House debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019


Aged Care Amendment (Movement of Provisionally Allocated Places) Bill 2019; Second Reading

6:27 pm

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate the opportunity to outline Labor's position on the Aged Care Amendment (Movement of Provisionally Allocated Places) Bill 2019. Indeed, I've done this already once this year, but, given this appears not to be a great government priority, here we are again having another go around. The Aged Care Act 1997 is to be amended, as in its current form it does not permit a variation to the region to which residential aged-care places are provisionally allocated.

This bill will allow the Secretary to the Department of Health to allow approved providers of residential aged care to move provisionally allocated residential aged-care places from one region to another within a state or territory. We understand that the government and the Department of Health are not seeking the power to move provisionally allocated places from one state or territory to another. The bill also does not allow for the movement of any provisional allocated places to be moved outside the state or territory to which it was originally allocated.

Under this amendment, providers must demonstrate that the movement of the provisionally allocated places is in the interests of the aged-care consumers and that there is a clear need for places in the new region. This amendment seeks to ensure that residential aged care is available to those older Australians who require it as quickly as possible and appropriately allocated to address local needs. There is no financial impact of this bill, according to the government, in the proposed amendments.

Obviously, there is currently a review underway by the Department of Health and the government in relation to how residential aged-care places will be allocated into the future. We may see in future that this legislation may become redundant over time if there are any alternative proposals that emanate from this Aged Care Approvals Round review. Much of the review into the Aged Care Approvals Round is of course based upon three recommendations from the David Tune review that was tabled in the parliament back in September 2017, almost two years ago. I will watch this review with a keen interest, given the emphasis on establishing an alternative model that encourages greater consumer choice. It has been two years since the David Tune review, but of course it has been six years since the Liberals came into government. Looking back over this time, one does start to question if the Liberal government has done anything of significance to help older Australians access aged-care services and get the care they need.

Actually it's difficult to think of anything that the Liberals have done well when it comes to aged-care reform. You only have to look at some of the anniversaries that are coming up in the next few weeks and months to show the complete lack of interest the Liberals have had in this portfolio. As I've mentioned, in six years there have been four ministers, and billions have been ripped out. The aged-care system delivers services to over 1.3 million older Australians. The problem is that the government doesn't have an actual reform agenda for aged care. It has lurched from crisis to crisis—ad hoc, piecemeal little bits that it's trying to fix. Essentially it has mucked up aged care so badly in Australia that it has had to call a royal commission—a royal commission into its own aged-care system, when it has been in charge for six years. It simply is not good enough.

Then we come to the home care package waiting list. One hundred and twenty-nine thousand Australians are currently waiting for their approved home care package. Seventy-five thousand of these are waiting with no care at all, no packages. It's not good enough. Under this government, over two years, the waiting list has gone from 88,000 to 129,000 people waiting for home care packages. These are vulnerable older Australians to whom the government has said, 'Yes, you need care,' and then said, 'But we're not going to give it to you; you have to go on a waiting list; you have to wait.' My office is getting calls from around the country, on a daily basis, from older Australians, their families and their loved ones asking when and how they can get the package for which they have been approved. We're hearing stories of people who have been approved for a level 3 or level 4 package waiting over two years. It is not good enough—another failure from the government. Sadly the government's own figures show that 16,000 people have died while waiting for their approved package. Another 14,000 have had to enter residential aged care because they could no longer stay at home waiting for the care that wasn't there. We've got emergency departments with older Australians going to them, and hospital systems under crisis, because of the aged-care crisis in this country.

The government has added some additional home care packages. They've gone into the system over the last 12 to 18 months. But the waiting list for home care packages has still grown, from 88,000 to 129,000. And we're expecting data this Friday afternoon for the July quarter. How many more people have been waiting? The figure that I quoted, 129,000, is just the figure we have from the March quarter. We actually don't know how many people today are on that list. The government only acted to put more packages in because of pressure from unions, from the sector, from the media and from us. We were raising it all the time, to get the government to act, and it only did so under pressure. And what we've seen is lower level packages rather than higher level packages, which is actually where the demand is. The 40,000 packages that the government has put in are simply not enough to keep up with the demand for care. After talking to some people from the aged-care sector today, who gave a presentation at lunchtime, I know that trajectory is only going to grow. The government needs a reform plan for home care. It needs to deal with this waiting list. It cannot go on.

The wait time really is a crisis for those people who are waiting. You've got people giving up their jobs to go and care for their parents, people moving states to go and care for their parents, because the system in place is failing them and their families, under this government's watch. The government needs to respond. It's not okay to tell somebody who is in their 90s: 'You have to wait two years to get the care that you need today.' We are one of the wealthiest nations on this planet. Surely we can afford to provide care for older Australians who need it, in their 90s. Seriously, what has it come to in this country? We hear all the time that a country and a society is judged on how it treats older, vulnerable people. Well, we're failing. We're failing older Australians and we're failing their families, and we're failing them badly.

