Monday, 24 February 2020
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) Aged Care Assessment Teams (ACAT) are teams of medical professionals which run clinical and psychological checks on older Australians who have applied for home or residential aged care;
(b) based in hospitals across the country, ACAT are ultimately responsible for assessing which older Australians should receive government-funded care;
(c) teams usually include a nurse, plus another healthcare worker such as a physiotherapist, occupational therapist or social worker;
(d) the Government has announced that it will privatise the ACAT workforce from April 2021, when a tender will be put out for organisations to deliver this vital assessment; and
(e) on 14 January 2020 the Chair of the Royal Commission into Aged Care, Mr Gaetano Pagone QC, issued a statement saying the Royal Commission's interim report 'did not endorse the Government's stated position' on privatising the ACAT;
(2) supports the retention of ACAT as a publicly provided service;
(3) commends the Health Services Union, United Workers Unions and Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation for their continued advocacy on behalf of working people in healthcare across Australia, and particularly in the aged care sector; and
(4) condemns the Government for its continued failings across aged care policy.
At the end of last year, the deeply troubling interim report of the aged-care royal commission was delivered and the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck, announced the government's plan to privatise aged-care assessments. At the time, the minister claimed this plan was supported by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Of course, this isn't true. Indeed, we heard the member for Monash earlier calling out this lie in this chamber. It led to a humiliating rebuke of the government in the form of an official statement from the commission chair, the Hon. Mr Pagone QC. The statement read:
Public concern has been expressed about statements made by the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians that we had decided to support the privatisation of the Aged Care Assessment Teams in our Interim Report. I take this opportunity to make clear that the Interim Report did not endorse the Government's stated position …
This is, quite frankly, an extraordinary move for the commissioner to make. It indicates how misleading the minister's claim was and how questionable his proposal is.
Aged-care assessment teams are a core feature of aged care in this country. They are the first interaction that older Australians have with the aged-care system and a critical first step in getting a home care package or moving into residential aged care. They are the ultimate arbiters of what older Australians need and they are responsible for determining what sort of government-funded care is available.
There are many arguments that the process could be improved. Sure, we can streamline the process and improve the assessments, but this in no way supports privatisation. There are important roles which are filled by qualified people who know what they're doing. Why would private companies be able to do it better, especially given that they have to make a profit as well as deliver a service?
When the two conflict, as they inevitably will, can we be sure that service standards and older Australians' interests will prevail? It is no secret that the Liberals are obsessed with privatisation. There is not a public enterprise they wouldn't sell off if they thought there was a buyer. It's equally common knowledge that privatisation has not delivered. Aged care is far too important to entrust to this sort of experiment.
I commend the Health Services Union, the United Workers Union and the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation for their continued advocacy on behalf of people working in healthcare across Australia and particularly the aged-care sector. I know there are many people in these unions who are gravely concerned about what this will mean for the workforce and for the quality of services. Indeed, I have met with some in my own electorate. They told me that no private provider would be capable of offering the breadth of skills to assess the complex needs of hundreds of thousands of older Australians. They shared their fears that the more expensive parts of the service would be shut down or indeed pushed back onto governments. They warned of the very legitimate risk of conflict of interest if companies that are running the nursing homes are also given permission to conduct the assessments.
Who can blame them for questioning this government and its plans, given its track record on aged care so far? The Liberals have mismanaged and underfunded aged care for six years. We've seen four different ministers and billions of dollars ripped out of the system. We've seen appalling cases of abuse and neglect. Most distressingly, we've seen 30,000 older Australians pass away whilst waiting for a home care package in just the last two years. Make no mistake: our aged care system is in crisis. But the answer is not to privatise ACAT. Even the New South Wales health minister, Minister Brad Hazzard, has called out this half-baked plan, saying:
It seems pre-emptive and unreasonable to be effectively privatising health aged-care services while the royal commission into aged care is still under way.
Australia already has a network of experienced, qualified and highly trained workers delivering aged-care assessments across the country. The government should focus on fixing the diabolical problems in aged care, not selling off these vital services to the highest bidder.
