Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
I'm very pleased to rise to speak to this motion on aged care. It's very important that we don't let the issue drop from sight, in spite of the many improvements that have been made across the sector. In previous terms of parliament, I was having to speak about aged care as being 'in crisis'. Now, we have made so many significant improvements that it is really starting to turn in the right direction. On this side, we care deeply about older people and their families; we care deeply about the workforce that works so hard to keep aged care going and provide good care. In the past year, there have been tangible improvements on the ground in aged-care facilities. There have been fewer falls, fewer pressure injuries, fewer avoidable hospital administrations and less use of antipsychotics, and more older people are feeling safe and respected. We're also seeing improvements in the star rating data, with fewer 1 and 2-star ratings and more 4 and 5-star ratings.
How have these significant changes been made in a relatively short time on the back of an absolute crisis in aged care, exacerbated by the determination of the previous government to do the absolute minimum possible? The first decision we took was to support and fund a pay rise for the invaluable aged-care workers. We're investing $11.3 billion to deliver on our commitment to find the outcome of the Fair Work Commission case. That decision is the largest increase to award wages in a work value case under the Fair Work Act. It's 10 times more than the previous government's investment in their so-called workforce pillar. As a result, around a quarter of a million aged-care workers will receive a meaningful pay rise with potentially further increases to come.
We welcome the Fair Work Commission's interim decision, which was the 15 per cent increase for direct care workers. It's a huge step forward, but I note that it's just stage 2 of 3 on the Fair Work Commission's journey to its final decision. The pay rise was won by workers and the strong backing of their unions, who play a key role in lifting the standards for the workforce, strongly backed by us as a Labor government. The next decision we took was to set ambitious targets around care minutes and 24/7 nurses to improve the care of older Australians. We legislated the requirement for 24/7 nursing to make sure aged-care residents could get the clinical care they need around the clock. Our first set of data for 24/7 nursing revealed some really staggering improvements. On average, there is a nurse on site 98 per cent of the time, or 23½ hours a day; 86 per cent of all homes that reported data have a nurse 24/7; and the majority of remaining homes are extremely close to meeting the target. Knowing that care is available around the clock makes a real difference to families, as well as to those who are being cared for.
Then we turned our attention to food and nutrition. Under the former coalition government, the aged-care royal commission found that two-thirds of older Australians were malnourished or at risk of malnourishment. Older Australians in aged care absolutely deserve to receive quality, nutritious and appetising food. We've invested millions in improving food in aged care, and that includes a dedicated food hotline for food complaints and advice, up to 720 provider spot checks annually and up to 500 menu and mealtime assessments each year for aged-care providers to be completed by independent, accredited practising dietitians. There's also $5 million for the Maggie Beer Foundation to educate aged-care chefs to deliver better food. That is free training to deliver better food and nutrition in aged care.
The first components of the Maggie Beer Foundation's program are now available, with 11 online modules to teach aged-care workers how to increase flavour and nutrition for the older people in their care. All aged-care providers are invited to participate. This is to encourage a whole-of-sector uplift in food and nutrition. We've also strengthened accountability and transparency, which goes to the heart of the next phase of changes. We're committed to increasing transparency. From early next year, we will provide a full picture of how our residential aged-care providers are spending their money. There is more to do, and we will keep doing it.