Labor have, of course, been calling on the government ever since we saw the first waiting list in the national priority queue. When we saw that it was 88,000 we predicted this would happen, and we've been calling on the government all of this time, for the last two years, to fix this problem. I was encouraged when the Prime Minister, on 7.30 last night, said the budget priority is going to be to fix the home care waiting list. Well, I hope so. It's about time, because older Australians simply cannot wait any longer.

I've met with the new minister—the fourth minister—and I did appreciate the opportunity to raise with him some interventions. There are some things the government could do today to fix this waiting list. It knows what they are; why won't it do them? Why is the government so slow to respond? The David Tune report: it's almost two years since we had it. The Carnell and Paterson report into Oakden: how long has that been sitting around? The workforce strategy is about to have its birthday—even the royal commission is about to have its birthday! How many reports with recommendations to fix the system does the government need to have before it does something serious about aged-care reform? It is not good enough in this country, in this day and age, to be where we are.

The royal commission is expected to hand down its interim report on 31 October this year. I hope we're not waiting for three or four years for the government to implement its recommendations. Given the government called this royal commission, it is my expectation—and the community's expectation, the workers' expectation and the providers' expectation—that the government will actually act on its own royal commission and do something about the recommendations as soon as it gets them. We cannot afford to wait years. Older Australians in their 90s waiting for home care or waiting for residential care cannot afford to wait more years for this government to work out how to solve the problem. It already has some answers. It already has reports. It already has recommendations from experts. Why will it not act? The government needs to answer the question about why it will not act. The government needs to be ready to respond, on or around 31 October, to this interim report. I will be putting every pressure I possibly can on the government to make sure that it does the right thing by older Australians, their carers and their families on this royal commission interim report when it comes down.

When you look at the number of reports the government has had into the system, it is staggering. We had the Law Reform Commission inquiry into elder abuse. Its report was tabled in the parliament two years ago. There were 43 recommendations, the majority of which have not been fully actioned. We still don't have a national register of powers of attorney. Where is it? How long is that going to take? Two years ago the government got this recommendation and we still don't even know when it's going to happen. We've got the David Tune report, as I said: 38 recommendations put to government, more than half of which still have not been implemented. What is the government doing? Why is this taking so long? The workforce strategy has 14 actions to address future workforce challenges and issues with the existing workforce. How many of these 14 actions have been implemented? Certainly nowhere near all of them. At my count, it's probably two. That is not okay. It is not okay to keep commissioning reports, getting recommendations on how to fix the system and then sitting on your hands for six years and doing nothing while it gets worse. That is not okay from this government. It is not okay in Australia in this day and age for this to continue.

I want to quote from Professor Paterson, who, with Kate Carnell, wrote the report into what happened in Oakden in South Australia. I know my South Australian colleague in the chamber, the member for Mayo, will be interested in this. Professor Paterson said during the hearings last month:

I'm disappointed … to learn of the slowness in implementation of the recommendations and I am left with a sense that the 10 recommendations have all been accepted in principle but the devil is in the detail and I can't help suspecting that some of them are not actually being progressed …

So not only have they not been implemented; some of them are not even being progressed. These are into the terrible situation that happened at Oakden. Ten recommendations—surely the government can do better than this? We're two years down the track. I mean, really? How long is this going to take? Those people currently in the system—older Australians, their families and their carers—are getting desperate. It's clear the government is failing them, and failing them badly. We need to ensure that older Australians, their loved ones and their carers can have some faith in the system. What we're hearing in the royal commission shows how much more needs to be done. But, as I've said, the government already has a plan and a pathway: the recommendations it already has. It's about to get the royal commission's interim recommendations. It needs to respond quickly, and it needs to actually start doing its job—the job that it was elected to do, which is to govern for all Australians, including those older Australians who need care at home or residential care in a residential aged-care facility. This cannot go on. It cannot go on.

For such a long time, unions, workers, the aged-care sector, providers, consumers, family, the media and we on this side of the parliament have all been calling for further reform in aged care. We've even offered to work with the government in a bipartisan way to try and fix the system. Every time we offer, the government goes, 'Yes, that sounds good,' and then does nothing. I'm not going to sit idly by and do nothing while the government sits on its hands and does nothing. I'm going to keep raising this in every forum I can. I'm going to keep putting pressure on the government every single day that I can to make sure that it gets off its hands and gets up and actually starts to respond to some of these reports, that it responds to the royal commission and that it does better. It really does need to do better.

I've outlined some of the issues in the current aged-care system. Today is actually Thank You For Working In Aged Care Day. Today I want to say to all those people working in the aged-care sector—the cleaners, the gardeners, the personal-care workers, the nurses, the physiotherapists, the dietitians, the pharmacists, the visiting GPs, the managers, the admin staff and everybody that works in the system—the system is only being held together because you're so passionate about it. I know that you're desperate for more recognition and more staff, and the government needs to deliver that. I know that the only reason the aged-care system is still functioning is because of your hard work and your compassion as a worker in the sector. We say thank you to you today and every day for the important work that you do caring for vulnerable older Australians, their families and their loved ones. In conclusion, I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes the Government’s continued mismanagement of aged care reform".

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Mark ButlerMark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill now be read a second time. To this the honourable member for Franklin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.