I rise to speak on the motion regarding aged care and I welcome this opportunity to correct the record. The motion states in subparagraph (1)(d):
the Government has announced that it will privatise the ACAT workforce from April 2021, when a tender will be put out for organisations to deliver this vital assessment;
This government has consistently refuted the proposition that our intention is to privatise the assessment process for aged care. That assessment is incorrect—period. The intention is to undertake a tender, and this intention has been public for more than a year, with state and territory officials consulted on a number of occasions. Importantly, states and territories will be able to tender to provide the integrated assessment services.
The Commonwealth does not directly provide assessments. It has always managed assessments through various forms of contracts or agreements with either the states and territories or community based organisations. So what is actually changing? New aged-care assessment arrangements will provide streamlined consumer assessments for access to aged-care services from April 2021. Improved processes will mean that older Australians can get the care they need sooner. The new arrangement will address the current problem of too many people waiting too long for an aged-care assessment. As at 31 December last year, 591 people had waited over 75 days. Under the new arrangements, a single assessment workforce and a network of assessment organisations will assess eligibility for access to all government funded aged-care services. The new single assessment workforce will replace the two current assessment workforces: the Regional Assessment Service, or RAS; and the Aged Care Assessment Teams, or ACATs.
The new arrangements will provide a simpler, more convenient pathway to My Aged Care and a greater focus on reablement and linking support. These integrations are direct responses to recommendations that members on both sides of this House should be well aware of—namely, recommendation 27 of the Tune review, which was that government integrate RAS and ACAT, and the royal commission interim report, which said that this integration needs to be progressed urgently. Far from the privatisation of a public service, this plan streamlines the delivery of government services to senior Australians as recommended by expert reviews. Assertions to the contrary are false, plain and simple, and pair exceptionally well with the Labor Party's unbridled hypocrisy on this issue.
Despite Labor's plans for $387 billion in new taxes at the last election, including a retirees tax, Labor provided neither additional funding in their costings for home care places nor any additional funding for aged-care quality, workforce or mainstream residential aged care. The opposition would have senior Australians believe that our response to the interim report of the royal commission is, in some way, cold and callous. As always, the truth is quite the opposite. I would like to read a few of the things that the Prime Minister said when he was handed the interim report:
Today we have been handed the Interim Report. As warned, it's shocking, disturbing & heartbreaking.
We must establish a new culture of respect for senior Australians.
There is much to do both immediately & for the longer term. There are no easy solutions & we will apply ourselves totally.
This is all about the people we love & cherish. All older Australians should get the same care, support & dignity we would expect for our own families.
What you say matters, and the culture of fear and intimidation spread by the opposition through to our senior Australians is not lost on any of us. Labor's deceit shows they really don't understand the aged-care sector and want to score political points rather than implement genuine solutions. As Liberals and Nationals, we understand, and we understood, that more was needed. We launched the royal commission, and we are delivering better serves and reforms based on a deep care and respect for older Australians. I commend the government for its actions thus far and also extend my appreciation to the former Minister for Aged Care, the Hon. Ken Wyatt AM MP, who instituted this commission in the first place.
I obviously rise in support of this motion, but I am astounded by the contribution of the member who just spoke. What a load of rot. Seriously! All it was was more and more spin from a government that is not doing anything to fix the aged-care crisis in Australia today. The truth of the matter is they only called a royal commission because they thought Labor was going to call one in the lead up to the election and because of the ABC Four Corners stories. Prior to that, the minister said it was elder abuse to suggest that a royal commission was necessary. That is the truth of what actually occurred around the calling of the royal commission.
If the government is so proud of the ACAT services, why did it just pop them up on its website on 23 December saying, 'New aged-care assessment arrangements will provide streamlined consumer assessment for access to aged-care services from April 2021'? That was actually the government's announcement: a little statement from the Department of Health on 23 December. The reason the government didn't want to crow about this is they know that the over a thousand workers around the country who are currently delivering ACAT services, the aged-care assessment services, are highly trained, well-qualified people who know what they're doing when it comes to having these assessments of older Australians. They also know that the states and territories have these ACAT teams sometimes based in hospitals to ensure that older Australians who are in hospital can get an assessment to try and get them some services so that they can actually leave the hospital. That's what the hospital based Aged Care Assessment Teams do.
This decision by the government has been criticised by everybody. We heard from the previous speaker and we heard from the minister this touting out that the royal commission interim report said that this is what the government should do and/or that David Tune, in the Tune report, the legislated review, said that this is what the government should do. That is simply not true. It is absolutely not true. David Tune called for a streamlining of the Regional Assessment Service and the ACAT service. The government can do that without privatising the ACAT teams.
