House debates

Monday, 2 December 2019

Private Members' Business

Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety Interim Report

11:00 am

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

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes:

(a) that the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety handed down its interim report on 31 October 2019;

(b) the commissioners identified three areas where there is a need for urgent action—these include, to:

  (i) provide more home care packages to reduce the waiting list for higher level care at home;

  (ii) respond to the significant over-reliance on chemical restraint in aged care, including through the seventh community pharmacy agreement; and

  (iii) stop the flow of younger people with disability going into aged care and expediting the process of getting those younger people who are already in aged care out;

(2) recognises:

(a) the commissioners stated in the interim report that they did not see any reason to delay action on these three areas;

(b) the Government’s own Royal Commission report stated it is ‘neglect’ to not provide more home care packages;

(c) the commissioners stated in the interim report that they have been alarmed to find that many people died while waiting for a home care package while others prematurely move into residential care;

(d) the commissioners also stated that funding should be forthcoming from the Government to ensure the timely delivery of home care services;

(e) more than 16,000 older Australians died waiting for their approved home care package they were assessed for in 2017-18—sadly, that was around 300 older Australians that died each week in that year waiting for care; and

(f) more than 14,000 older Australians entered residential aged care prematurely because they couldn’t get the care they were assessed and approved for in 2017-18—sadly, that was around 200 older Australians each week having no other choice but to enter residential aged care; and

(3) calls on the Government to take urgent action immediately and respond to the three areas included in the Royal Commission’s interim report.

When your own royal commission describes as 'neglect' the Morrison government's failure to provide more home care packages to support elderly Australians staying in their own home, you know you're facing a crisis.

The commissioners, in their interim report, say they can't see any reason why action should be delayed in this area and in two other areas, the over-reliance on chemical restraint in aged care, and the appalling situation of younger people with a disability going into aged care. If members have spoken to anyone involved in the sector—from residents to family members, to staff, volunteers and even operators—you could have predicted that we were well overdue for some tangible action in each of these areas. Yet you could almost blink and miss the government's response on in-home care. A mere 10,000 additional home care packages have been announced.

Let's put this in perspective. There are 120,000 older Australians waiting for home care. They've been assessed. They've been approved. Now what they're waiting for is for a package to become available. What does that actually mean? It means that someone who currently has a package at the level that they require has to either go into an aged-care facility and no longer need that package or, if they die, the package becomes available. That's what people on the waiting list are waiting for in lieu of a significant additional investment by this government.

There is simply not sufficient funding in the home care package system to meet the need—and 10,000 makes such a tiny difference. I recall when a similar announcement was made about a small increase in the number of available packages, and Thelma, from Blaxland, who is in her mid-90s, called me to say she had naively thought it might improve her chances of receiving the small amount of assistance that she requires—a level 1 package. She said she phoned the department to see if it would make any difference to the year-long wait that she'd been told to expect, and they broke the news to her that it wouldn't make any difference—none at all. There's no guarantee this latest miserly package will make a difference either. When I last spoke with Thelma, she was still waiting, joking that she'd be dead before it came through. Sadly, that isn't a joke, because 16,000 elderly people died in just one year waiting for home care.

I think what angers me most is the rhetoric from this Prime Minister about how he values older Australians, and yet his actions do not match his words. In his first budget as Treasurer, this was the man who ripped $1.2 billion from aged care. This is the man who has failed to act as the waiting list for home care grew from 88,000 to 120,000. And this is the man who ignores advice from the Department of Health—as recently as April, in the lead up to the last budget, that provided advice on how to fix the home care crisis, yet did absolutely nothing.

It's a similar story for the efforts being made to address the issue of younger people in aged care. The Morrison government, less than a month ago, claimed it was doing 'enough', despite the royal commission's demand for increased action. The minister for the NDIS must have missed the criticism of the government, as the commissioners described the issue as a 'national embarrassment' and a 'human rights issue'. How's this for an assessment of the government's action plan, released in March: significant gaps, lacks ambition and should not be relied on as a solution—the commission's words, not mine.

