House debates

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Matters of Public Importance

Aged Care

3:26 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Franklin proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The government's failure on aged care.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

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

The government's response on Monday to the royal commission that it called into aged care in Australia was an absolute failure. When the government responded to the royal commission, it announced 10,000 home care packages. What we know, of course, is that today there are 120,000 older Australians waiting for home care. That figure shows that older Australians and their families and loved ones are not going to get their home care any sooner because of the government's announcement. Indeed, when you look at the detail of the government's announcement what you actually see is that 5,500 packages will become available from December in the first year. That is it: 5,500 in response to what the government's own royal commissioners have said is neglect—neglect! That's their own royal commissioners talking about the government's responsibility to older Australians.

It's not just Labor saying this. We heard from the sector on Monday afternoon and evening about this royal commission response. I'm going to quote National Seniors Australia, who said the government's announcement of an extra 10,000 home care packages is 'less than the number of people who died last year waiting for a package' and 'barely addresses 10 per cent of the current waiting list'. Aged & Community Services Australia said the aged-care announcement will 'not even touch the sides of demand'. Leading Age Services Australia said it was a 'missed opportunity' and that those 110,000 older Australians remaining on the list will be 'left disappointed in the lead-up to Christmas'. They will indeed be left disappointed, because we know that, even if 5,000 packages become available in December, there are still 115,000 older Australians waiting for their home care.

'Neglect', the royal commissioners called it—neglect! That is the royal commission that the government called. After six years, four ministers and billions of dollars ripped out of the aged-care system, the government's own royal commissioners said it was neglect, and the best the government can do is fund 5,500 packages in the first year. That is outrageous. It's simply not good enough. It is continuing to fail older Australians and their families and loved ones.

I get calls from families all around the country, sadly, who have loved ones in the system, and my question to the government—to the minister and the Prime Minister—is: what do you say to the people you take calls from? What do you say to the 95-year-old woman who has a terminal illness and who has been told she'll need to wait 22 months to get a home care package?

What do you say to that? Why is that okay? How do you stand in here and say, 'What a great job we're doing. We've got this announcement and we're dealing with it.' When you get calls like that, what do you say to people? How in Australia today is that okay? Why is the government not doing something about the national priority queue for home care?

I was alerted yesterday to a situation where somebody had a loved one who had been waiting for home care but they had passed away, sadly, like 16,000 other older Australians who passed away without their home care package in the year 2017-18. We don't know how many people died last financial year waiting for their home care package. I was alerted to the fact they got a letter from My Aged Care saying, 'Good news: your home care package has turned up,' 2½ years after their loved one was deceased. How does the government not know somebody has passed away for 2½ years? It is just incredible that the government cannot manage the simple things. They clearly don't have a plan to deal with aged care but they should; they've had more than a dozen reports sitting on their desks.

We heard the government's excuse for not dealing with home care was, 'We can't roll them out because, you know, we might get some dodgy providers and/or, you know, we don't have the workforce.' Well the government's had sitting on its desk for over a year a workforce task force report that it actually paid for. Its own architect and author has criticised the government for not implementing the recommendations fast enough. There are 14 actions in that report. Professor Pollaers told the royal commission he was disappointed in the government. He should be. We're all pretty disappointed in the government and its response to aged care.

The findings in one of those reports by Kate Carnell into what happened at Earle Haven on the Gold Coast is similar to the findings made in the review of the national aged-care quality regulatory processes of which Ms Kate Carnell was a co-author. What she is referring to here is that she did a report for the government into what happened at Oakden in South Australia and made to a certain extent the same findings as those made in relation to Earle Haven on the Gold Coast. The Oakden report has been sitting on the minister's desk for two years. Why does it take this government's royal commission for them to do something but, importantly, still not enough? What is it going to take for this government to seriously consider acting and reforming aged care properly in Australia today? When we have 120,000 older Australians waiting on the home care list and the government is told this is neglect, when the commissioners describe what is happening in Australia when it comes to young people in residential care as a national disgrace, when we hear reports that around 70 per cent of the residents at Earle Haven were under chemical restraint, the government needs to do better. It needs to do better.

I was pleased we finally got an updated regulation tabled in the Senate this week. I have been talking to the minister for some time about how his current regulation that came in on 1 July has not been sufficient. He has tabled an upgraded regulation but, I guess, the proof will be in the pudding. How much will the tightening of the regulations actually reduce chemical restraint? People are very concerned when they go into residential aged care and see their loved ones sitting in a corner drugged up. That's what happens. Why does it happen? Sometimes there are behavioural issues and it is required. But often, we know, it is due to a lack of staff in some facilities. This is not good enough.