There was no discussion with the states and territories who deliver the ACAT services prior to the government putting this little statement up on its website. It's an absolute disgrace. The workers and the trained, qualified people who are delivering these services today deserve better. Older Australians, their families and their loved ones deserve better than this government putting up that little note a few days before Christmas and trying to pretend that somehow it was a recommendation, when it clearly was not. Indeed, the royal commissioners had to slap down the minister when he tried to make this claim.
The workers who deliver these services—we're talking about registered nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists—are trained people, highly skilled, doing these assessments. If they are streamlined and outsourced, what guarantee do we have that people will have the appropriate qualifications to do these assessments? Are they going to be based on the current Regional Assessment Service, the RAS? The qualification for making those assessments, because they are for the entry-level Commonwealth Home Support Program, is just a certificate II in aged care. There's a big difference between a certificate II and an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist or a registered nurse—a very big difference in qualification and skill mix.
The government needs to come clean on why it is doing this. It needs to guarantee that the qualifications of the service are still there. It should abandon its privatisation plans altogether, in our view. If not, it needs to guarantee that these workers, the qualified workers who are currently doing these assessments, are able to remain in these positions, because the states and territories need them where they are to do these assessments, to get older Australians who are currently in hospital out of hospital and going home with appropriate care. They need these services to ensure that older Australians get the assessments they need, when they need them.
We already know this government has said, 'We can't do all this stuff till after the royal commission.' But apparently they can privatise the ACAT. They can't fix all the other things like the over 100,000 people waiting for home care. They can't fix bringing together the Commonwealth Home Support Program and the home care packages. They can't do a whole range of things, they claim, until they get the recommendations of the royal commission, due in November. But they can do this, even though the royal commission has said, 'Don't do this, because we'll make a recommendation about what we think the government should do in relation to aged-care assessment teams.' The government should abandon its plans to privatise the ACAT and wait for the royal commission.
I'm pleased to stand here today to speak on this motion because it gives me a chance not only to dispel the total furphy that the member for Newcastle seeks to spread in this place, and that the previous Labor speakers sought to spread, but to talk about our genuine, certain, costed plan to improve the aged-care sector. I want to cut through, once again, what was just plain posturing from the Labor members and what we just heard from the Labor member opposite—politics before people. We see it time and time again from the Labor members opposite.
An opposition member interjecting—
They laugh because, to them, it's all just a game. For the Labor members, it's all just a political game. But we are about making sure that our aged Australians are getting the care that they need. Improving aged care and ensuring senior Australians are cared for with dignity and respect is what this side of the chamber is all about. One of the first decisions of the Prime Minister was to establish the royal commission into aged care. He knew that we would be confronted by some very difficult stories, but, without having a full and complete understanding of the issues, we would have run the risk that previous governments have run, where they offer only a bandaid fix and not the significant change that this government is undertaking. Off the back of the royal commission, we have continued to make improvements in relation to aged care, including a new independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, and we have implemented new consumer focused quality standards and introduced a new single Charter of Aged Care Rights.
On this issue of the ACAT assessments, Labor and their union mates have deliberately sought to misrepresent the facts of this matter. I wish I were surprised. Unfortunately it is the case over and over again with Labor members. The government have never stated that we are privatising aged-care assessments. This is a total falsehood. The facts are that the government supports the recommendations from various independent reviews to create a single integrated ACAT and RAS assessment workforce in aged care. This will mean a single assessment workforce that will assess eligibility for access to all aged-care services. It will remove duplication, meaning older Australians can get more timely, consistent and high-quality assessments.
On this side of the House, we are about finding genuine solutions for our aged-care sector that improve the lives of older Australians. We are delivering a record investment across the aged-care system, from $13.3 billion in 2012-13, growing to $21.4 billion in 2019-20, up to an estimated $25.4 billion in 2022-23. That is a costed real investment that will improve the lives of older Australians.
We know that senior Australians want to live in their own homes for longer. We have listened, and we are supporting them to do so. In the 2018-19 budget, the government has invested in providing 44,000 new home-care packages, at a cost of $2.7 billion. Again, we are not posturing; it is not the debating club that the Labor members opposite are trying to foster; it is real outcomes for Australians on the ground. We are delivering a record investment in aged care, more home-care packages, new aged-care quality standards and a more streamlined assessment process, creating a better overall experience.
