House debates

Monday, 20 August 2018

Private Members' Business

Home Care Packages Program

5:42 pm

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the private member's motion moved by the member for Bass, which relates to the long waiting times our elderly Australians have to endure before they can access the Home Care Packages Program and the failure of this government to fix this crisis. The latest blowout in waiting for home care packages is hurting our elderly Australians, especially the 16,312 Australians in my electorate over the age of 65. It is denying them urgent home care.

Our local ageing population in Calwell is made up of residents who are of Italian, Maltese, Greek, Turkish, Indian, Iraqi and Lebanese backgrounds to name a few. They are largely, but not totally, first-generation migrants of the post-Second World War era. They are Australians who need a culturally nuanced approach to aged care, one that responds to the expectations and aspirations of their strongly held family values, which involves them remaining amongst their children and extended families, who have also an integral role to play in caring for them in their old age. These older Australians want to remain and live out their final days in the home they built and raised their families in, with nursing home care or aged care as a last resort. That's why these home care packages are so important to my constituents, and being able to access them when they need them is absolutely crucial to their wellbeing. The onus is therefore on the government to do everything it can to enable my constituents to live out their years in the comfort of their own home, if they so choose. Their quality of life and wellbeing should never be compromised waiting for home care packages just because this government is not investing enough to keep up with the growing demand.

I know how many Australians over the age of 65 I have in my electorate but, unfortunately, I can't tell you how many are actually on the waiting list for home care packages. We know that the latest figures show that there are more than 100,000 older Australians waiting for home care packages, but the government won't provide us with any details of a breakdown of these figures by electorate. This is not good enough, nor is the government's assertion that the information is too difficult to glean, stating 'complex technical difficulties' being responsible. But this is important information and the public—as well as other members and I, as the local member—have a right to know just how many of our local constituents are on these waiting lists, especially given that this list appears to be growing at a very, very fast rate.

Data finally released last week by the Department of Health—data which incidentally was requested by the shadow minister for ageing—shows that in the March 2018 figures there are more than 108,000 older Australians waiting for home care packages. This includes 88,000 older Australians who have high needs—many of whom are suffering from dementia. Is it any wonder that the government tries so hard to delay the release of these figures? They also show that the waiting list for the home care packages has grown by almost 4,000 older Australians in just three months, meaning, of course, that the 3,500 new home care packages per annum that were committed in the budget will not come anywhere close to meeting the demand of Australia's ageing population.

There's no doubt about it: the Turnbull government has created an aged-care crisis in Australia. It's a crisis which has imposed more difficulties and pressures on our older Australians because, in addition to the anxiety of having to wait, our older Australians have to also experience this government's stubborn persistence in trying to axe the energy supplement for two million Australians, including around 400,000 aged pensioners. This will affect the 16,187 aged-care pensioners living in my electorate of Calwell.

Pensioners are already doing it tough. They're doing it tough, because they're struggling with the cost of living. They have to worry about their energy bills going up, and they have to face, especially in Melbourne— (Time expired)

5:47 pm

Photo of Justine KeayJustine Keay (Braddon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this very important issue, an issue that is not niche; it is not reserved for those with status or wealth. This is the inevitable process of ageing. I speak of those in our society who have been lucky enough to live to a ripe old age. But, in 2018, how lucky are our elderly in this country?

Over the past five years, the coalition government has slashed billions of dollars from aged care. This government is responsible for the blowout in aged-care waiting lists, and this blowout is causing terrible consequences for older Australians and their families. One such example is demonstrated in an email I received from the daughter of Terrence, who lives in Ulverstone in my electorate:

Hi Justine

We are at our wits end and don't know who to contact next.

My father was diagnosed with Parkinson's 8 years ago and sadly has been given a terminal diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia.

Dad has been assessed for a level 4 Home Care Package and has been waiting in the system for over twelve months.

My mother is his 24/7 sole carer.

Dad has been receiving an emergency level 2 Home Care Package for the last year.

This provides three twenty-minute showers a week. Two hours of respite care on a Monday and a Wednesday.

I have made numerous calls to My Aged Care and the only response I receive is, 'He's on a priority list but it will be another twelve month wait.'

