Monday, 3 December 2018
Private Members' Business
I'm pleased to speak on the motion moved by the member for Bass. I note that this was last debated on 20 August. It is now 3 December, and we are still seeking action from this government on the aged-care crisis in this country. We've had the government agree to a royal commission into aged care, but it seems that nothing has been done since they conceded it needed to occur. In this place we're still waiting for news of the details of that royal commission.
We had been waiting, until quite recently, for the release of the data around the number of Australians now waiting for aged-care packages. In the order of 126,000 Australians are waiting for home care packages. This crisis is deepening as this government twiddles its thumbs. It is reprehensible that there are currently over 69,000 older Australians living without any home care package at all and tens of thousands of others who are not receiving the home care package they have been assessed as eligible for. One can only think that this is a crisis, and it's a crisis that is going to lead to another crisis. If people are not in receipt of a home care package or are in receipt of a home care package that gives them less care than they actually require to live independently, we're going to find more and more older Australians entering aged care rather than staying in their own home. We know that that's wrong from a health perspective, wrong from a social perspective and absolutely wrong from an economic perspective.
This government has a shameful track record of failure in this space. On home care packages, the 2018 budget is a complete and utter hoax. Prior to the budget being handed down, the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, the member for Hasluck, was on the record blaming the current home care package crisis on budget pressures: 'Sorry; we can't afford to look after the older Australians who need home care packages.' He said:
I do feel for families who struggle with the fact they do not get the level three or four package. But the reality is we have a budgetary process, and that fiscal constraint has to be considered.
In question time today, the member for Hasluck went to the dispatch box, on the back of a Dorothy Dixer, to talk not about home care packages, not about the crisis in aged care in this country, not about mistreatment of individuals in the aged-care system and not about how this government might work to improve aged care in both of these areas. No, he went to the dispatch box, from a Dorothy Dixer, to talk about superannuants. The member for Hasluck needs to get back to thinking about the people he is absolutely, critically responsible for. He needs to pay attention to the details around the royal commission and he needs to address the crisis that is happening now. The budget did nothing to fix this aged-care crisis. It shifted money from aged care to home care packages. It was tricky accounting with a promise of 14,000 new home care packages. We're supposed to celebrate 3,500 places per year and think they're adequate, when we've got 126,000 Australians waiting for appropriate support to stay in their homes. I can't stress that enough.
My mum is 91 years of age and living independently in her home. The dignity that confers on her is priceless, and there's no budgetary constraint that would see her family wanting her to go into an aged-care facility before it was necessary. Being able to live at home independently with some support through her package has been an absolute boon not just for her but for our family. It means that she remains alert and engaged. It means she's in her own home feeling absolutely independent and in control of her life. And, as one of her eight kids, let me tell you: you don't want to see her if she's not in control! The member for Hasluck needs to get to work and do his day job.
It is no secret that Australia has an ageing population. A 2017 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that over one in seven people were aged 65 and over. In my electorate of Paterson that number is bigger. Over 28,000 of my constituents are aged over 65 years—that's one in five people. I love representing people who are, as they tell me, 'more experienced'. My OBEs—those 'over bloody 80'—are very proud of the experiences they've had in their lives, and I say, 'Good on them!' They want to live proud and independent lives.
As lawmakers in this parliament, we have an obligation to support our ageing population. The Morrison government has, sadly, failed this obligation. The statistics prove it. The latest data on the government's home care packages waiting list revealed that more than 126,000 older Australians are languishing as they wait for care. It also stated that over 69,000 Australians are without any home care package at all. There are almost 300 older Australians who have waited more than two years for their approved home care package without any care whatsoever.
The 2017 budget committed 14,000 new home care packages over four years, yet, as Labor predicted, this number is distressingly inadequate. The latest figures show that the waiting list for home care packages grew by more than 20,000 between July and December last year, and this number is expected to climb dramatically. We are in an aged-care crisis, and it is the product of this Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. As the waiting list for home care packages grows longer and longer, fresh stories emerge daily about older Australians, many of them in pretty dire circumstances, waiting for care. Older Australians are entering residential care, or even emergency departments, rather than being able to stay at home and receive the home care they have been approved for.
Members of my community are feeling this pain. I was recently contacted by John, whose 81-year-old mother, Mary, lives in Maitland in my electorate of Paterson. Due to Mary's age and the number of illnesses she suffers from, she requires help at home to perform basic tasks such as cooking, cleaning and bathing. Mary is entitled to an aged-care package, yet today is the 530th day she has been waiting for one—530 days! During their recent talk with My Aged Care, John was informed his mother's wait was far from over. Mary is expected to wait at least another six months to receive her home care package. This means Mary will have been waiting for a home care package for at least two years.
The reality of this wait really is heartbreaking. In the past 18 months, Mary has been in and out of hospital with conditions that John, her son, says could have been avoided if she'd had appropriate care—simple things such as preventable infections. Mary's condition is even having a heartbreaking effect on the health of her husband, Peter. Peter is in his late 80s and he is Mary's primary carer. How often do we see circumstances like these? John has described the home care package process as long and frustrating, and I guarantee he is not the only person experiencing this frustration.
