House debates

Tuesday, 23 May 2023


Aged Care, Mental Health

7:55 pm

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (Bean, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to host both the Treasurer and the Minister for Aged Care at Goodwin seniors village in Farrer, or 'Farrerdise' as I prefer to call it. Our visit included meeting residents and getting to know some of the hardworking, experienced staff. The residents made it clear: it is the staff who can make or break an aged-care facility, and they were incredibly grateful for the staff they see and interact with on a daily basis and who care for them, in some cases for many years.

During this visit it was announced that the federal government would provide $11.3 billion over four years to fund the Fair Work Commission's interim decision for a 15 per cent increase to minimum wages for many aged-care workers. This will support over 5,000 award based aged-care workers in the Australian Capital Territory, who will now earn between $130 and $340 more per week. Registered nurses, enrolled nurses, assistants in nursing, personal-care workers, head chefs and cooks, recreational activities officers and home-care workers will see an historic increase to their award wages. To give you an example of just how life-changing this announcement will be, if you're an assistant in nursing on a level 3 award wage in aged care you will be paid an additional $7,000 per year. This is a substantial increase, but one that is well overdue for those who look after some of our society's most vulnerable members. It's an outcome that will not only help retain staff but also attract potential employees to the aged-care sector. This funding will fix some of the structural staffing issues the aged-care sector has experienced, and hopefully it will revive collective bargaining across the sector.

There is still much to do, with other workers awaiting further Fair Work decisions, but I am proud to be part of a government that is reforming the aged-care sector after nearly a decade of neglect. I commend the work of the care sector workforce and their unions for fighting for a fairer future, and I'm proud to work with them closely.

Young women in the Australian Capital Territory have the poorest mental health of any group in Australia. They feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious and uncertain about their future. Two-thirds feel their mental health is a barrier to achieving their study or work goals. In the middle of last year an organisation called Fearless Women started supporting young women who were unable to meet the challenges of everyday life, wanting them to thrive, not just survive, and to be healthy women who are socially and productively engaged.

This group provides a 50-minute foundation course delivered by Fearless Women educators in schools across the Canberra region. It is, appropriately, called Fearless Future. The course focuses on the importance of wellbeing, self-empowerment and self-values, with girls and young women in years 5 to 10 as the target group. Already 2,000 girls and young women this year have heard that they are not alone, that it is okay to not be okay all the time, and where they can go for help. Currently, 45 participants aged 10 to 25 are involved in the organisation's one-on-one mentoring program. More than half of the girls and young women that Fearless Women assist have experienced some form of domestic and family violence.

This is a program that is already delivering results. Primary carers in the one-on-one mentoring program have seen positive changes to participants' confidence and self-esteem. Participants in the program are actively trialling healthy behaviours. They are showing a willingness to seek help and are having a positive outlook on life. They can see who and what they can be. Additionally, the volunteer female mentors are reporting an improved sense of purpose, wellbeing and connection to community.

Fearless Women relies on the goodwill of its volunteers, as well as on community donations. Last week, as part of National Volunteer Week, I took the opportunity to meet some of the organisation's dedicated volunteers and mentors at a thankyou afternoon tea at the National Museum of Australia. Poor mental health among young women impacts their capacity to study, engage and grow. Their equal opportunity is jeopardised, as is their ability to lead life fearlessly.


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