We have said on our side of politics for a long time that there are not enough staff in aged care and they are not paid enough. The government has had a workforce task force report sitting on its desk for more than a year. We need to do better, we need to resource aged care better, and the government needs to do something about it. The government comes in here and talks about priorities, talks about all these things that it's allegedly doing. What is it actually doing in aged care? It has a royal commission interim report and its best response to 120,000 people waiting is to deliver 5,500 packages from 1 December? It's not good enough. It is absolutely not good enough to those older Australians, their families and their loved ones that we're getting such a lacklustre response from the government. It's saying, 'Don't worry, we'll respond when the royal commission final report comes down in November next year.' Well, if its response is going to be anything like the response to the interim report, it is hardly going to be worth waiting for, because this area needs serious reform.

The government has been asleep at the wheel. We have had six years, four ministers and billions of dollars ripped out. Let's not forget it was the current Prime Minister, in his first budget, who pulled $1.2 billion out of aged care. That came on top of the half a billion dollars he pulled out in the MYEFO beforehand and on top of the $100 million for the dementia supplement that Tony Abbott pulled out in 2014. They have ripped billions of dollars out of aged care. What we have today is an aged-care system based on their neglect. That is what the royal commissioners are saying—neglect. What do you say to the calls from family members who have loved ones in their 90s who cannot get the care they need? What do you say to that? How much sooner because of your announcements are these people going to get their home care packages? The truth is: the government knows it can't put a time frame on it, because these people are not going to be getting their home care any sooner because of what the government has done.

I can't wait for the home care package waitlist to come out in December. I'm very interested in the figure of how many people died last financial year. The government seems to be hiding figures and sitting on the facts and the data. It's not good enough from this government. People expect transparency and information, and they need to be told the truth about how long they are going to wait for aged-care services in Australia today. It cannot go on—that the government, when it has a royal commission, when it talks about how much it gives a damn, does next to nothing. That is what it is doing: next to nothing. What it has done in its response is but a drop in the ocean compared to the reforms that are required. Not all of this takes money. This needs a government that gives a damn to actually do something.

3:36 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by noting that the Prime Minister called, as one of his first actions in the role, a royal commission into aged care following on from the revelations and the increasing information about the agony and the tragedy that occurred in Oakden, in the South Australian state-run facility under the previous Labor government. That was a national scandal and a national shame.

Ms Collins interjecting

If the member wants to make light of a national scandal and a national shame in Oakden, then I feel that that is unfortunate and inappropriate.

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

You have not responded to the recommendations! You're saying I'm saying something I'm not!

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Franklin will stop interjecting.

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

We called this royal commission because of the tragedy, the scandal, that we saw in Oakden. We realised that there was an increasingly unacceptable level of evidence that that which had been in place over the course of some decades—this is reinforced by the findings of the royal commissioners in the interim report—was not at the standard we would want. We wanted to shine a light both on the past and towards the future. Those are the reasons why the commission was called.

I want to start by acknowledging and thanking the royal commissioners, Commissioner Briggs and the now past Commissioner Tracey, for their work so far. Commissioner Tracey wrote almost to his last days. He was determined to prepare and to complete his work in the course of the interim report. I spoke to him shortly after he was diagnosed with what was a terminal condition that was aggressive and was going to have a very fast-acting outcome on his advice to me. I said, 'Nothing is more important than your health.' He said, 'With respect, nothing is more important than the health of older Australians.' It was one of the most powerful moments I have had the privilege to be a part of in dealing with any public official in any role in Australia.

Having said that, the commissioners made strong, clear findings. They recognised, even on the first page of their report, that as a country we had decadal challenges across government, across providers and across the community. They pointed to 'a culture of ageism', in their own words, which we needed to address as a country. It's our watch and our time to do that. In particular, the commission set out three areas of primary responsibility for action now. They were, firstly, home care, and the ability to take further steps on that front; secondly, medication management, with regard to dementia and the abuse of that for chemical restraint; and, thirdly, the work that needs to be done to remove young people from aged care where they are inappropriately housed in aged care.