6:43 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Aged Care Amendment (Movement of Provisionally Allocated Places) Bill 2019. I'm very proud to follow after the member for Franklin and thank her for her contribution and the significant amendment. The purpose of this bill is to allow aged-care places to be moved to a different aged-care planning region within the same state or territory. It is the role of the federal government to determine the number of subsidised aged-care places available. The number of aged-care places is intended to grow in line with the growth in the aged population, not a complicated—

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors) Share this | | Hansard source

You'd think not.

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

It sounds quite logical, in fact: more elderly people, more places. It's very, very easy to understand. As part of the process, the current legislation requires the minister to determine how many new residential and flexible-care places will be available in each state and territory for the forthcoming financial year. The secretary or delegate will then distribute the new residential aged-care places among aged-care planning regions within each state and territory. Providers then compete for available places through the aged-care approvals round process.

This bill deals with provisionally allocated places—that is, those places which have been allocated but are not yet operational. And, actually, those places are not serving any benefit to the Australian community, I guess, because we need somebody in those places. Places may be provisionally allocated for a number of reasons, including where a building or new aged-care facility is still in progress or an existing facility is being extended. The aged-care provider does not receive a subsidy for the place until it has become operational and there is a care recipient in place.

As at the end of June 2018 there were more than 31,000 provisionally allocated residential care places in Australia. To put that into context, that's a bit more than the population of Maryborough in Queensland and a bit less than the population of Gladstone. This bill will allow some of those places to be moved to a new aged-care planning region within the state or territory. The secretary must be satisfied that the movement of provisionally allocated residential care places is justified in the circumstances. The department has previously considered applications for the movement of provisionally allocated places between regions. I stress that the bill does not allow the department to move these places between states and territories. However, the act as it currently stands does not give the department that power to move these places. It is one of the joys of being a federation, I guess. This bill will remedy that situation and align the legislation with what is already occurring. This amendment will seek to ensure that residential aged care is available to those older Australians who require it as quickly as possible and is appropriately allocated to address local needs.

Labor does not have a problem with this largely administrative amendment. However, the Morrison government's management of the aged-care sector more generally has been abominable. The waiting list for older Australians needing home care packages has continued to grow under—I'll be fair—the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments. The latest data reveals that more than 129,000 older Australians are languishing, waiting for care. In Queensland alone there are more than 13,000 older people who have been approved but are still waiting to receive any home care package. That is 13,000 in Queensland alone. This is a failure of the coalition government, who are now into their seventh year in office. Tens of thousands of older Australians, who the ATM governments have assessed and determined that they need help to safely stay in their homes, are now being neglected by this uncaring government. Many older Australians are waiting for more than 12 months for the package that they've already been approved for, and some are waiting more than two years.

The reforms to aged care were about choice: older Australians choosing to stay in their own homes rather than moving into aged care. What older Australians have is no choice but to sit on the waiting list, pray for help and pray for mercy. As the list grows longer and longer, we're hearing more stories about the plight of these older Australians. We know that the former minister was looking at some interventions to reduce the waiting times for home care packages way back in 2018, but here we are in September 2019 and nothing has eventuated. We know that this government does not care about our older Australians, because of what they do or fail to do. If they did care, they wouldn't have locked aged care out of the cabinet. They wouldn't have had four different ministers responsible for this policy area in six years. There is no continuity. It is a disgrace. Older Australians, we know, deserve better.

Prime Minister Morrison has neglected older Australians for far too long. He refuses to take action in the face of tens of thousands of older Australians suffering in their homes without the care that they've been approved for and that they should be receiving. He has cut the aged-care budget, and guess what? These cuts have a real effect on real people. These cuts are hurting older Australians right now. For the past five years, he's ripped billions out of the aged-care sector. Obviously this has an impact. In his first budget as Treasurer, $1.2 billion was ripped from the aged-care sector. The coalition government is sitting on dozens of reviews with recommendations for action on aged care, but none of them have been implemented. They did nothing. Then, after six years of doing nothing, under four ministers and with news of cuts, what did they do? What was their solution? Call a royal commission. And how horrifying has the evidence been coming through this royal commission. It's horrifying for all of us with elderly parents. For the families that care for them and for these older Australians who rely on their care, this is horrifying. You cannot trust the Morrison government when it comes to aged care. If a nation is to be judged by how we treat our elderly and our most vulnerable, we are failing as a nation. It is not good enough and older Australians deserve much better.

Let's talk about this generation. They're the generation that got us through World War II. They're the generation that built modern Australia. We owe these people, yet the Morrison government is deserting them. In the face of the horror stories about the treatment of some older Australians in aged care, the Prime Minister, to his credit, did call the royal commission into aged care, the one established in October last year. It has now received more than 6,000 submissions and more than 3½ thousand telephone calls to the information line. The recent hearings in Brisbane were focused on the regulation of aged care. In particular, they heard evidence about the sudden closure of two residential aged-care facilities at Earle Haven Retirement Village on the Gold Coast. Sixty-eight residents, many old, frail and scared and some living with dementia, were evacuated by state emergency services.