The hypocrisy of Labor in suggesting that this government is failing older Australians is absolutely baffling. It was only prior to the last election that Labor had no additional funding for home-care places, zero—not a single home-care place did Labor go to the election to fund. Labor standing here criticising this government, which is delivering more home-care places for older Australians, just goes to show that the hypocrisy of those opposite simply knows no bounds. The Labor Party went to the last election committing to no additional funding to improve aged-care quality. Instead, they wanted to slug older Australians with $387 billion worth of new taxes, including the famous retiree tax. They were happy to reach into the pockets of older Australians who had already made investment decisions for their retirement but weren't willing to reinvest it in the home care of our older Australians. Sadly, this is what we expect from the Labor members opposite. That's why this government is committed to making sure we have better outcomes for our ageing Australians.
I rise to speak on the motion put forward by the member for Newcastle. I thank her for drawing attention to this issue. We have heard the same tired old speaking notes from those on the other side of the room forever, and they must be getting so embarrassed having to repeat them over and over again. Why don't they use this one: how good is ruining the one part of the aged-care system that is working well? How good is it? The decision to privatise the Aged Care Assessment Team is a decision no-one asked for and no-one wants. And it is actually open to the private sector. The member for Franklin just showed me a direct quote from the minister himself.
The government's obsession with privatisation means they are blinded by the effect this will have on the health system. Experts argue that no private providers can offer the expertise to adequately assess the complex needs of hundreds of thousands of elderly Australians. In an article published in The Saturday Paper on 2 November 2019, a senior member of ACAT said they have 'no confidence a lesser skilled privatised workforce will deliver the quality in assessments required'. Does the government expect us to believe that for-profit companies won't prioritise profit over quality assessments? They won't result in poorly trained assessors who inadequately assess complex needs?
The state-employed ACAT workers are exactly the right people to be doing clinical assessments. This government does not care that their move to privatise may see 1,000 dedicated ACAT workers lose their jobs. Labor will always back our nurses, doctors and social workers. The same cannot be said for those who sit opposite.
I also want to give a big shout-out to the Health Services Union, the United Workers Union and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation for their continued advocacy on behalf of working people in health care across Australia, particularly in the aged-care sector.
As the shadow assistant minister for aged care, I hear many stories of how broken our aged-care system is, and the shadow minister for ageing and seniors has told us time and time again that ACAT is the only part of the aged-care system that is not broken. In fact, ACAT has been demonstrably successful. The first interaction the elderly have with the aged-care system is through an aged-care assessment team, an ACAT. The assessment takes place following a decline in health due to ageing. A well-qualified and well-trained, employed workforce of nurses, allied health workers and geriatricians provides an assessment and ensures the appropriate level of support. It's the first step to getting a home care package or entering a residential aged-care facility. Each year more than 170,000 older Australians and their families access the care they need, and most report it to be a professional process that provides guidance and care during a very hard time.
So why is the Morrison government hell-bent on privatising a good service? It's certainly not because the royal commission suggested it. In fact, like his boss, who is loose with the truth, the aged-care minister, Senator Colbeck, falsely claimed that the aged care royal commission supported the privatisation of aged-care assessment services. The royal commission had to issue a firm rebuke, noting the commission's interim report did not endorse the government's stated position. Is it because the states thought that ACAT might work better if it were privatised; is that why he's doing it? Absolutely not. Embarrassingly for the Morrison government, the Liberal health minister in New South Wales has come out and said:
NSW has major concerns … It seems pre-emptive and unreasonable to be effectively privatising health aged-care services while the royal commission into aged care is still under way.