It is fair to say that there are lives on the line because of this. The dignity and comfort of older members of our Australian community are at stake here. I'm calling on the government—in fact, I'm begging the government, pleading with them—to invest in fixing the home care package waiting list and properly address the growing crisis. This is a case of better late than never.
We owe it to these Australians. I think of the stories of older Australians that have been shared with my staff and me, often stories of couples, like Peter and Mary, trying to care for one another. The wait is totally unacceptable in Australia in 2018. Older people in Australia have been told they should age gracefully at home. Well, we should provide the support and home care packages to see that they can. It is evidence based medicine. We should be able to provide the correct care and appropriate packages to see that in place.
A point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: colloquial language is acceptable in the parliament except when you use descriptive language like 'OBE'. That's what we can't do. In future, members need to accord the Chamber the understanding that you can't using such language in here.
If you want an example of how the chaos and instability of this government is affecting the lives of average Australians then look no further than the crisis that this government has developed in our aged care home care packages sector. The latest report from this government indicates that 126,000 Australians are waiting for a home care package. Sixty-nine thousand of those are without any home care package at all. So there are many who are waiting for an upgrade, but 69,000 are waiting with no home care package at all. And 300 have been waiting for a package for more than two years.
Every MP in this place will have been lobbied by constituents about the need for home care packages for relatives or for friends, and the stories are quite harrowing—elderly Australians unable to care for themselves, in impossible situations; children and grandchildren having to take on caring responsibilities for elderly relatives because they can't get the necessary support from this government; children having to quit their jobs just to look after their parents, because this government won't provide enough support for home care packages. The system of aged care is supposed to promote remaining in the family home for as long as possible, with the support of government through home care packages, to avoid people going into more costly residential care. This is a system that we have developed in the Commonwealth parliament over many years in recent times, to take that pressure off what is an already burdened residential aged-care sector. What this government is doing, by denying people those home care packages, is the complete opposite of the way the system should be working. The system was designed to take pressure off residential aged care, where there are limited beds throughout the country.
Ultimately, elderly Australians aren't getting the necessary support that they need and deserve within their homes to live a rewarding and fulfilling life. And the cost to the Commonwealth budget will blow out, as a result of people not getting the support that they deserve and need in their home, because we all know that, if someone doesn't get that support, if they don't get the necessary access to services to help them live within their home, they tend to go downhill quicker and end up being in residential care earlier than they otherwise would have. And we all know that that is costly, not only to the individual involved but to the government as well, in providing that residential aged-care support.
This government has an appalling record when it comes to supporting the elderly in our community, not only through the pension system but also in terms of aged care and residential packages. They've cut $1.2 billion from aged-care services in this country from the 2015 budget onwards. In their recent budget, they finally listened to the community and announced that they would provide an additional 14,000 new home care packages. But guess what? There was no additional funding. Not only are those 14,000 a drop in the ocean which won't deal with the 126,000 that are on the waiting list—14,000 is woefully inadequate—but also this is funding that was redirected from elsewhere within the department. It wasn't new funding. It was funding that had simply been taken from another area and redirected into home care packages. So it's not going to deal with the issue that is the crisis in aged care and home care packages in this country.
The government's response is to launch a royal commission, and we all know that they're going to use this as an excuse to delay action and to delay whittling down that waiting list for home care packages in this country. Well, the view of the Labor Party is that they can't use this as an excuse. They need to provide the support for elderly Australians in their homes—which elderly Australians deserve—immediately. This deserves the attention of the government immediately.
This is why Labor is proposing to look at restricting negative gearing; to cut back on capital gains tax deductions; to, finally, properly tax family trusts; and to ensure that the franking credit system in this country works more efficiently and effectively, to ensure that we have the funding to provide that extra support for people in their elderly years, both through home care packages and through residential care. It is only the Labor Party that is listening to the welfare of elderly people in this country, and it is only Labor that is responding to those concerns about home care packages. (Time expired)
Given that there are no government members wanting to talk about aged-care packages, I am going to take this opportunity to take one of their speaking spots. I can think of no more critical issue before this nation right now. I am sure that members opposite are not unlike those of us in opposition who are taking calls every day on this issue in our electorate offices. It is so appalling that there are 126,000 Australians now on the waitlist for home care packages. That number is growing every time the figures are released. Every time the minister has to fess up that things aren't going so well, we see an exponential increase in the number of people waiting and living without services they need to maintain a healthy, independent life in their homes. It is outrageous. The government have had five years to do something on aged care. They have done nothing but cut—indeed, they have been savage cuts at times—and sometimes tinker around the edges over the last 18 months in the hope that people in Australia might think that they're doing something.