We will be closely monitoring the response of this government to the overuse of chemical restraint to ensure that it is actually an effective response. I personally believe a much more significant approach is going to be needed to change the practices in aged-care facilities, and I believe it will go to the heart of the problem, staffing levels and resources. I want to finish on that point. Aged-care operators themselves tell me that it is really tough to run a high-quality operation with the cuts to ACFI funding, which mean facilities have to do the same with less. More able residents raise with me things like the quality of food and general standards. And I've had a steady flow of feedback about the quality of places available around the state from families currently looking for suitable residential care for either a partner or a parent. Clearly, we are not consistently treating elderly people with respect and dignity, and the stories of the royal commission tell us that in too many cases it is not even humane. The government can't just do enough; it has to do more than that.

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

Is the motion seconded?

11:05 am

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. Aged care is one of the most important social services that the nation has a responsibility for, and the Morrison and McCormack government is certainly stepping up to the mark to deliver the reforms and the extra funding required to give the quality and safety of service that has, unfortunately, in some areas of the aged-care system been lacking. You only have to look at Oakden. I can't think of a strong enough word—not a debacle but a major disappointment and a failure of quality and standards.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was commissioned by Prime Minister Morrison. It was one of his first major decisions as Prime Minister. As a result, we have had an intense focus on the area of government supervision of the actual system, which is very extensive. In my area of the country, the Lyne electorate, we have some of the largest numbers, per electorate, of people who require aged care, and we have had a massive expansion in services. But, getting back to this particular issue, just last week we announced a package of $496 million for an additional 10,000 home care places. But that isn't the only increase. When we were first put on the government benches, in 2013, there were only 60,300 home care places. That number went up to 125,119 places in 2018 and 2019, and this recent increase of 10,000 places will be well used.

One of the other things that have been identified by the royal commission is the overuse of chemical restraint. For those people who don't understand what chemical restraint means: it means using drugs to calm down anxious or aggressive people. Unfortunately, with dementia some people do become quite aggressive, agitated and distressed, and chemical restraint is part of the lexicon of manoeuvres to manage a person in that distressed state. But the royal commission found that there has been an overuse of it, so there will be new regulations stating that a second doctor has to provide an overview, after a certain period of time, of the long-term use of the drugs.

We've also got a $10 million commitment to additional dementia training and support for aged-care workers and providers, and we are using $25 million to involve professional bodies, such as the professional pharmacists association. The new guidelines, which involve getting a second look by a separate practitioner at the requirement for a chemical restraint, will mean we won't have people on these drugs ad infinitum—the drug is prescribed once and then never ceased.

One of the other problems identified by the royal commission is that increasingly, when young people who have disability need specialised accommodation, they end up by default in the aged-care system. It is very soul-destroying for a young person to be surrounded by people who they feel are at the other end of the spectrum, even though they themselves need a lot of physical support. They are embedded in an aged-care facility where there are people with high care needs, a lot of whom have dementia. That is the community that they're locked in with, and it doesn't help them with their recovery or their physical wellbeing.

So, in this latest package, we have also invested $4.7 million towards meeting new targets for removing younger people from aged care. We're also providing simpler aged-care assessment methods that need to be done. Aged-care assessment either puts people into a home care package or, at the other end of the spectrum, recommends residential aged care. The whole of residential aged care has had an increase of over $1.2 billion per year, year after year, over the last seven years of coalition governments. In 2012-13, the total funding was $13.3 billion. It is now up to $21.7 billion and will be at $25.4 billion by the end of 2022-23. (Time expired)

11:11 am

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion today, and I thank the member for Macquarie for again bringing this vitally important issue to the attention of the House. We were all shocked and appalled by the aged-care royal commission's revelations: 120,000 older Australians waiting for home care in Australia, wait times of more than two years for the highest level of care, overuse of chemical restraints in aged care, and unacceptable numbers of younger people entering residential aged care because they simply have nowhere else to go.