So why is the Morrison government doing this? There are some clues in Rick Morton's article in The Saturday Paper, which suggests that by privatising the assessment process the government can manipulate waiting lists for aged-care services and reduce the level of care offered to people in their homes. The article says:
A senior doctor and member of a current ACAT service told The Saturday Paper the new arrangements are likely to be an "accounting trick" that can "magic the numbers". The doctor believed the government would put fewer people in the high-care category …
It is one of the most sinister things I have ever seen a government do. We know this government has a huge problem with waiting lists for home care packages, with 110,000 people waiting. But, rather than funding more packages, they're going to change the eligibility for aged-care support to put downward pressure on their waiting lists. More people will go without care; it's just that they won't be counted on a list. It's sinister. It's dodgy. It's so typical of this government, which thinks it can spin its way out of everything. I'm truly gobsmacked at how awful they are. Let me say to those who sit opposite: any gloss and sheen you had from the election has worn off. Australians are seeing you for what you really are: sneaky, mean and arrogant.
My father turned 92 years old yesterday. I went and celebrated his birthday with him. He's actually in Wolper hospital at the moment, which is in my electorate. Like many, he has been a beneficiary of our aged-care system, and, like many of us here, I suspect, I'm familiar with the system through my interactions in looking after an ageing parent.
Truly, I think a measure of our decency as a society is how we look after our elderly and ensure they can continue to live lives of meaning, dignity and purpose, even when physical and mental frailties take hold. In Australia we have about 1.3 million people accessing some form of aged care, and this number is only going to increase over time. This is why improving aged care for senior Australians is a very high priority for this government, as it should be. It's why one of the first acts of Scott Morrison as Prime Minister was to call a royal commission into aged care quality and safety. This royal commission has uncovered some troubling concerns in this sector, which it highlighted in its October 2019 interim report, including the management of dementia patients, the prevalence of young people in inappropriate residential aged-care facilities, the use of chemical and physical restraints, and the shortage of home care packages. The royal commission's interim report is clear: as a country, we—the government, the aged-care sector and the entire Australian community—can and must do better in providing improved support for our older Australians.
In response to the royal commission's interim report, the government announced a $537 million funding package across the three priority areas, including investing almost $500 million for an additional 10,000 home-care packages. The additional 10,000 home-care packages will be focused on the royal commission's identified areas of need and are strongly weighted towards level 3 and level 4 packages, which provide a high level of care. These additional 10,000 packages have been rolled out since December last year. Since the 2018-19 budget, the government has invested $2.7 billion in 44,000 new home-care packages. We've more than doubled the number of home-care packages available, to a record 150,000 this financial year. Undoubtedly there is still more work to be done to ensure older Australians have the choice to stay in their homes for longer, but these are important steps.
Part of the challenge is to ensure a better and less traumatic experience for older Australians entering aged care, and it is for this reason that we are seeking to create a single assessment workforce that will assess eligibility for access to all aged-care services. David Tune said in his review:
or regional assessment service and aged care assessment team—
assessment workforces and systems into an integrated assessment workforce.
The royal commission noted in its interim report: 'The royal commission considers that this integration needs to be progressed urgently.' The government intends to implement this recommendation and integrate the two assessment workforces. This was announced in the 2018-19 budget. The new system will support greater flexibility in the assessment process by avoiding the need to schedule second assessments and by providing simpler and more-convenient options for clients to enter My Aged Care, including through GP referral and online self-service. This will help people to be connected to care sooner, reduce duplication and inefficiencies and stop a revolving door of assessments where vulnerable older people get sent to multiple organisations, depending on the programs for which they are eligible.
The intention to undertake a tender has been public for more than a year, with state and territory officials consulted on a number of occasions. States and territories will be able to tender and provide the integrated assessment services, just as they do now. As you would know, Deputy Speaker Gillespie, the Commonwealth does not directly provide assessments. It has always managed assessments through various forms of contracts or agreements with the states, territories or community based organisations.
What all this is about is improving the experience and lessening the stress and trauma for older Australians and helping to ensure older Australians can access the services they need sooner. This should be a goal that we can all get behind.
There is a well-known saying: if it ain't broke don't fix it. So what is this government doing? It's taking one of the few parts of the aged-care system that is working and was not the subject of adverse findings by the royal commission and is 'fixing it' by privatising it. This plan to privatise ACAT assessment services is not supported by the aged-care sector, by state health ministers or by the royal commissioner. ACAT is a professional workforce of almost a thousand people across Australia—registered nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, physiotherapists, geriatricians—who are qualified and experienced and capable of doing proper assessments of the type of care older Australians need. What are those opposite going to do? They're going to privatise these assessments. What could possibly go wrong?