The royal commission heard evidence that the closure was the result of a dispute between the owner of Earle Haven and the UK based CEO of the facility manager. This dispute involved a demand for the payment of $3 million to the manager. The payment was not forthcoming, and the owner was not able to provide care for the residents. This is in 2019—unbelievable! It's disgraceful that these older Australians, and many others, are being treated like this. One of the ambulance officers who attended Earle Haven to transport the residents said that some residents were crying and screaming as they were being moved into the waiting ambulances. The ambulance officer—incredible work—also said that some files belonging to the residents were not handed over when requested. That would have been health information and caring information. Please, those opposite, understand that our older Australians deserve much better than this.

The royal commission heard that the owner had a poor compliance record, with potential red flags about governance and management capacity dating as far back as 2007. Other evidence in Brisbane related to the care of individual residents in aged-care facilities. Evidence was put forward about medicines, such as psychotropics, being overprescribed. Other witnesses gave evidence that their dying family members didn't receive adequate pain medication. Another said that their relative was given a combination of drugs which actually worked against each other, negating their effect. That relative fell and broke his hip as a result of the medication for his Parkinson's disease not being effective. These are real people and real horror stories. It is awful to think of any older Australian suffering from such a lack of care. I'll be watching closely to see what recommendations come out of the royal commission.

As the member for Franklin said, today is actually 'thank an aged-care worker day', so I thank all of them Australia-wide for the great work that they do. I'd like to particularly mention the two that I recently visited in my electorate, both in Sunnybank Hills—the Carramar Aged Care Facility and TriCare at Sunnybank. I went to TriCare at Sunnybank Hills for one particular lovely lady called Mabel Crosby on Saturday because she had her 110th birthday. Happy birthday, Mabel Crosby, from the parliament. She was there with all her family. She had a couple of other people along—not only a federal politician but also the Premier and the Governor. It was just a small affair! And there were a lot of children and grandchildren. Well done, Mabel Crosby. What an inspiration. I also visited the Carramar Aged Care Facility, and I particularly wanted to mention the incredible professionalism of the aged-care workers that I met there. I've been to that facility many times, for Anzac Day and other things. The staff always show how much they care for the residents there, and it's quite heartwarming—on a more positive note—to think that there are such caring professionals working in that aged-care sector. We now need a professional government, rather than a group of people devoted to being the opposition to the opposition. We actually need people who govern, who actually do their day job.

It is a fact that we need a good government more than ever because the proportion of Australians aged over 65 is increasing. If we don't get the settings right now, it is only going to become exacerbated by inaction. In 2017 there were almost four million Australians aged over 65. It is estimated that by 2057—something that perhaps the people at the dispatch box might be interested in—there will be almost nine million Australians aged over 65. The member for Hindmarsh will be in his late 30s by then!

Dementia: we know it's a problem. A tsunami is coming. It's the second leading cause of death of Australians now. This year there are an estimated 450,000 Australians living with dementia. Without medical breakthroughs, the number of people with dementia is expected to increase to almost 600,000 by 2028 and more than a million by 2058. The crisis is immediate, but it's heading towards disaster. We need to improve and better resource the aged-care sector now. This Morrison government has been asleep at the wheel, leaving the most vulnerable Australians suffering. Many people with dementia have no-one to advocate for them. They are actually the real quiet Australians and their silence is being ignored and avoided by this Morrison government.

Labor supports the current bill; as was said by the member for Franklin, our shadow spokesperson, it is uncontroversial. But older Australians deserve much better. They deserve a government that will stop talking about Labor, stop talking about the past and start focusing on the future for all Australians. That is actually the way to be fair dinkum about thanking aged-care workers. Do your job!

6:55 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Aged Care Amendment (Movement of Provisionally Allocated Places) Bill 2019. Whilst it's been stated that Labor supports this bill, I wholeheartedly support the amendments moved by the shadow minister, the member for Franklin, as this government has completely mismanaged aged care. So much more must be done urgently to resolve the issues around the lack of aged-care services.

Firstly, can I say, as has been noted by others today, that it's Thank You for Working in Aged Care Day, a day when we can all acknowledge and thank those wonderful people working in our aged-care system for the remarkable work they do. In terms of this bill, currently the Aged Care Act does not permit a variation of the region to which residential aged-care places are provisionally allocated. The bill therefore amends the act to allow the Secretary of the Department of Health to allow approved providers of residential aged care to move provisionally allocated residential aged-care places from one region to another. But, importantly, it is just within a specific state or territory; the bill will not allow for the movement of any provisionally allocated places outside the state or territory to which it was originally allocated. Under this amendment, providers must demonstrate the movement of the provisionally allocated places is in the interest of aged-care consumers and that there is a clear need for places in the new region.

I now turn to Labor's amendments. There is a whole variety of aged-care issues that need to be addressed urgently by this government. We on this side of the House have raised many of these issues on numerous occasions. Indeed, largely these issues arise from a lack of funding and a lack of forward planning in our aged-care system. We all know Australia has an ageing population and we all know that more assistance will be required into the future. Of course, it's predicted that by 2040 we'll have 20 per cent of the population aged over 65.