Recently I visited a wonderful facility in Moruya that is helping to provide accommodation for people with a disability. Yumaro Living is an innovative accommodation program for supported independent living. I was lucky enough to take a tour of their four-bedroom group home and five single-bedroom units recently to meet some of the residents and hear their stories. They also have a two-bedroom unit for respite or short-term accommodation. The site includes 24-hour professional on-site support staff, and it is an absolutely wonderful place that provides shared support while allowing people to live independently. One of Yumaro's residents is in his early 50s and, before this facility became available, he had been living in an aged-care facility. The Yumaro staff proudly told me how this gentleman had come out of his shell since coming to stay with them. He now has independence, freedom and a new lease on life. It is heartbreaking to hear of a man like this forced into an inappropriate facility because there is nowhere else for him to go. But places like Yumaro Living are few and far between, and it only has capacity for five permanent residents. We need more places like Yumaro. We need to invest more in supported independent living across Australia to keep younger people out of residential aged care.

The aged-care system is failing our community. I have spoken with carers who have struggled to give the level of care their loved ones need without the help that they deserve. Carers do such an admirable and fantastic job in our community. Often they are family members doing what they can to try to give their loved ones the dignity, comfort and support they need. Too often they go unrecognised and unacknowledged.

Our aged-care workers also do remarkable work. I have visited many of the aged-care homes and residential villages in my electorate, and it doesn't take long before you really start to appreciate the hard work that our aged-care workers do with such love and care. They do it without complaint, and they do amazing work. But there are simply not enough of them. We need more aged-care workers to support our ageing population, and we need to make sure they are being paid enough for the work they are doing.

I want to thank all the carers and aged-care workers in our community. I want to let them know that I have seen them and I have heard them. I will keep pushing to fix the system that is failing them. Older Australians in our community cannot afford to wait for this government to fix the broken aged-care system. They need help now, and the government's response so far has been totally inadequate.

The commission's interim report called for immediate action to provide more home care packages. It called the wait times for packages 'neglect' and urged the Morrison government to act without delay. Three weeks later the government finally announced 10,000 additional home care packages—10,000, when 16,000 older Australians passed away in only one year while waiting for home care. This hardly seems like the response the commission was calling for.

Only last week I spoke about an innovative home care program in Batemans Bay. Booraja has been providing a targeted home care program to older Indigenous Australians and getting great results. It is employing Aboriginal people to provide whole-of-community care. It has won awards and been recognised nationally. But the government won't commit to providing it with new funding. We need more programs like Booraja, not fewer. I truly hope that the government decides to see sense and fund this program as part of its response to the commission's report.

We need action now. Older people in our community deserve to age with independence and dignity. Their carers, families and friends deserve to have help and support. The government must urgently act to fix this broken system. Ten thousand new packages to fix a wait list of 160,000 people is simply not enough.

11:16 am

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

As I outlined in the other chamber last week, Australians are sick and tired of the ALP using our most vulnerable citizens to score political points. It's both inappropriate and disappointing. It's one of the reasons Australians chose a Liberal-National government to rely on and not those opposite. There is no doubt all Australians want their loved ones looked after and well cared for, and want conditions to improve.

The royal commission said that just as striking as the shocking findings was the love, dedication and determination of people who are or have been a parent, relative, friend, carer or advocate. We have been left with a great sense of pride in the way most ordinary Australians care for their loved ones and are overwhelmed by their devotion and commitment. This is about the great people who built our country—our parents and grandparents, our most vulnerable and frail citizens. It's about them, not politics. 'People before politics' is what we say on our side.

I agree with the commission's view, as it was my very personal and sometimes confronting experience. I have visited 11 aged-care facilities in Moncrieff since July, and I continue to visit them. The staff I met are dedicated carers. I met Yolanda at Opal Ashmore; Marg and Jodie, along with Linda, a volunteer of 10 years, at Opal Leamington; Karen at Lady Small Haven; Donna at Estia Health; and Alison at HillView—all devoted carers. I met families, including Jane Hely, whose parents, Margaret and John Coker, were unfortunately separated in the Earle Haven event. I met residents themselves, like Vicki, who painted an artwork that now hangs in my office here in Canberra, and 94-year-old Faye, who wears her Camilla dress at Estia Health in Southport. These wonderful people are deeply dedicated to one another.