In relation to home care, we have accepted the advice of the commission that there is a moment in history where we can unify the home care and home support programs, and the government has committed to so doing. That is a fundamentally important step. It has been done so that we can tailor the treatment for individuals that best supports their needs, to provide the services and care which best reflect what they need. I thank the commissioners for their work in outlining that program. The commission report very specifically sets out that, in adding home care packages, care had to be given to making sure that there was an appropriate increase in workforce. The history here is that over the last 18 months the government has added 44,000 home care packages. The opposition added none. The opposition was given a chance at the election to add packages. I have here Labor's Fair Go budget plan. There is a section on ALP commitments on health and Medicare. Under Medicare, apart from the fact that they would end the freeze, they have zero, zero, zero, zero over four years. It was the same thing in relation to home care packages. There was $337 billion worth of taxes and not one home care place, at the very moment they were seeking to enter into government. This was after the royal commission had been called. How many home care packages did they add? Not one home care package.

To put all of this in context, we have increased the number of home care places from 60,000 under the previous government to 150,000 this year. That is a 150 per cent increase at a time the population has increased by just over 10 per cent. Interestingly, when Labor was last in government there was a $1.15 billion home care budget. Now there is a $3.2 billion home care budget. Funding has almost tripled. There has been an almost 200 per cent increase in the time that we have been in government. What that means is that the fastest growth is in home care places, but we have committed to do more with the extra 10,000 places focused on the higher levels. That is part of a broader program where we have set out the tailored program, we have committed to working towards the goal of ending waiting periods inherited from a previous government, reduced in just the last year where we added 25 per cent in one year to the size of a home care program and a home care program which will have grown 150 per cent in our time in government.

Think of what the ratio of home care places was to population and to the elderly population under the previous government and think of what it is now.

Ms Collins interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Franklin is warned.

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

In our time, we have more than doubled the ratio of home care places to those who need, on our watch, not just faster than the growth of inflation and not just faster than the growth of the population but faster on a dramatic scale than the growth of people who are older than 75 years of age. We have committed to a profound, fundamental rethink of the system by unifying it, by tailoring it and by working towards ending waiting times as part of that fundamental reform and then taking the immediate step of the injection of 10,000 places commensurate with the advice of the royal commission, as I raised with Commissioner Briggs only this week.

One of the other fundamental reforms is in relation to medication management. On the day of the royal commission, we had success in winning the support of COAG Health Council ministers to ensure that medication management was, for the first time, as part of quality and the safe use of medicines, raised to the level of a national health priority. Now we have also taken the step of placing Risperidone on a restricted prescription arrangement as of 1 January, after consultation with the medical community. That means there will be a maximum of 12 weeks for this antipsychotic without any capacity to extend beyond that unless there is an express approval through the approvals process. That's an unusual arrangement in relation to medicines, but a critical arrangement. It has won the support of the medical community and the aged-care community, and that is about protecting the lives and the quality of care of older Australians.

Nobody has done this before, but we're doing this on our watch, in our time and directly in response to the commission. At the same time, we're adding $35 million for medication management and for greater training of the workforce in relation to dealing with patients with dementia. In many cases, sadly, there are psychotic episodes, cases of self-harm or, sometimes, cases of violence towards other residents. With this additional combination of $25 million for medication management and $10 million for training, we are providing that support.

Finally, the third area that the commission set out was the removal of young people from residential care. We have accepted the commission's three goals of removing people under the age of 45 by 2022, removing people under the age of 65 by 2025 and ensuring that we are not bringing people under the age of 65 into the aged-care system where there is not an exceptional circumstance in that time. All of these things come together to represent a response to the commission. We thank them, we honour them and we will continue their work.

3:46 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

The government has squandered its responsibility in its response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety's interim report. It has failed to provide the genuine reform which would truly fix the aged-care sector. This is a third-term government which constantly throws its hands in the air, seemingly baffled by the problems in aged care and unaware of the countless reports which provide solutions sitting on the minister's desk.

Take workforce: yesterday, the government blamed workforce as one of the reasons they can't fix home care packages, claiming that if they expand all their places they may be filled by staff who might not be properly trained. Well, one of this government's first actions was to rip out the $1.5 billion that Labor had put into a workforce strategy supplement. They've had a workforce task force report, which the member for Franklin reminded them of just before, sitting on their desks for more than a year now. It has 14 actions in it. The author of that, Professor John Pollaers, said in his royal commission evidence that he was disappointed by the government's lack of action when it comes to workforce. So for the government to say, 'Oh, we haven't done anything on workforce, so we can't have any more home care packages,' is absolutely appalling. This is their problem. It is their fault. They are in government; we have to keep reminding them! They've been there for six years.

Workforce is one of the most crucial parts to fixing our broken aged-care system. We've heard time and time again that staff are pushed to the limit. They want and need more time to care. It has emerged as a key issue at the aged-care royal commission, and is something which the wonderful aged-care unions, the United Workers Union, the ANMF and the HSU, have been raising for years. Staffing numbers, skill mix, staff training, qualifications and experience are key concerns which negatively impact on the ability of staff to provide quality care.