Right now my electorate of Richmond is in fact a snapshot of the future in terms of age-care needs. We have a high proportion of seniors, with over 25 per cent of the population aged 75 years and older. So we already have a high demand for aged-care services, and that demand is continuously increasing. I constantly hear from local residents about how difficult it is to access the services they need. But this government has not made any plans to address these issues—not in Richmond or, indeed, across the nation. Not only is there no forward planning to meet growing demand; it's much worse than that: this short-sighted government has actually cut so much funding from aged care. They've cut billions of dollars in funding from the aged-care sector, and we see the results of those cuts right across the board. These cuts are really hitting some of the most vulnerable in our community.

The need for residential aged-care places is growing. The number of places available per 100,000 people aged over 70 is falling, and it's falling under this government. For example, in 2014 on the New South Wales Far North Coast there were 87 residential care places available per thousand people aged over 70. By 2017 that number had fallen to 76 places per thousand people aged over 70. What we're looking at in real terms is an insufficient number of aged-care places. And what we'll also continue to see are more people in need of residential care packages, as well as the fact that they can't access home care packages, which I'll get to in a minute.

The fact is that this government keeps failing our seniors. This government is the architect of insufficient packages and lengthening waiting lists, and the government's record on home care packages is indeed shameful. Home care packages are designed to allow our seniors to remain in their homes longer. This is where they want to stay—where we all want to stay. These home care packages take the pressure off residential aged-care facilities and take the pressure off hospital emergency departments, and they allow our seniors to remain in the comfort of their own homes. So I condemn the Morrison government for its inability to act on this home care crisis—the home care crisis which they have in fact created.

As at March this year there were still over 129,000 older Australians who were waiting for home care packages they had already been approved for. It is shameful that over 129,000 older Australians are languishing, waiting for care. That number keeps growing. Not only that, often those who require a level 2, level 3 or level 4 package will face a wait of over 12 months, on average. Many need that care right now, not in 12 months time.

Reforms to aged care were meant to give older Australians the choice of staying at home, but these figures confirm that the government's policy chaos is continually failing our seniors. During the aged-care royal commission, National Seniors Australia's chief executive, John McCallum, described the government's home care debacle as a running sore and a critical failure. He said:

We know that home care … is preventative for death and preventative for hospital admission.

We really haven't dealt with that or with the fact that people otherwise have to go into residential care or into hospitals, which are much more expensive. Mr McCallum said:

It's economically irrational, but we haven't dealt with it.

We haven't dealt with it, because it's too hard. It's the most difficult immediate issue we have to confront. The government keeps being told this.

The fact is that older Australians often enter residential aged care or even emergency departments instead of receiving their approved home care packages. As I've said, the waiting time between being assessed for a package and receiving a package is constantly growing. Less than half of all eligible seniors receive their packages within three months. Less than half, that is disgraceful! There are confirmed reports of older Australians waiting more than a year to receive the package they need and deserve, and some people are waiting even more than two years, but it gets worse—much, much worse. There are people who die before they receive their package. What more does this government need to hear? In March this year, Leading Age Services Australia suggested that almost a quarter of people who need a package die while waiting for it. That is shameful.

As the list grows longer and longer, fresh stories about older Australians waiting for care emerge daily. Local seniors and their families in desperate need and waiting for their aged-care package contact me daily. They are people who have been assessed and are waiting for the help they need and desperately deserve. I hear regularly from local families who cannot find residential aged care or home care, or simply health services for their young ones. We've heard also from the royal commission horror stories about the treatment of people in nursing homes because of the lack of funding from the government. It's just not good enough. These older Australians deserve our respect, not the contempt they've had to endure under this government.

Our seniors built this nation. They worked hard, paid their taxes, contributed to the community and raised their families. Now many of them, when there has come a time when they need assistance, are instead cruelly turned away by this government.

Despite the alarming aged-care figures, the Morrison government has put no new money into aged care. It has tried to pretend it was putting funding into it, but everyone can see it's not happening. It's simply not true; there is no new money. In the face of this growing crisis, not one extra dollar has been invested in Australia's aged-care system. Instead, we have seen the government strip funds from residential aged care and other age services in order to create a few paltry extra packages to make it look like they are doing something. Older Australians know what they're doing, the whole community knows what they're doing and we keep highlighting what they're doing. People realise the game they're playing. Taking money from people and giving it back in a different box doesn't solve anything. It reveals the government's very dangerous and irrational approach to the needs of older Australians.

The solution is very clear. What is needed is more funding to provide the packages that older Australians have been promised. As Ian Yates, the CEO of Council on the Ageing, said:

It's absolutely clear the Government will have to bite the bullet and put extra resources into home care.