This is why I'll make a stand now in this place by not facilitating the continuation of political pointscoring in my patch on the central Gold Coast, where the member for Gaven and Senator Watt, since the events that unfolded at Earle Haven on 11 July, have been busy cooking up their schemes to raise their profiles. The good people of Moncrieff see through it, as do I.

I'm using my time to outline an update on what the government is actually doing to improve the lives of our elderly, their families and the workers. The Carnell report has indeed been released, the recommendations have been agreed to and work is well underway to reform the sector. The 2019-20 budgeted amount to go into the aged-care sector is $21.7 billion. The Morrison government's response to the interim report is $537 million—more than half a billion dollars—and it's immediate. There is $496.3 million for an additional 10,000 home care packages, increasing from 60,308 in 2012-13 under Labor to 150,412 in 2019-20 under the Liberal-National government; that's an increase of 149 per cent. There is $25.5 million to improve medication management programs to reduce the use of medication as a chemical restraint on residents in aged care and at home, and there are new restrictions on the use of medication as a chemical restraint. There is $10 million for additional dementia training and support for aged-care workers and providers, including to reduce the use of chemical restraints, and $4.7 million to help meet new targets to remove younger people with disabilities from residential aged care. In line with the long-term directions identified by the royal commission the government will also progress further measures, including the provision of simpler aged-care assessments by creating a single assessment workforce and network and the establishment of a single unified system for care of our elderly in the home.

To finish, I ask all of those opposite to support the changes and the reforms the government is undertaking for the aged in our communities, including all of those in my electorate of Moncrieff. There are so many workers, friends, family and children who take care of their parents day in and day out. They volunteer, look after one another and absolutely adore one another. I ask those opposite to support the reforms that the Morrison government is undertaking in the aged-care sector. I ask for their support. We will improve the lives of so many Queenslanders and Australians across the nation.

11:20 am

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

I rise to speak to the motion moved by the member for Macquarie. I commend her on the motion. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety titled their interim report Neglect. The commissioners chose that word—'neglect'—and it sums up the Morrison government's treatment of vulnerable older Australians. It is nothing short of a disgrace. As deputy chair of the human rights committee, I tabled a majority report, along with a dissenting report, into the government's regulation about physical and chemical restraints in aged-care facilities. The dissenting report was by all the Labor members of the committee and the Greens political party members of the committee. The dissenting report called for the regulation to be disallowed.

The restraint of residents in aged-care facilities is an abhorrent practice. It should be considered only in the most limited of circumstances where all other options have been exhausted and where it is in the best interests of the person being restrained. No-one would want to see vulnerable older Australians being doped up to their eyeballs just for the convenience of the facility or, even worse, so fewer staff are required to provide bigger profits for shareholders. We know that this is happening. We know that there is far too much reliance on chemical restraint in some aged-care facilities. The failed aged-care facility on the Gold Coast, Earle Haven, is reported to have had 70 per cent of its residents under chemical restraint. This was on this government's watch. It's happening, and the Morrison government's responsibility to protect those residents and to make sure that they're being treated safely, appropriately and with the dignity that they deserve is not happening.

The regulation made by the government that commenced operation in July this year—the Quality of Care Amendment (Minimising the Use of Restraints) Principles 2019—was described by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in their interim report as 'adding to, rather than overcoming, concerns regarding regulation of physical and chemical restraint, including on issues of consent'. The majority report by the Liberal members of the human rights committee agreed that there were serious issues with the regulation but did not call for the instrument to be disallowed.

The health minister has now tabled an additional regulation—the Quality of Care Amendment (Reviewing Restraints Principles) Principles 2019. This new instrument changes the wording of a heading, adds a note at the end of a provision and provides for a review after the regulation has been in operation for one year. This new regulation is an apparent attempt to bandaid the haemorrhaging wound created by the original, ill-thought-out instrument. It is not enough. The shambolic and ham-fisted regulation-making is a disgrace.