The impetus to get this right is huge. We must have a quality workforce which sees aged-care workers getting the respect and dignity they deserve. Aged care is not babysitting; as a nurse, I know that. I want to send a big shout-out to all the nurses and carers in the unions who are here this week campaigning against the government's awful anti-union-busting bills.

To another issue: the government seems to have no capacity for accountability and transparency in aged care. The government's announcement promises 'pockets' of money, but doesn't provide any clear policy guidance on how taxpayers can be assured that their money will actually be directed to care. All funding should come with tighter accountability to ensure that providers do not siphon off any money to excessively line their own pockets. It was recently reported that more than half of the nursing homes run by Australia's largest private provider, Bupa, are failing basic standards of care, and 30 per cent are putting the health and safety of the elderly at serious risk. I'm sorry, but the question has to be asked: how does a provider that receives nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies get away with this? Funding should be tied to care. It is a simple premise. If a for-profit provider is making millions of dollars out of publicly funded beds yet is neither providing enough staff nor delivering quality care then that must be addressed.

Finally, this week one of my constituents, Lily Coy, was interviewed by Channel Nine, recounting an experience that hundreds of thousands of older Australians have experienced. Lily is 86 years old. She spent 18 months begging for a home care package. She said:

I wasn't coping. I couldn't walk from the table to the sink.

She said having to demand the assistance she was entitled to was 'humiliating', and her package was only granted when my office intervened. She said:

We're not bits of paper. We're not numbers on a bit of paper.

And Lily said she feels awful thinking about others who are still waiting for home care packages:

I feel terrible. It makes me feel so guilty and sad.

She shouldn't feel guilty and sad; the government should feel guilty and sad!

This week's announcement of 10,000 home care packages means there are still 110,000 Australians assessed and waiting. The crisis is getting worse. The government has no idea what it means to watch an elderly parent waiting in vain for assistance at home. The solution isn't simple; it requires thought and genuine reform. But, as the government, it is your job. Do your job! Workers in aged care and silent Australians, the ones dying waiting for home care packages, are depending on you.

3:51 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to rise on this particular matter of public importance. For those of us who have had family in aged-care facilities or needing home and community care, we understand just what a challenging space this is. We want the people we love the most to get the most care that they possibly can.

There was no doubt when the Prime Minister announced the royal commission—it was one of his first decisions and a very wise one. But he did say at the time that we had to be really prepared for what would come out of that, and he was entirely correct in that statement. The government has responded to the royal commission's interim report and some of the findings in there, in three priority areas: home packages, use of chemical restraints and younger people in residential aged care. They were three of the priority areas identified in the interim report. There are going to be 10,000 extra home care packages as well as funding for medication management programs and for additional dementia training and support.

Having had a mother in permanent care with dementia, I understand personally the very great challenge that this presented and how it was really important for us as a family to take part in her care as much as we possibly could, because essentially our mother was trading one home for another. We saw that part of our job as her family was to love and care for her when she was in that facility as much as we did when she was home. Given that often the only real part of her day that she could remember was us, we took that role particularly seriously. There were times of the day where she was able to cope better than others and times of the day where her mind was more focused than others. We treasured those moments, but I don't underestimate for one moment how challenging her condition was for her and for those who were trying to care for her in that facility. So I really appreciate the work that people in aged care do and how each one of us who has a loved one in a facility needs to be very much part of their lives irrespective of where they are.

I'm also really pleased to talk about a wonderful facility called Treendale Gardens in my part of the world. It actually caters for young people who have previously been in aged-care facilities. This was a direct relationship between, at the time, the local state Liberal government that donated land; the Rotary club that took this on as a project; John Castrilli, the local state member who took it on; and the MS society, which built and runs this facility. It is a genuine way of addressing this issue for young people who are currently in aged-care facilities.

I also at this point want to acknowledge that, in spite of the findings and the toughness of this royal commission, there are very good home care providers out there today doing a fabulous job in what they do. The Aged Care Services Australia Aged Care Awards recognised recently and highlighted the important work that is being done in aged care across Australia. They recognised one of South West Community Care's outstanding services to clients in their homes with the WA aged-care Provider of the Year award. They also achieved the Employer Excellence in Aged Care Award at the Western Australian Regional Achievement and Community Awards. They offer extensive care and activities. They also provide a whole lot of love to people who need it most. CEO Claire Roach is very passionate about delivering services in true partnership with South West Community Care clients, and they love the people who care for them. She's also very rightly proud of those skilled and caring staff. I want to congratulate and thank South West Community Care, Claire Roach and her staff, for their work and thank every one of those workers who spend their time caring for our loved ones when they need intensive care.