This proposal will only hurt older Australians, their families and those who love them. Rather than improving the process, it is more likely to cause disruption, anxiety and more delays. Rather than improving the process, it is more likely to result in a tick-and-flick approach to assessments that require experienced, capable and professional people. These are assessments that need time, experience and empathy to understand the person, their circumstances and their particular needs. We will not sit by while this government tries to privatise a workforce of at least a thousand qualified and experienced professionals such as the many people I worked with when I worked at Wyong hospital for almost 10 years.
The ACAT model is well respected across the health and aged-care sectors and, most importantly, it is trusted by older Australians, their families and those who love them. These are people like Therese, of Wyong. Therese's husband, Peter, lived with Parkinson's disease for 27 years. She was his full-time carer for over 15 years. Sadly, Peter passed away six months ago. Therese told me:
ACAT was a great support and helped to give Peter access to the best of care including occupational therapy and hydrotherapy. ACAT also assisted to get him a wheelchair.
Therese believes that ACAT would be ruined if it fell into the hands of private operators, and these concerns are shared by many. When the federal was minister was questioned about the privatisation of ACAT, he said, 'The royal commission supports us.' But this just isn't true. The aged-care royal commissioner had to intervene and say: 'The royal commission has not at all considered what should happen to the Aged Care Assessment Teams.' The minister was not telling the truth. The government says that they can't do anything about aged care because of the royal commission and then, at the same time, they try to privatise the Aged Care Assessment Teams.
This decision has been questioned by the states and territories. New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard said the decision was not raised with him at a meeting of state ministers and nor by federal health minister Greg Hunt or by aged-care minister Richard Colbeck. This is what Minister Hazzard had to say:
New South Wales has major concerns. It seems pre-emptive and unreasonable to be effectively privatising health aged-care services while the royal commission into aged care is still underway. Not a lot of logic there.
The Aged Care Assessment Teams, as I and others have mentioned, are one part of the aged-care system that hasn't been widely criticised during the royal commission.
So what's this government's great plan to address the urgent problems within aged care and to restore confidence and certainty for older Australians and their families? 'We'll privatise that bit. We'll try to save a bit of money over here.' Not only that, who is going to provide these assessments? Will they be the organisations that do the assessments? Will they then go out and provide the care, or tender for the care? Brad Hazzard, the minister, said:
It would worry me if a private company had accountability that went beyond the pure interest of the elderly person.
Who would that private company be accountable to? To their shareholders and to their bottom line—not to the vulnerable older person and their family who need care.
The government needs to act on aged care and the government needs to do something today, particularly about home care. The interim report of the royal commission highlighted urgent actions the government could and should take rather than privatising ACAT. The government could provide more home care packages to decrease the waiting list. Shockingly, we heard that 30,000 people have died while waiting for home care and more than 25,000 older Australians ended up in residential care sooner than they wanted to. On the coast, the number of people waiting grows year on year. Either this government doesn't get it or it just doesn't care.
I welcome any opportunity to rise and speak about this government's record of delivering for senior Australians. Improving aged care for all senior Australians has been and will continue to be one of the government's key priorities. This is why one of Prime Minister Morrison's first acts as Prime Minister was to call the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. This government's ongoing commitment to older Australians is exactly why we are delivering record investment across the aged-care system from $13.3 billion in 2012-13 growing to $21.4 billion in 2019-20 and up to an estimated $25.4 billion in 2022-23.
As a government, we want to see senior Australians living in their own homes longer. The coalition government will provide the necessary support to make this happen. We will increase home care packages from $60,308 under Labor in 2012-13 to $158,030 in 2022-23. This is an increase of over 160 per cent. Unlike Labor, the coalition government knows how to manage the economy, and we all know that without strong economic management none of these funding increases would be possible. The government continues to make key reforms as the royal commission progresses, as we said we would, including establishing a new independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, and a new single charter of aged care rights is now in place.
Senior Australians know that, when it comes to aged care, Labor cannot be trusted. Labor went to the last election promising $387 billion in new taxes. This included the retiree tax, designed to hurt senior Australians. What is worse is that, with all these new taxes, Labor provided no additional funding in their costings for home-care places or indeed any additional funding for aged-care quality or for the workforce of mainstream residential aged care. This just shows the hypocrisy of Labor when it comes to aged care. The only time Labor cares about our older Australians is when they are trying to reach into their wallets and slug them with new taxes.