Australians in residential aged-care facilities are some of our most vulnerable citizens and they require a government that actually cares about their wellbeing, a government that doesn't neglect them. It is clear that this Morrison government doesn't care about older Australians. Embarrassed about the royal commission's interim report, the Morrison government responded by announcing 10,000 home care packages and only 5,500 packages in the first year. What a joke—although it's obviously far from funny if you're one of the 120,000 older Australians who are waiting for home care. There are extra places for 10,000 people, but that is less than the amount of older Australians who died last year while waiting for their home care package. More than 16,000 Australians died while waiting for their home care package that had been approved. That is neglect.

This government seem to think that, as long as they make some announcement, they're doing their job. Well, they're not. In fact, it's far from it. If they were doing their job, they would make sure that all of the 120,000 Australian citizens who are languishing on the waiting list for a home care package are receiving their package now. Remember that these 120,000 older Australians have all been assessed as actually needing a home care package. They should all have their packages and be able to live out their lives in the comfort of their homes with the support that they need—the support that this government promised them they would have.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety's interim report called on the Morrison government to do three things immediately: to provide more home care packages; to respond to the significant overreliance on chemical restraints in aged care; and to stop the flow of younger people with disability going into aged care and expedite the process of getting those younger people who are already in aged care out of those facilities. The government's response to the royal commission's very considered interim report is a joke. They are facilitating continued neglect. Older Australians deserve better than this. We all deserve better than this for our loved ones, for our parents, for our grandparents and for our neighbours; for our citizens that have served our nation for so long. All these people who need home-care packages should be receiving extra support. We need to have safe and dignified care in aged-care facilities, or appropriate care if they are younger people with disability. This is an urgent need and it needs real action now.

Photo of Julian SimmondsJulian Simmonds (Ryan, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Save me from the righteous indignation of the member for Moreton and the Labor members opposite, who have suddenly discovered, virtually overnight they would have us believe, older Australians in our community. The idea that the member for Moreton can stand up in this place and say that the government's announcement of 10,000 new home care packages is a joke—when he and his Labor colleagues went to the last election with how many home care packages? A big fat zero. And that was despite promising $387 billion of extra taxes so they could tax 387 billion extra dollars out of the Australian community, including taxing older Australians with a retiree tax. And how many home care packages could they promise? Zero. The idea that they've suddenly woken up and remembered the older Australians in our community and the need to care for them is a joke—whereas, the Morrison government, time and time again, has shown its dedication to older Australians in our community by making sure that we are having the Aged Care Royal Commission and that we are responding to it.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr Deputy Speaker, the Labor members are up in arms about it because they don't like it being pointed out that at the last election they promised zero new home care packages. We all know why they did it: because they can't manage money. The Labor members cannot manage money, and when you can't manage money, you can't respond to the urgent needs of our community like we have done recently in responding to the interim report on aged care. Our senior Australians have given so much to our nation. They helped to build our community and they're role models for younger generations. So ensuring senior Australians are cared for with dignity and respect is a priority of the Morrison government.

One of the first decisions the Prime Minister made upon taking office was to establish a royal commission into aged care. He knew that we could be confronted with some very difficult stories, and we have been. But, without a full and complete understanding of the issues, we run the risk of doing what previous Labor governments have done: trying to stick a bandaid on things and not tackling the significant change that is required. The aged-care royal commission has shown us that some providers are falling well short of expectations in our community. Australians, rightly, expect safe, high-quality care when it comes to our loved ones, and it is with this in mind that we welcome the interim report from the royal commission. We all have work to do when it comes to fixing these failings: government, aged-care providers and the community, all working together.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that, whilst we focus on the need to improve, this is not a broad brush that should tar all aged-care providers. There are some aged-care providers in my electorate of Ryan who are doing tremendous work in their community, and I'd like to pay tribute to them and all those who work providing aged care to our community.

The royal commission will continue their work and the government will continue to tackle the issues that it unmasks. But, in the meantime, the government has taken significant steps to respond to the interim report. Perhaps the Labor members opposite, including the member for Macquarie who moved this motion, have forgotten the significant investment that the Morrison government has made: a recently announced half a billion dollar investment to take on the findings of the interim report and to provide immediate action.