3:56 pm

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is one statement we can make which is absolutely clear: the Morrison government has failed older Australians in aged care. We say this because, over six years, four ministers and dozens and dozens of reports, they have yet to deliver long-term or actual reform. What we've seen throughout this failure of a government, with all their prime ministers and failed ministers, has been a constant deflection of responsibility that they never accept. This is a government led by a Prime Minister who, as Treasurer, cut $1.2 billion out of aged care.

You heard the minister before. He should always start his contributions with 'once upon a time' because it's a fairytale that he brings in. They put a little bit of money back, but they neglect to mention that they took a whole lot out to start with. They cut it down here, then put a little tiny bit in and go, 'Aren't we good?' and congratulate themselves. We know what they did to try to hoodwink the Australian people with the lie before the election that the budget was back in black. It was done because this government attacks the most vulnerable people in this country. It held money from the NDIS. It took money out of aged care and now says pensioners should be working longer and harder.

What we have seen in aged care through the royal commission is an abject failure of this minister and his predecessors. We know the royal commission was called for because this government was failing and the minister was asleep at the wheel. The entire time, he sat there and said, 'Well, if it comes on my desk, I'll have a look at it.' This is everyday Australians who are being punished by this government each and every day.

I was talking to a local resident in Sunbury the other day. He was telling me about the issue that he's had. He was assessed for his package and had to wait 18 months for a level 4. He had a stroke that saw him left with some brain damage, paralysis down both arms and poor hearing and eyesight. We've already seen today, as the shadow minister rightly pointed out, that only 5,500 of these home care packages will be delivered. One hundred and ten thousand people will not get access to the care that they rightly deserve. These are the people that put this nation where it is, and this government wants to use them to rip the money out and treat them poorly. It is absolutely wrong that, each and every day, Australians are missing out on the care and the help that they need, because the government is incompetent or deliberately nasty. I'm not sure which one it will be, but I'm tipping that what we're seeing is a bit of column A and a bit of column B.

Older Australians have served this country and delivered us the prosperity that we have, and they deserve to be treated fairly. We can't have people dying while they're waiting for home care packages. That is just fundamentally wrong. These are vulnerable people, but this government says, 'Don't worry about them, they'll be right; we'll just keep moving on.' None of those opposite will ever stand up and say: 'We are sorry for what we've done. We should address this.' They want to hide and obfuscate about the issues we have. We have people every single day looking for help and support to get the aged-care packages that they desperately need. People are watching their loved ones deteriorate in their health and wellbeing, and families are having extra stress and financial strains, because the government is too incompetent to actually get out there and prioritise the important things. They won't prioritise people. They'll happily support banks, but they won't prioritise people. In the meantime, you've got families that are going to breaking point because they can't get the help and assistance that they deserve.

The member for Cooper talked about the workforce. Let's talk about the workforce, because that is so important. This is a government that has failed on workforce. It does not care enough to ensure that people who are in aged-care facilities get the help and support they need by having properly trained people who are able to deal with the issues that get faced in aged-care facilities, like dementia. I have a very close friend whose mother was attacked in an aged-care facility and died. There was no help and assistance available. That is a disgrace that sits wholly and squarely on the Prime Minister's shoulders because he's the one who, as Treasurer, took the money out, which means we don't have the workforce that we need and we don't have the support in aged-care facilities.

It's time the government gave up on their rhetoric and actually did something for Australian people. The people that put them there are the ones they should be looking after, not themselves as they have been doing and continue to do right up to today.

4:02 pm

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The findings of the interim report into Australia's aged-care system demonstrated that aged care in this country needs significant change to ensure our older Australians receive the best possible care in their most vulnerable years. In fact, it was the Prime Minister who made the decision to call the royal commission as one of his first actions in this role, and I commend him for his leadership. Labor didn't do it, and now they're trying to politicise it just to score some cheap political points. Disgraceful!

The findings of the interim report were damning and deeply upsetting to Australian families who have loved ones supported in the aged-care sector. I'm pleased that on Monday our government announced $537 million for urgent action in response to the interim report. We are investing $496.3 million for an additional 10,000 home care packages for those with the highest need in order to reduce wait times and to connect people to care sooner. The first of these additional home care packages will be available from 1 December this year. We are providing additional funding to reduce the misuse of chemical restraints. We are investing $4.7 million to support the implementation of the Younger People in Residential Aged Care Action Plan to remove young people with disabilities from residential aged care and we are setting ambitious targets to stop new younger people entering aged care by the end of 2022. It's important to highlight that these measures are not the end of the discussion on how our country's aged-care sector can be reformed. Instead, they are responses to three key findings of the royal commission requiring immediate action.

