, compared to 2,415 for the entire two years of the previous government. The minister said that she would put back into aged care the care factor. But instead, she's ripped out measures that the former government had put in place that were protecting older Australians. Sadly, this mismanagement has come with deadly consequences, and the government should apologise to the Australian people for its failure.
The aged-care sector is facing immense challenges on many fronts, including workforce shortages, increased reporting requirements, and ongoing regulatory and compliance changes. But the Albanese government's refusal to listen to them is wearing thin on the industry. The aged-care centres in my region are contacting me daily, saying that the burdens this government is imposing on them will force them to close. Recently, I visited Waratah Lodge in Wagin Western Australia with the member for O'Connor, another regional member that just gets his electorate. I met with Kath, the shire president, and her team at the Waratah Lodge, which is a wonderful aged-care home. It was awarded WA's best aged-care facility in 2018. But in 2023, sadly, they're likely to close their doors thanks to the imposed burdens placed upon them by this government. They're saying that Labor's compliance rules for the big capital cities are fine but they're just not workable in the bush, because nurses aren't available, because personnel isn't there, because they run on the smell of an oily rag, because they use community-minded people as volunteers. They're saying that they have accrued a number of savings over the previous years but that these have all gone, have been depleted, and they're now at a crossroads—it's make or break. To throw more money at the problem isn't the answer. There needs to be a complete, holistic strategy formulated specifically for aged-care facilities and home-care packages in regional and remote Australia.
The burden has fallen on to our local shires and local governments, unfortunately. Councils are pitching in and doing their best to keep these places alive. They're injecting their own funds, their own personnel, their own resources in order to keep these homes open. But those funds need to be redirected to somewhere else, unfortunately. Sadly, the Albanese government is sending both our aged-care sector and our local councils broke, shutting down aged-care centres in Queenstown—you'll appreciate this, Deputy Speaker Wilkie—in Smithton or in East Devonport in Tasmania. It might not mean anything to city dwellers, but, I'll tell you what, it means a lot to those elderly folk in those local communities. This will rip regional families apart and isolate people who just want to live and die in the communities that they served their life in and gave their life for. The aged-care minister is blatantly ignoring the pleas from the bush, where they're experiencing unsustainable financial positions due to Labor's accelerated time frame, and this will force regional aged-care homes to close.
In conclusion, Prime Minister Albanese preached to the Australian public in the lead-up to the federal election that he would make it his mission to fix aged care—his mission, he said. To use a military term, this 'mission' must be classified as a mission failure. Not only this, but Labor's intervention has made the situation on the ground far worse than it was when they entered. In government, as in the military, this critical failure must be borne with some consequences. All I'd say to this minister is: you need to start listening to the bush when it comes to aged care because it's a very different situation than that of the big capital cities.