The $537 million goes towards three things. Firstly, as of yesterday, 1 December, there will be a further 10,000 home care packages rolled out. As I said, this stands in stark contrast with the Labor members opposite, who went to the last election promising a big fat zero. Since the 2018-19 budget the government has invested $2.7 billion in 44,000 new home-care packages. We have also more than doubled the number of home care packages available to a record 150,412 this financial year, up from 60,000 in 2012-13 under Labor. Let me just repeat that: Labor, when it left office, had managed a little over 60,000 home care packages; under this government, it's now over 150,000.

Secondly, we're funding better medication management and more training for those caring for people with dementia. Funding for medication management programs will be increased by $25 million— (Time expired)

11:30 am

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

The Interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety describes the current state of Australia's aged-care service as 'a cruel lottery in which some people die before they ever find out if they have in fact won'. What a shocking statement from the royal commission. While this statement applies to both residential aged-care services and in-home care, the greatest need clearly lies with those who find themselves waiting for a home care package in the government's own form of purgatory: the national prioritisation queue.

The queue is a waiting list for individuals who have been assessed for a home care package but are yet to receive a package at their assessed level—or indeed any package at all. The waitlist figures are released quarterly. As at 30 June 2019, there were just shy of 120,000 people on the waitlist. While I appreciate the government has recently announced another 10,000 places, we have 120,000 elderly, vulnerable Australians waiting for care at home—dying while they're waiting for care.

While the Commonwealth home support package is providing at least basic supports to 96 per cent of individuals on the waitlist, this is a poor substitute for the care required by many older Australians. The approximately 120,000 people waiting on the prioritisation queue face a lengthy wait. According to the department's quarterly report of the Home Care Packages Program, individuals assessed at a level 1 package can expect to wait approximately three to six months for an interim package and a further three to six months for their final package. For those assessed as requiring a level 4 package, the individual can expect to wait 12 months for an interim level 2 package, and at least another 12 months for a level 4 package. That's effectively two years for the package that they were assessed as needing—not wanting; needing.

The royal commission noted in its interim report that those who are in greatest need must wait the longest. The situation worsens when consideration is given to the home care package data produced by the department to the royal commission, as these figures provide a more accurate representation of home care package waiting times than those disclosed to the public. While the publicly available data shows the wait time for a level 4 package to be in the vague vicinity of 12 months plus, the meaningful waiting time was actually 22 months, and it's unlikely that the average waiting time would have decreased in 2019. This uncertainty has a huge impact on older Australians. The royal commission heard evidence of avoidable hospital admissions, high risk of mortality, early admissions to residential aged care and a detrimental impact on the health and finances of family carers.

One of my own constituents spent over 18 months waiting for an approved level 2 package. During that time his health slowly deteriorated and he was no longer able to dress, feed or bathe himself. He received no supports, and his elderly wife struggled to meet his everyday care needs. When I raised this matter with the minister, I was advised my constituent would remain on the national waitlist as a medium priority with an approximate wait time of three to six months. Five months later, my constituent is still waiting. Regarding the challenges faced by his elderly wife, she can call the helpline or she can visit the Carer Gateway—the website—and try and seek further resources. This is unacceptable. It's not like we can say we don't know—because we do know. These are the most vulnerable people in Australia. They have worked all their life; they have worked so hard. As one gentleman said to me, 'I'm in my 90s, Rebekha—if I can't get a package, who can?' And what do we have ahead of this? We have the surplus: 'We need to have a surplus.' We have a government who is ensuring that we have a surplus, but they're doing it on the back of elderly people and they're doing it on the back of people with a disability. We are doing this on the back of our most vulnerable Australians. In my community, I know we want this money to go to people who need a package—who need help showering, who need help getting dressed. It's not that hard. It's a question of priorities, it's a question of values, and I think the values here are skewed and they need to change.

11:35 am

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the member for Macquarie's motion and to inform her of the swift action taken by the Morrison government in response to the Interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. A society is measured by how it cares for its most vulnerable. The aged-care royal commission interim report highlighted that Australia needs to do better to respond to our rapidly ageing population and its impact on aged-care services. We are not shying away from our responsibility as a government or as a society for ensuring our elderly are well looked after and respected, with our swift and immediate response to the royal commission's interim report.