As a government, we are making record investments across aged care. Under Labor, $13.3 billion in 2012-13 was spent. Under our Morrison government, $21.7 billion has been spent in 2019-20. Last financial year there were 1.3 million Australians receiving support through the aged-care system, from basic home supports up to residential aged care. We've rolled out reforms to ensure a greater standard of aged care is enforced. This includes the establishment of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to ensure that standards of care are improved.

This financial year will see the delivery of a total of 150,000 home care packages, up from 60,000 available in 2012-13. Every year under this government the number of home care packages has gone up, the number of residential care places has gone up and aged-care funding has gone up. Labor, at the election, provided no additional funding in their costings for home care places or any additional funding for aged-care quality workforce or residential aged care. Reforming the aged-care sector is this government's priority. It is the Morrison government who are leading the way for reform. We are doing it, not those opposite. We are delivering $537 million worth of funding to respond to the interim report, and there will be further responses when the final report from the royal commission into aged care is released.

4:05 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The standard of care for our elderly should not be compromised through restrictions of resources or for the budget bottom line. The aged-care system urgently needs a skill mix of medical, nursing and care staff. That's not the view expressed publicly by the opposition; it's the view expressed publicly by someone who's regularly quoted by the Prime Minister, and the minister on this occasion, Dr Tony Bartone, the President of the AMA—that militant organisation. He actually speaks the truth and, when necessary, is prepared to be brave enough to talk about the system, which he has, and which those on the other side continue to ignore. He really does put in perspective exactly what is going on here. None of those opposite could take any pleasure in the way that they have responded to the interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. What we're seeing is a litany of issues from the lack of staff, low-paid staff, lack of resourcing in the industry.

Granted, the government has delivered 10,000 additional home care packages. I've got to say, that is a drop in the ocean when you think there are 120,000 Australians on waiting lists at the moment. By the way, even though they've been approved for a package, they've been on waiting lists to receive them for up to, and over, two years. That is another statistic which is absolutely frightening. In one year alone, 16,000 people died while on that waiting list, waiting for the appropriate care. That is outrageous for a country like Australia, a country that professes to care about the vulnerable. Who is more vulnerable in our community than the aged?

The government initiated the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and Labor supported that. But they went into it kicking and screaming. How long did it take after all the activity that took place on this side of the parliament, criticising minister after minister? By the way, since they've been in government, those opposite have had four separate ministers who have had the opportunity to address this. Over that period of time, do you know what? They actually strangled the funding of aged care by about $2 billion, and that all started when the then Treasurer—Scott Morrison, the current Prime Minister—in his very first budget under the Turnbull government, decided to pull almost $2 billion out of aged care to meet the bottom line. This is all about meeting the budgetary bottom line.

If those opposite want to take some joy in that, I wouldn't go jumping up and down in your electorates. Not just the elderly but their loved ones will punish you for that sort of behaviour. The simple fact is the system is broken. You don't need to go any further than the royal commission to see that. The royal commission has found that the aged-care system has failed to deliver uniformly safe quality care. It is unkind, uncaring towards elderly people and there are too many instances of neglect. That's from the royal commission, the one they set up, the one that they're just not listening to at the moment. To put it further in perspective, Commissioners Richard Tracey and Lynelle Briggs said it is a sad and shocking system that diminishes Australia as a nation, yet the government are here today saying they are doing wonders in aged care. You've got to be joking. This system is broken. The interim report—yes, it is another report, but this report is another confirmation of the desperate situation facing older Australians.

In their report, the commissioners have listed three things that require urgent and immediate attention by this government: ensuring that older Australians are getting the care they need at home—well, that's a big zero, given the size of the waiting list; preventing the overreliance on chemical restraints; and ending the unacceptable number of young people entering residential care. We would encourage the government to read that report carefully and do what they say—act immediately. (Time expired)

4:10 pm

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday, the government announced its actions on the recommendations of the report of the royal commission into aged care. Establishing the royal commission was the Prime Minister's own decision; he wasn't dragged, kicking and screaming to that decision. And he said at the time, soon after the election, that all Australians needed to brace themselves for some of the findings. This was indeed the case. Some difficult stories of our most vulnerable citizens have been told and, indeed, heard by this government. The government's new measures address the three priority areas of home care packages, chemical restraint and younger people in home care. They include investing $496.3 million for an additional 10,000 home care packages—care that they need at home; providing $25.5 million to improve medication management programs to reduce the use of medication as a chemical restraint on aged-care residents and at home; and new restrictions on the use of medication as a chemical restraint—tick; delivering $10 million for additional dementia training and support for aged-care workers and providers, including to reduce the use of chemical restraints; and investing $4.7 million to help meet new targets to remove younger people with disabilities from residential aged care. That's another tick—to those on the other side.