It is that clear. It begs the question: why haven't the Morrison government done that already? They know we have an ageing population. They know the need for packages is increasing. They know that waiting lists are growing and waiting times are getting longer. So what is their plan? What is their action plan to address this? We know the government has no policy for older Australians, because we are not seeing planning or funding injected into these really important issues. What do they expect people to do? Do they expect them somehow to pay for services they can't afford? Do they expect people to pay out of their own pockets? Some have had to do that. Many, of course, cannot afford it and just wait. That is the reality for so many of them. I would like to hear what the government's plan is because there doesn't seem to be one. When it comes to home care packages, they are supposed to make it easier for older Australians to remain in their homes, but for those who haven't received their package things are getting harder day by day. Regardless of whatever reason the government might put forward, it is clear what needs to be done. There is actually no excuse for inaction because they keep hearing of the same issues over and over and also, to add to that, the lack of forward planning for aged care is poor economic management; it really is. The royal commission into aged care has revealed that a boost of some $2 billion is now required to address the home care crisis because not addressing it is costing more in hospitals because so many people are fronting our emergency departments or being admitted to hospital. It is truly chaotic and aged care is in crisis.

The Morrison government, I think, should start by apologising to older Australians, their families and their friends for its failure to deliver for the crisis it created. Labor continues to condemn this failure on behalf of all Australians. We're committed to holding the government to account when it comes to aged care. We won't stop until the government takes action on home care, provides the investment of new money that is needed to alleviate the waiting list and delivers the full services people need when they need them. We will keep pursuing this matter.

Looking after our seniors should be one of our main priorities in this parliament for the government. It is where their attention should lie. We have the opportunity to put in place sufficient resources for aged care, but we must act now, particularly with the ageing of our population. This is an issue that needs to be in place, properly funded and adequately planned now. We need to see a lot more action being taken by the government. And it is also in the best economic interests of the country to deal with the problems in aged-care funding and services now.

The lack of healthcare services, residential care beds and suitable home care arrangements for our seniors has flow-on problems for the wider community, not to mention the emotional and financial distress of families. This is resonating throughout many communities right across the country. As a nation, what we need to do is prioritise aged care and put in place the resources, the funding and the proper forward planning as to how we as a nation will deal with our ageing population. We need to have those in place to make sure there are appropriate levels of aged care into the future and we need to have the foundations of that now for our ageing population.

As I said, the predictions are that in 2040 we'll have 20 per cent of the population aged over 65. When we look across the country, the need for increased residential aged-care packages and home care packages will be extreme. We will need to ensure we have the correct funding and regulatory frameworks in our residential care facilities so we stop seeing these horrific stories of mistreatment that we have seen in the royal commission of late.

We need to see national leadership on this issue. That's what we need. We also need to see the government working proactively with the states, with the community and with the providers to make sure that as a whole we are providing a greater degree of support for those who require assistance in their later years. But it will take that national leadership which we fail to see time and time again by this government, so I call on those on the other side of the House to make their voices heard and to encourage all in the government to stand up rather than ignore it as they have done for six years. We are at this point of crisis because, for six years under this coalition government, we have just seen more and more cuts. As I always say in the country, 'National Party choices hurt.' I can tell you the National Party cuts to aged care have particularly hurt those people in rural and regional areas. They will be held to account for those massive cuts and what they have meant to our regional communities, especially for the people who want to stay in the communities they lived in their whole lives and want to have that support there.

As I said, in my electorate I see so many local seniors and families needing those home care packages and places in residential care facilities. I will always fight on behalf of my constituents because I do have an ageing population in my electorate and I see how desperate the need is, so I will always raise their issues here. I commend the shadow minister for the amendments to this bill because it is really important to keep highlighting the constant mismanagement of this government.

In closing, I reiterate today is Thank You For Working in Aged Care Day. I think every day we should be thanking and acknowledging our remarkable workers in the aged-care sector. They do an incredible job often at challenging times, particularly in the current environment with the lack of funding. We know that it is a very stressful job at times and, indeed, they are very much underpaid for the wonderful work that they do. I'm very fortunate to meet with many of them in my electorate. I know many on this side of the House meet with them regularly too. We know firsthand the great work they do in caring for our older Australians. But what our aged-care workers need and what our older Australians need is a government that supports them all the way with funding, with forward planning and by understanding the needs of aged-care workers as well. It's so vitally important. As I said, I totally support the amendments by the shadow minister. It's important for those of us on this side of the House that we keep fighting for our senior Australians who deserve to be treated so much better.

7:10 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this bill, the Aged Care Amendment (Movement of Provisionally Allocated Places) Bill 2019. It is such an important part of the responsibility we have as a parliament to make sure that those who have reached their latter years are treated with respect and dignity. What was really disappointing to see on today's speakers list though was that there is nobody on the other side, nobody in government, choosing to step up and share their views about not just this piece of legislation but what it means to people and how important this sector is. I really just want to draw the House's attention to the fact that the only speakers on this legislation come from the opposition and the independents, because we know how vital it is that as parliamentarians we are thinking about the whole gamut of people we represent. And, like many of the speakers before me, I have a community that has an ageing population. I know we're all getting old. Mine are getting old faster, it seems. The demand for aged-care places, for quality aged care and for quality aged-care workers is really top of mind for people in my electorate of Macquarie, so I'm very grateful to have a chance to speak on this legislation.