The royal commission identified three major areas that need urgent action. The first is to increase the number of home care packages. The home care package is one of the best ways we can help older Australians struggling with age-related issues to stay at home longer. This is what older Australians—including those in Higgins—want, have asked for and deserve. To deal with the triple complexity of people living longer, with more chronic health conditions, and wanting to stay in their homes longer, the Morrison government has committed $496 million for an additional 10,000 home care packages. These packages will focus on the high-level care packages, levels 3 and 4, which provide the highest levels of support for those most in need. These changes will ease the wait time for home care packages, meaning older Australians will receive the care they need when they need it, giving their family members peace of mind.

The royal commission also identified an overreliance on chemical restraint in aged care. $25 million will be allocated to improve medical management programs and to introduce safeguards and restrictions on the overprescribing of antipsychotics and benzodiazepines for aged-care patients. The government is seeking to reduce the incidence of repeat prescriptions of chemical restraints by providing an additional $10 million to increase dementia training and support for aged-care workers.

The prevalence of younger people being placed in residential aged care is too high. Currently there are approximately 5,600 young people living in aged care. Many aged-care facilities are not designed to meet the needs of young people living with a disability. Young people placed in aged care are isolated from people of their own age, are unable to participate in age-appropriate activities and are being cared for by people not specifically trained in helping young people living with a severe disability. This occurrence can be very distressing, not only for younger clients but also for their family, who already feel the burden and guilt of not being able to look after their loved ones at home. In response to the royal commission, the government has set incremental targets that will see no person under the age of 65 living in residential aged care by 2025. It will take time to build the infrastructure and resources to do this, but we are committed.

Often the transition into aged care or into not living entirely independently is a distressing time for those in need and they need to have a little bit of help. Streamlining the process will mean older Australians are connected to care sooner. This will reduce inefficiencies and end the never-ending assessments for programs from multiple organisations by creating a single assessment workforce.

Every Australian has the right to age well and with dignity. Our older generations have fought to defend our democracy and worked hard to build the Australia we see today, and they contribute an immeasurable amount to their community. It is up to the next generation—and our government—to ensure older Australians are well cared-for and live out their days comfortably. We all want to age well. After all, it's better than the alternative.

11:40 am

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

The aged-care royal commission has been doing very important work, and I was surprised by the government's response to the aged-care royal commission's interim report when it announced it last Monday. The interim report made three specific urgent recommendations to government: (1) fix the home care wait list; (2) reduce chemical and physical restraints; and (3) get young people out of aged-care facilities. I was really shocked. I was expecting the government to have actually done its homework. It has, after all, had all the data and all the information it needed to respond to the home care wait list.

When you've got 120,000 older Australians waiting on a wait list, and when the government has called a royal commission and said it's going to implement any recommendations of the royal commission, you would have thought that, when the royal commissioners said it was 'neglect' not to provide more home care, the government could have done better than 10,000 packages, when 120,000 older Australians are waiting. Sixteen thousand of them died in just one year whilst waiting for their home care package. Another 14,000 in just one year went into residential care when they wanted to stay at home, and most of them probably could have stayed at home if they'd got the home care package that they had been assessed for and been approved for but could not get under this government. The fact that people are waiting 22 months on average for a level 4 package says it all about this government's priorities. When you call a royal commission, when you say you're going to respond and when your commissioners say it's neglect, what do you do? In the first year, you fund 5,000 packages, when 120,000 older Australians are waiting. It is simply not good enough from the government.

It is not only Labor saying that. I am going to quote from Leading Age Services Australia, who said:

… with 120,000 people currently on the queue, many others will be left disappointed in the lead up to Christmas.

Indeed, LASA called it 'a missed opportunity'. Aged and Community Services Australia, ACSA, has said:

… with approximately 120,000 people waiting for a package, this will not even touch the sides of demand …

National Seniors Australia said:

… the government's response to the Royal Commission is just not sufficient.

It said:

The government's response to fund an extra 10,000 places is less than the number of people who died last year waiting for a package … The Royal Commission into Aged Care was told that 16,000 people died in one year waiting for a package and the government's funding announcement barely addresses ten per cent of the current waiting list.