In line with the long-term direction identified by the royal commission, the government will progress further measures, including providing simpler aged-care assessments by creating a single assessment workforce and network, and establishing a single unified system for care of our elderly in the home.

Can I just take a moment to highlight a point for the House by asking a pretty simple question: what did those opposite have planned in the lead-up to the election? What was their plan for the aged-care sector? There was no additional funding in their costings for home care places—zero! There was nothing for aged-care quality, for workforce or residential aged care. There was zero, zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zilch!

Let me remind those opposite and, indeed, those listening out there what the Morrison government has actually implemented to date. Overall, we've invested $2.7 billion since the 2018-19 budget into home care packages. That's a 25 per cent increase in one year. As the Minister for Health just outlined, it's the fastest growth in home care packages. We have established the new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and implemented the new, consumer focused Aged Care Quality Standards. The Charter of Aged Care Rights has been put into place, covering 14 fundamental protections for all aged-care programs, from safe, quality care to independence, information, personal privacy, control, fairness and choice. We have responded to the interim report with a funding package—I will say it again for those opposite with tin ears—of $537 million.

All we see from those opposite is negativity; we don't see any cooperation in this sector. We see our most vulnerable citizens being used to score political points in the press. Those opposite continue to do it today. I've seen it for months at home up in Queensland, in Moncrieff and in Nerang, where the local Labor member for Gaven and Senator Watt continue to use the residents of Earle Haven to lift their profile. This is inappropriate. They are conducting bogus rallies outside my office on a Saturday morning to get press. It's a stunt, a political stunt. They are petrified that they're going to lose the state seat of Gaven in Queensland to the LNP and so they're trying to raise the profile of their local member, because the LNP has a fantastic candidate in Kirsten Jackson, can I say.

Additionally, the government has accepted all 23 recommendations of the Carnell report and is now working hard to improve the sector. It would do those opposite well to admit that their state colleagues in Queensland made the wrong call to move the 71 residents out of Earle Haven. They moved the residents out when they didn't need to. They moved frail and elderly residents out in the state of Queensland when they didn't need to. The Labor member herself was moving people out of Earle Haven unnecessarily and in the middle of the night. I pay tribute to the emergency services, who were so professional, and to the residents, the families and the selfless staff who worked so hard and stayed behind to assist all those elderly residents who were moved out by Queensland state Labor unnecessarily.

4:15 pm

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

I think what those opposite fail to realise is that people are actually dying at the moment. We need to see action and much more funding when it comes to aged care. This is a serious matter. This is a government that has failed across the board. They've not just failed; they've made the system chronically worse. Their cuts have been severe. We have a totally broken aged-care system which is in complete crisis. In doing this, the government has totally failed our seniors, the very people who built our nation. They worked hard, paid their taxes and raised their families. In their older years when they need aged-care services, whether that be home care or residential care, this government has totally abandoned them in both those areas. The fact is that those harsh choices by the Liberal and National Party hurt our older Australians.

This government's record is shameful, and in the regions we blame the National Party for this shameful record. We blame them for the cuts to the vital services because many older Australians cannot access the care they need. This government has had many years and four different ministers to deliver long-term reform, to inject funding into aged care, but all it has delivered is a broken system that is getting worse day by day. One of the issues I hear about every day is the difficulty of accessing home care, particularly in my region with an ageing population. It is distressing for those that need care and for their families. Most older Australians want to remain in their homes for as long as possible. This government's cuts are making it extremely difficult.

Many of those stories are heartbreaking. Those people are waiting for the care they need, the care they deserve, and the list grows longer each year. As a nation we should be judged by how we treat our elderly. Yet the Liberals and Nationals have done nothing but cut the funding, and there is no plan to reverse the cuts. As of June 2019 there were 120,000 older Australians waiting for a home care package. This included more than 70,000 older Australians on the waiting list with no home care package at all. Of those 120,000 waiting for home care, many are waiting for more than two years for the care they have been approved for. That is shameful. We know that 14,000 older Australians entered residential care early because they couldn't get the home care package they were approved for. So, shamefully, many people are dying waiting for that package. This is truly unacceptable. Why won't they do anything? The fact is that 16,000 older Australians died in just one year waiting for home care. Why are they not talking about that?