It is really sensible that this legislation, the core bill, is about allowing a shifting of places so that it can meet need and meet demand, and I absolutely support that. I think though that you can't talk about just that without looking at what you're seeing in your own electorate around aged care. One of the things that we are seeing in the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains is an increasing pressure on the aged-care facilities, which are providing the very best quality care they can, but they're under pressure with the instrument that is used to determine how much funding they get per person: the ACFI or aged-care funding instrument.

Earlier this year, a wonderful small aged-care facility called Fitzgerald Aged Care wrote to me and wrote to the minister. I declare I have been on the board of this aged-care facility. It's a small not-for-profit community based one. It has a very long and proud history of serving the Hawkesbury community from its establishment as the Hawkesbury Benevolent Society in 1918. It celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. So this is an organisation that knows what it's doing and has been doing it for a long time. It's very small—a 39-bed organisation. 'Small but passionate' is how their chairperson, Rhonda Hawkins, describes them. 'Small but passionate about ensuring our residents have the best-living experience in our facility and that they feel respected, supported and safe.' Isn't that exactly what we would all like for our parents, our grandparents and ourselves as time goes on?

The Fitzgerald Aged Care board tells me that over the past year they have seen their government funding reduced substantially and have found it more and more challenging to maintain the high level of care and services that they strive to provide, and it's all because of changes to the aged-care funding instrument. In particular, they were a bit sceptical when the government said it hasn't made any changes to aged-care funding, because they know what they're experiencing on the ground. They have experienced cuts to their funding. That $1.2 billion that was taken out of one of this government's first budgets, which was a saving—it's a bit like the NDIS savings. You save the money because you don't spend it; that means it's not going where it's needed. That's a cut in my book.

Fitzgerald say they've found that the rules dictating eligibility for the levels of funding that people receive have been tightened so much that the actual funding they and other facilities receive has decreased significantly. As an example, they have found that the ACFI rules reduce the number of points for personal hygiene, making it much harder for a resident to qualify as high care. Put simply, it means there is less funding, so less ability for their caring staff to provide the personal care that's needed.

They also point out something that we know in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains—as anyone who has an electorate on the outskirts of a city will know—which is that you're disadvantaged compared to the urban areas in the way the funding works. We are considered to be part of a major city, but we are way out on the edge of that city, yet we are not eligible for regional care. So we're really in a no man's land of funding. It makes it harder to get the staff you need. You've got to pay more—all those sorts of things make it difficult. So I would really hope the government is listening not just to the need to reallocate places to meet need but also to the sorts of concerns that small providers are raising. They are trying really hard to maintain the highest quality of service, and we should be doing what we can to help them.

It is appropriate, as we are here on Thank You for Working in Aged Care Day, to give a real shout-out to the amazing staff who work in aged care. They definitely don't do it for the money. They do it because they really can see the difference they make to someone's life, to an elderly person's life—to the life of someone who might once have had the world at their feet but whose world has now shrunk to a very small space, whether that is in an aged-care facility or whether it's in their own home, if they are still living in their own home. A really big thank you to the nurses, the personal care staff, the people who do the laundry—I've had great conversations with staff in the laundries of aged-care facilities; they have a lot of fun in there while doing some really heavy work. Thank you to those who are cooking meals, which must seem like a constant job. And to the people who look after the grounds, whether for someone who is capable of going for a walk in those grounds or for someone looking at them through a window because that is what their world has shrunk to: a really big thank you for what you do.

In talking about aged care, it isn't possible to talk only about aged-care facilities, and this piece of legislation fits into a holistic look at aged care. Home care is the other area that has a really direct impact on what happens—on when people go into aged care, for a start. So I want to spend a few minutes speaking about home care, and I would challenge the Liberal Party and the National Party to have some empathy on this issue. I know it might seem like a big ask, and you can only pull one of these favours out every now and again, but it is a serious issue that has been vastly neglected. Imagine that your mum or dad is on the waiting list that exists for an aged-care in-home package. Maybe their health is deteriorating. Or imagine being the one who makes the decision to give up on waiting and move your loved one, who you know could stay living in their home longer if they had some support, into an aged-care facility because they just can't stay on the waiting list any longer. Or imagine you're the person who gets the letter that says, 'Your loved one has finally been given the go-ahead to get the funding for their approved aged-care package,' but the letter comes just months after the person has died. They died waiting for care that we all know they needed, care they'd been approved for. All those things are exactly what is happening to elderly people and their families throughout the electorate of Macquarie, in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury.

How has a government let this happen to people in our communities? I really don't understand how we could have got to this point. Each and every person on the opposite side of this chamber should really be ashamed of where this situation has got to. I would hope that in every party room and committee meeting they have each of those opposite is fighting tooth and nail to change this system. The fact that the government isn't addressing this problem in any way is evidence that, while we might have had an election, this is a government, like the one before it and the one before that, that really just can't be bothered to look after older members of our community. That's the only conclusion I can draw.