Things are now at a crisis point. My father and mother live alone in Ulverstone.

I live on the Gold Coast and travel back and forth to help when I can.

Sadly on Thursday, I received a call from my parents' neighbour saying she'd popped in to check on mum and dad, as she does each morning.

She found my mother lying on the floor sobbing, saying she just can't keep going on like this.

I have brought them to Queensland to stay with me, but they can't stay forever.

I've hired lift chairs, toilet frames, shower chairs just to get us by.

We have found a carer up here to give mum some respite, but at a cost of $30 per hour, and Dad is still not in his own home.

Dad requires 24/7 care.

He cannot feed, dress, shower, get out of a chair, or get out of bed without assistance. He can't even sit on a toilet by himself.

He is solely reliant on my mother for his everyday living.

My mother doesn't want to put him into a nursing facility as they both want to stay at home together.

Dad just wants to live what's left of his life in his own home.

When will his level 4 package be approved by the government? When it's too late?

I don't know where to turn next or what to do. I would give anything to see the both of them able to live the rest of the t ime they have together with the help and support they deserve .

A local provider has told me Terrence is one of 3,000 waiting for an aged-care package in Tasmania. This list continues to grow nationwide, and still this government continues to sit on its hands, refusing to come clean on when the 14,000 extra packages announced in the budget will be released. Even that announcement was smoke and mirrors with money being cut from one area of aged care to fund another.

When will this government provide older Australians with the adequate care they need and deserve to live with dignity in their own home? Rather than give the banks a $17 billion taxpayer funded handout, why doesn't this government prioritise aged care? This government thought it could pull the wool over our eyes by delaying the release of data with the distraction of five by-elections. I call on this government to stop treating our elderly with contempt and immediately commit to releasing the June quarter data when it's due later this month.

An elected Labor government will not ignore this aged-care crisis or our elderly, and an elected Labor government will make aged care a national priority. I call on the Turnbull government to do the same.

5:52 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A measure of a society and a government is how it treats the people it is responsible for—whether it's properly funding preschool and child care so no-one is worse off and the children in difficult situations get the best start to their school education; whether it's properly funding primary and secondary schools so that every school is funded equitably, whatever the sector they are studying in; whether it's supporting penalty rates for those employees who work weekends and public holidays; or whether it's ensuring that our older citizens are supported and able to make choices about their support and care when age related difficulties mean they need assistance.

Our older citizens have the right to be able to choose to stay at home, and that is the basis on which the My Aged Care supports have been designed. It was Labor who introduced the historic Living Longer Living Better reforms in 2012. But, in the latest figures released last Friday, 108,000 of our oldest citizens are waiting for home care packages, and 54,000 of them have no package at all. Worse still, the average wait time for level 3 and level 4 packages is more than 12 months. As the chamber well knows, level 4 packages are for people who are determined to be in the most need. To stay at home, they need the most support—perhaps with personal care, home maintenance, shopping, transport to doctors and other things.

I was recently contacted by one of my constituents. She and her sister have been caring for their 92-year-old mother who has expressed her wish that she stay in her own home—something they want to honour, but they are finding it increasingly hard to do. My constituents work full-time, have their own families and, without the support the package could offer, they were finding it almost impossible to honour their mum's wish to stay at home. Thankfully, with my office's support, their mother has been given interim support while she waits for a higher package. For this family, it means they continue to assist her to stay in her home and meet their obligations to their own families and work. But they are looking forward to her needs being fully met when the package she's approved for is properly funded. This is certainly not the only example that's been brought to my attention.

The choice as to whether our older citizens should go into more supportive care like a nursing home should never be determined by the availability of funding. That should be the choice solely of the person and their family, with support from the medical team looking after them. Not only is staying at home preferable for the person because they can stay in neighbourhoods with familiar surroundings where they've lived for many years, close to their supports and doctors; it is also cheaper for the budget's bottom line than spending time in acute care hospitals or residential nursing care. The government has trumpeted 14,000 new in-home aged-care packages over the next four years—3½ thousand a year. While any increase is welcome, 14,000 is far from adequate.