I will tell you what the latest call to my electorate office was about. I have conducted aged-care forums in Macquarie, Dobell, Herbert, Eden-Monaro—all across this country. So, unlike government members, every day we are talking to people who are waiting for the home care packages that are yet to be released. The government have the most shameful record ever when it comes to home care. One hundred and twenty-six thousand older Australians are waiting on the government, relying on members opposite to do the right thing and release moneys to enable them to live independently at home. And what is happening? Well, we saw a little flush of money coming through. I understand there were 14,000 packages released in the last budget papers. Of course, we know that was not new money. That was the money the government stole from residential aged care in order to stump up some money for the home care packages. The Australian people aren't fooled by that kind of monetary trickery. They know better than that.
But I'll tell you what is so shocking: there are people who now set themselves up as a little home business to assist people in dealing with the My Aged Care system. It is so complicated. It is so appallingly handled by the government. People cannot navigate the website. People spend hours and hours on the phone to the point where they give up. Now there are people going around Australia saying, 'I will hang on the phone waiting for an answer for you and I'm going to charge you money to do so.' If you are somebody with access to a bit of money now, you can hire these people in Australia who deal with the bureaucracy on your behalf. That is the most shocking indictment on this government. It is evidence of how badly they've managed the My Aged Care system. They have just trashed aged care to the point where people seeking help, even when there is extended family to assist—I have met women with three degrees who come to tell me how they have difficulty navigating My Aged Care in order to get their mother some services to help her to remain living at home. We've all been there or we all know of someone who's been there. It is time this government confronted the reality. This is an ageing population. It doesn't get any better. You have a massive shortfall of funds right now. You need to be releasing home care packages like there's no tomorrow. But, instead, none of you actually back in your minister. Who in this cabinet is actually backing Minister Ken Wyatt to make sure he's got the money and resources needed to do this job properly? (Time expired)
When it comes down to why people want to speak on this motion, we face choices. And unfortunately, I have taken the bait, I accept that. What we have are motions that are often put forward by—how would you put it?—the hysterical, the overstated, the wannabe attention seekers of the opposition. This is yet another one of them, condemning the government for constantly putting Australians first. That is what we have done in every part of what we have focused on as part of this government and this program of delivery.
It's true that there are many Australians who need more support in their aging and retiring years. We all agree with that. It's not driven by ideological concerns; it's not driven by the agenda of the Labor Party and their faux compassion; it's driven by practical reality and human lived experience. What we have said at every point and what we want for those Australians is dignity in their latter years, a sense of security about how they can live their lives and be able to get the care and support that they so genuinely need. That's why we actually heavily support the home care package system. It's why we've expanded it continuously to be able to do so.
The fundamental underpinning of why we've been able to do that, why we've been able to increase the amount of money and support for home care packages, why we've been able to put more into the marketplace to make sure that those vulnerable Australians get the support and assistance they need to stay in the community and home that they love, surrounded by friends and family who love them, is that we have put a focus on building the economy to deliver.
Opposition members interjecting—
The economy is not an end. It is merely a beginning. But the members who crudely interject on the other side should understand that if you don't have the financial capacity to deliver home care packages then there are no home care packages at all. We are doing what we can to make sure that those Australians who need that support and assistance are getting it.
One of the big challenges we face, of course, is making sure that we are meeting what people need. Mr Deputy Speaker Gee, you know as well as I do, because you're a sensitive person who is well aware of the conditions and the circumstances of the people in your community, in the same way that I am and the members for Berowra and Wide Bay are, that they understand directly the challenges their communities face, particularly with an ageing population. What we're seeing is a change in demand around aged care overall. I hate to break it to the members of the opposition, but home care packages do not sit in isolation. We have special aged-care services where people are going into aged care at a latter stage of life, often with a higher acuity, who need greater assistance and support. We're providing support and assistance for that, working with the community sector, the private sector as well as charitable organisations.
But what we're seeing—and it's a wonderful thing—is more people who want the opportunity to stay in their own home in the latter stages of their life because of the security and opportunity it provides people to stay in an environment of comfort. We understand that we have got to deliver that and we have to be able to assist people with that. But what doesn't assist the discussion is the pandering rhetoric from the opposition, without actually paying any attention to the substantive issue about how this government is driving that delivery at a community level. I would have thought that the increase in home care packages that this government has delivered would be a cause for celebration. Instead, it has become a rather trifling and pointless exercise in the Federation Chamber this afternoon and this evening for the opposition to try and score points.
Don't get me wrong; I think there was some validity in some of the discussion that was made by the opposition. There was a critique of the fact that bureaucracy is complicated. I agree: bureaucracy is complicated. That's why I'm a great believer in deregulation and streamlining bureaucracy. I actually want people to be able to get assistance and support for the services that they seek. Unfortunately, I don't think that we are going to be hearing a deregulation agenda from the opposition as part of this discussion. In fact, they are backed up by the entire trade union movement, whose only purpose is designed to thrive and survive off the complexity of an industrial relations system that favours them—the Labor Party. We have decisions that need to be made about the future of aged care in this country, and they will come directly from this government's focus on the economy to deliver the services that people rightly expect.