It isn't just aged-care packages that they have no plan for, I know. There's no plan to address climate change, there's no plan to stimulate the stagnant economy and, for goodness sake, there's no plan to be a government except to talk about Labor. After their six years of government and their re-election for another three, all I see is an addiction to playing politics, not to actually fixing the problems that really matter to the people in my electorate. Fixing the issues that everyday Australians are coming up against isn't a priority, and it comes at a real cost. For older Australians, those consequences and costs are very real. Perhaps those opposite can go back to the party room and remind everyone of a few figures. There are already more than 129,000 older Australians on a waiting list for an in-home aged-care package. That's a waiting list for something they've already been approved to receive. More than 75,000 older Australians on the list are receiving no interim package at all. According to the Department of Health, the average waiting time for a level 4 package is more than 24 months. More than 16,000 older Australians on an interim package have died waiting for their approved full package. More than 14,000 people have been forced to enter care facilities because they're unable to get access to their approved care package. They are the government's own figures, and it shows that there are more people on the home care package waiting list than there are packages in the system.

I will give you the example of Thelma. Thelma, who was then a 95-year-old from Blaxland in the Blue Mountains, living on her own, was assessed on 30 October 2018 for a home care package and was approved for a level 2 package. She was then advised that she faced a two-year wait. Yes, Thelma was told that she'd be waiting until she was 97 to get in-home support. Thelma contacted me in February this year. She was excited because she'd heard on TV that there would be a new allocation of packages. She then called the hotline to ask if she was in line for one of those and was advised that they'd already been allocated and she still had at least a 12-month wait. On her 96th birthday, in the July that has just passed, Thelma phoned them again. They said she still had up to a six-month wait. I spoke to Thelma yesterday. She is hoping that she will live to see the day that she gets her home care package, in 2020. To those opposite: I know you don't know Thelma, but maybe for a minute pretend that she was your loved one and you had the power to have her home care package implemented. Would you do it? Well, of course you would.

Everyone in this place would have a Thelma in their electorate. The fact that those opposite aren't in this place fighting for her every single day says a lot about the government and its priorities. Older Australians deserve to live with dignity and choice, and that is exactly what they are being denied.

7:23 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Mayo is one of the oldest electorates in the country, with the median age hovering eight years above the national average. Almost one-third of the electorate is over 60 years of age. We are a wise group of people. For many of my constituents, finding an aged-care facility that meets their needs or the needs of their loved ones is an immediate and often daunting prospect. That is why I welcomed the government's announcement in March this year that Mayo would receive 221 additional residential aged-care beds through the 2018-19 Aged Care Approvals Round. To put this into context, Mayo received almost half of all the aged-care places allocated to South Australia in that round. The successful grants will enable the expansion of existing facilities in Uraidla, Aldgate, Mount Barker and Strathalbyn.

I have had the great privilege of visiting many of these facilities, and I know that both the community and the residents are excited about the prospect of new buildings and new facilities that reflect the staff's high standards of care and compassion. Perhaps even more important is the fact that these new beds will focus on dementia-appropriate care. Over 50 per cent of those living in aged-care facilities have dementia, and many of these people are living in facilities built several decades ago. In our regional areas many are 50 years old or older. This goes beyond mere aesthetics, as recent studies in dementia research from the University of Wollongong have discovered that particular aspects of the built environment have strong effects on the quality of life of dementia patients. Examples of some of these dementia-friendly care design principles include the creation of familiar spaces and providing links to the outside that allow people to see and be seen. Other factors, such as reducing the risk of falls and ensuring adequate lighting, can also be beneficial. I was equally excited to hear about the construction of a brand-new 75-bed facility on Hindmarsh Island, to be known as Coorong Quays aged care, which will be able to meet the ever-increasing demand for aged care faced across the southern part of the Fleurieu Peninsula.

While these facilities are under construction or renovation, the places allocated to the region are known as provisionally allocated places. The act provides that the provisional allocation can last up to four years; however, if the provider does not operationalise the place within four years they may seek a 12-month extension or surrender the place, and the department may revoke the provisionally allocated places. Alternatively, providers of residential aged care can apply to the department secretary to move provisionally allocated residential aged-care places from one region to another within a state or territory. Before the application is granted, the provider must demonstrate that it is to the benefit of the new region, does not disadvantage the old region, is financially viable and meets the population demand of the new region.

Following an allocation of places, providers can often have difficulties locating suitable land and navigating local government planning processes. For example, sometimes suitable land is located just outside a planning region, or local councils will independently determine that a planned 120-bed aged-care home should only have 100 beds. In such circumstances it may be appropriate to move the provisional places to another region. The department has carried on this practice for many years, but whether the act provides for the secretary always to do so was unclear. The bill will remove the uncertainty and ensure that places can be shifted from one region to another if the provider is able to do so.

Irrespective of where the aged-care facility is located, we need to ensure that we have the right mix of staff to provide the right levels of care to residents. I have long campaigned for the public disclosure of staffing levels within aged-care facilities. Last year a government led committee supported the passage of my private member's bill, and I look forward to continuing to work constructively on this issue with the new Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Minister Colbeck, in the coming months.

I would like to finish tonight by thanking everybody who works in aged care: the nurses, the cooks, the cleaners, the personal care workers, the grounds people. I know from my travels across my electorate and the time I spend in my aged-care facilities that staff go above and beyond the call of duty and care very deeply for the people living in their aged-care homes.

Debate interrupted.