The latest release of figures, as of April this year, shows that there is a waiting list of 108,000. We need to remember that these aren't just figures; each is a person, with a family, who is not being funded to the level at which they have been assessed. Many of those people have high-level needs and dementia. Given our ageing population, this waiting list will no doubt continue to grow and the crisis in aged care will become more acute year after year. While our older Australians are still waiting for care, the government seem unable to find any additional funding to address the waiting list, yet they are happy to provide $17 billion tax cuts for the big banks. Consideration needs to be made now to fix these issues for our older Australians.

5:56 pm

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It has been said that a comfortable old age is a reward for a well-spent youth. Those of us privileged to know or to get to know Australians now in their 80s and 90s know that they don't ask for much and they don't complain. They grew up in the Great Depression and served and lost loved ones in the Second World War and, in the case of many post-war migrants, experienced the hardships of war. They worked and raised families in the early post-war years without many of the things we take for granted today. High school education wasn't possible for many young people, who left school early to help support their families. Free universal health care didn't arrive until the seventies, when I was born. Women earned less than men doing the same work, like my mum, a primary school teacher. And occupational superannuation was limited to a lucky minority, mostly men, until the introduction of the superannuation guarantee in the nineties, well after many of this generation had reached the end of their working lives. They just had to trust—trust that there would be an adequate age pension to support them in a modest retirement. This is a generation who are used to doing it tough and who are reluctant to ask for help, even when they really need it.

A well-spent youth—so where is the reward and where is the dignity? How must older Australians feel when the activities of day-to-day living and caring responsibilities become too much and they ask for help, and that help just isn't there? They are told that they must wait, and then wait and wait some more. And that is just what is happening across Australia.

The latest data on the waiting times for home care packages, released belatedly on Friday, shows that more Australians than ever are waiting for home care. The waiting list for home care packages grew from 105,000 in December last year to 108,000 at the end of March—in just four months. Of these 108,000 older Australians waiting for a package, around 54,000 are receiving no package at all. There are waiting times for people with high needs, many living with dementia. This is deeply personal for me. I lost my dad to younger onset dementia earlier this year, and the many people that I have met through his journey are waiting. They need care. They can't wait. It's not fair and it's not safe. I don't know that knowing they are in the national prioritisation queue would be much solace to the over 54,000 people still waiting at the end of March.

On the Central Coast there are now 771 people waiting for packages and not receiving assistance while they wait. That compares with 750 at the end of December. While we are talking about numbers, we should not forget the very human face of aged care. Last week I spoke about two of my constituents, Enid and Warren, who approached my office for help. Enid is 94 and is vision impaired. She looks after her husband, Warren, who is 97 and living with dementia. As his illness progresses, understandably Enid is finding it harder and harder to care for Warren at home, which is his wish. Enid and Warren do receive some care, but not enough. In April last year they were approved for a higher, level 3, package. They're still waiting. For 16 months they've been waiting for this care at home. They've continued to contact My Aged Care and their provider, but to no avail.

Enid called my office last week out of desperation. When she asked for help, she said it was because she just couldn't do it anymore. Sadly, she told me Warren had said to her, 'I don't know why you're even bothering to call. We'll be dead before the package comes through.' My office contacted My Aged Care only to learn that Enid and Warren were not even a high priority for home care. They were considered medium priority. They were waiting for 16 months—97 years old, living with dementia, and were not a high priority. I don't know how this prioritisation is assessed. Figures released on Friday show the annual cost for level 3 care is a maximum of $32,500. This is a government that can find $17 billion for tax cuts for big banks and can't find an extra cent for aged care.

How can this government look at people like Enid and Warren and tell them there isn't $32,500 to help them spend their final years at home together? Enid and Warren are just two people out of 108,000 nationwide. They matter, as does everyone else. Their situation is heartbreaking but, on a national level, this is a disgrace. The government must tell these older Australians waiting for the assistance they desperately need when the 14,000 packages announced in the budget will be released. The Turnbull government need to act with urgency. They need to act with compassion. They need to act with empathy, and they need to act now. It's unfair and it is unsafe.

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.