This week the Morrison government's response to the royal commission was a complete missed opportunity to provide the genuine reform that this country needs when it comes to aged care. The 10,000 additional home care packages announced by the government are nowhere near enough, considering the need out there. It doesn't address the chronic underfunding of home care and the need that's there. And there's no guarantee the government's package will mean older Australians will get any care sooner. We know this government has cut billions from aged care. As the number of older Australians waiting for home care grew from just over 88,000 to 120,000, the Prime Minister continued with cuts. They have continued with the mismanagement and the cuts.

This announcement of 10,000 home care packages means there are still 110,000 people waiting. What will happen to them? Will they languish at home waiting for that package? There is a desperate need. This government have chosen to ignore more than a dozen reviews—so many reports, inquiries and recommendations for fixing the aged-care system. These were compiled by experts across the aged-care sector, and the government have ignored every single one. I don't know how many more people have to tell them what's required to fix it; they won't listen to any of the older Australians, they won't listen to their families, they won't listen to the experts and they won't read any of the reports. They just don't seem to care. It is a total crisis.

We've also seen the complaints increasing. In general, they've doubled to almost 8,000 in one year, and the reason the complaints are going up is that the government keeps cutting more. They have grossly failed to resource the sector properly, and so there are fewer staff and less funding towards that regulatory regime which we desperately need.

We've seen the prime example of this on the Gold Coast, at Earle Haven. What an atrocious situation it was there—and totally the fault of this government, with their lack of funding and lack of a regulatory regime to protect our older people. The fact is that this government cannot be trusted when it comes to aged care. They cannot be trusted to look after our older Australians, whether that be in-home care or residential aged care. It is a chronic crisis situation and something must be done urgently.

4:20 pm

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

About, maybe, 20 months ago my wife and I looked over our newborn baby boy in hospital. We were waiting for his big sister to arrive so that they could meet. And, as we looked down at that miracle of life, a midwife approached us with that knowing smile that midwives often carry—such magnificent people they are—and we were unashamedly gushing with joy, as parents do. The midwife said something to us that has remained with me. She made a comment along the lines of, 'You know, you're just as vulnerable when you leave this world as you are when you enter it.' Looking down at our baby boy, who was crying, she went on to say: 'When you leave this world, you might be just as gummy. You actually may not be able to control your bowels and you may not be able to communicate what it is that you want. But when you seem to be on the other side and about to leave this world, the one thing you don't have that newborns do have is that typical doting love surrounding you.'

When the royal commission was announced, being from an electorate where nearly one in five people are over the age of 65, I decided to have forums with age-care providers, with aged-care workers and with the loved ones of clients. And, as an electorate, we put forward a submission to the royal commission. But the words of the midwife, as politically incorrect as they may have been, loomed large. A conclusion I drew was that regardless of whatever policy changes come from a royal commission, what is needed—not just from people in politics but across civil society—is a cultural shift for how we treat our elderly.

I was delighted, therefore, when the preliminary report was tabled, that the Prime Minister said:

But I want to stress again that what we really need to establish above and beyond everything else is a culture of respect for older Australians.

That's indeed true, and the substance of the government's response follows through with that sentiment. It's a response that focuses particularly on three areas: the first is more home care packages; secondly, better management of medicine and physical restraint; and, thirdly, helping transition young people out of residential aged care. There is no doubt that more will need to be done, and the government acknowledges that. But we continue to step up and to do everything we possibly can. That's why this royal commission is so important and that the substance of the government's response is delivering adequately to it.

What has concerned me about this debate today has been the shrilling we've heard from the Labor Party around this issue. They've talked about the need for leadership, but being a leader, surely, is at least being good to your word. Showing respect to the elderly is surely at least about telling them the truth about their sector. But what we have heard from members opposite today has been a complete lack of respect for seniors. They have demonstrated their incapacity to lead.

In 2012-13 the whole-of-government funding to aged care from the Labor Party was $13.3 billion. In 2018-19 it was $21.6 billion—an increase of 60 per cent. These are actual figures. Home care funding from Labor in 2012-13 was $1.1 billion. It was $3.4 billion from the coalition in 2018-19. That's an increase by three times. Home care packages have more than doubled under the coalition, yet we've had those members opposite prepared to absolutely disrespect the elderly by coming to this chamber and telling untruths. This government is taking the reforms necessary. We will continue to listen to the royal commission.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has concluded.