Indeed, I understand only 5,500 packages are available in the first year and that they're being made available from today, when 120,000 people are waiting. What does that say to the other 110,000 or 115,000 people waiting on this queue?

But it is not only that. There have been some interesting revelations in the media today about the former minister for aged care's office and how it functioned. The important point about that is about the data and transparency that was not there from the previous minister. The current wait list for home care is overdue. This government, somewhere, has the list of how many people are waiting today for home care from the last quarter, and we don't know what it is, and the government hasn't yet released it.

But it is not only that. We were promised in estimates that we would get the number of people that died last financial year waiting for their home care package, and we don't have that figure either. The figure of 16,000 that everybody refers to is for the 2017-18 year. How many people died waiting in 2018-19? We don't know, because this government won't tell us. We have been trying for the last two weeks. We have asked questions in estimates, and we have asked a question in Senate question time, trying to find out how many people died last financial year. The government knows, and the government is not telling.

Where is the transparency from this government? Why will it not tell the Australian public what is happening in aged care in Australia today? Is it because they don't want to have those figures available for the royal commissioners? Is it because they're embarrassed by their response to the royal commission's interim report? Well, they should be embarrassed. They should be ashamed. All of them come in here and talk about how great they are with older Australians and what a great response it was. It is simply not true, and it's not just Labor saying that; it is the entire community. People are devastated. When I talk to people who are currently in that queue and are being told it's not going to make any difference to how long they have to wait for a home care package, it just goes to show what a sham this government is. It's not good enough. They can and should do better.

11:45 am

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll get to the remarks of the shadow minister later in my comments. I'd first like to thank the member for Macquarie for bringing this motion to the House, because it gives me an opportunity to speak about something that I think all of us across the Chamber recognise as vitally important.

Ms Collins interjecting

I've allowed you to make your comments in silence and I'd ask that you do the same.

I do note, with deep sadness and disappointment, the revelations that have come out of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and its interim report, and the many stories that we have heard over the course of the royal commission. It's fair to say that the state of our aged-care sector is grim in many respects. It has systematically failed to support and protect our loved ones living in care. I think we should all be enormously disappointed by what has been uncovered in terms of the culture of abuse and neglect across the aged-care industry. We've seen a system that is overburdened—broken, it's fair to say—and certainly in need of a great deal of repair. But I'll also speak up for those organisations in the aged-care sector in my electorate of Forde and, I'm sure, right across the country who do an outstanding job each and every day. We shouldn't forget that those organisations also exist.

We have seen from the royal commission a reliance—in many cases an overreliance—on chemical restraints and other methods that are extraordinarily poor in terms of looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our country. It is a sad indictment on where the system has got to. Equally, we see a system—and I have had this discussion over my many years in this place—where younger people with disabilities are pushed into aged care regardless of their needs or desires. The interim report makes clear that as a country—as governments of all political persuasions, the aged-care sector and the entire Australian community—we can and must do better to support and protect our older Australians.

In establishing the royal commission, which was one of his first actions in becoming Prime Minister, the Prime Minister focused on dealing with the many stories that we have heard over the years. The Oakden events in South Australia were a particularly egregious case. We are committed, through this process, to righting the wrongs and ensuring that we can support older Australians to get the help, protection and support they deserve in their older years. That's why we're delivering a $537 million funding package, which includes $496 million to immediately release an additional 10,000 home care packages for those with the highest need, to reduce waiting times and connect people with the care they need sooner. Is 10,000 enough? Do we need to do more? No, it is not enough, and, yes, we need to do more. We all recognise that. I don't think there's anybody in this place who doesn't recognise that. And, as some of the revelations from the royal commission have been about chemical restraint, as I've just touched on, we're investing another $25½ million to overhaul medication management programs in the aged-care sector to stop the unnecessary use of chemical restraint on aged-care residents in facilities and at home.

I want to finish by reflecting on the shadow minister's comments. Those opposite provided no additional funding and made no additional commitments in their election campaign. All they do, again, is talk; they never have a solution. (Time expired)

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for the debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the date will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.