Labor have some serious questions to answer because as a party they have failed. They have failed to provide a single aged-care policy alternative. Labor's policy on aged care is missing. They keep telling us they will release something later. Senior Australians are an afterthought to the Australian Labor Party. The coalition is interested in making a difference, while our opponents want to play cheap political games.
The coalition government has much to be proud of when it comes to looking after senior Australians. This government announced a funding package of $537 million, which it began rolling out December last year. This package includes $496.3 million for an additional 10,000 home-care packages for those with the highest needs. This government's actions will reduce wait times and connect people to care sooner. The Morrison government is committed to creating a better experience for senior Australians entering aged care. That is our focus. We will deliver on streamlining assessments to make sure senior Australians get the care they need. It is the coalition government that looks after senior Australians, not Labor.
Aged care assessment teams are known as ACATs and they are teams of medical professionals who work alongside the Regional Assessment Service. They work out of our hospitals and they expertly assess the level of care required by individual elderly Australians. These teams are ultimately responsible for assessing who should receive government funded care and at what level. There are 80 of these care teams across Australia. They are physiotherapists, nurses, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists.
But in late December last year the government quietly announced it will amalgamate the ACAT and RAS workforce from April 2021, with a tender to be put out for organisations to deliver the combined assessment service rather than state health professionals and that should be an issue that should concern every single Australian.
This decision appears to have caught the state health ministers unaware, with the Victorian and Queensland ministers expressing concern at the rushed privatisation, while the New South Wales health minister, a Liberal, Mr Brad Hazzard, went so far as to say that it lacked logic. Meanwhile the chair of the royal commission into aged care, Mr Pagone QC, took the unusual step of issuing a statement on behalf of the royal commission to confirm that the interim report did not endorse the government's stated position on privatising the aged care assessment teams.
I would like to say that we have heard from government that they can't move on aged care until we actually have the findings of the royal commission but privatisation—don't worry about what the commission says; don't even worry about waiting for the commission to finish; let's go gung-ho and privatise—is a detrimental step. Health experts have argued that private providers are unable to offer the expertise to adequately assess the complex needs of hundreds of thousands of elderly Australians. For example, Dr John Maddison, President of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine, gave evidence to the royal commission that the changes proposed by government represented a potential threat to the availability of expertise in assessing aged-care recipients, and suggested that moving the assessment model in-house would likely remove any meaningful consultation with geriatricians during the assessment process.
So what is behind the government's proposed reform of the home care sector? It's been reported by Rick Morton, a well-known journalist from The Saturday Paper, that this is little more than an accounting trick designed to improve the figures, at least on paper, for the national prioritisation system. The national waitlist right now is 112,000 people. They are still waiting for a package, and that is a national shame. The government's report on Home Care Packages Program data for the most recent quarter provided an estimated wait time of 12 months plus for level 4 packages. However, a more accurate picture can be gleaned from the Productivity Commission's 2020 Report on government services, which shows the wait time for a level 4 package is more likely to be closer to three years. It is unclear how, if at all, the proposed ACAT system would reduce wait times or improve the quality of care for those lucky enough to receive their package in a timely manner.
Last Friday the royal commission was in Adelaide for a hearing. During the hearing, senior counsel assisting the commission Mr Rozen QC put forward a number of recommendations for consideration by the commission to address the shortage of appropriately skilled workers in the sector. In making the recommendations, Mr Rozen QC suggested the government lacked real leadership and instead had employed:
… an approach at the highest levels of the aged care bureaucracy that is timid. It's risk averse, more worried about political risk than making a contribution to the …
vital issue of aged-care reform.
It is galling that the focus of reforming aged care is a path down privatisation of the ACAT model rather than adequately funding all of those on the waitlist and supporting the ACAT model as it currently exists. This is a shame. We are letting older Australians down. We are doing the wrong thing by older Australians. It is no wonder that they are fearful in their home waiting for a package. It is no wonder they are fearful about going into an aged-care facility. This government must do better. This government can do better. We need to do better for all Australians on this.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important issue that the member for Newcastle has raised, because improving aged care for senior Australians continues to be the government's key priority. As the member for Chisholm just outlined, that's why Scott Morrison, as Prime Minister, called the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and I commend him for his leadership.
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. We do not shy away from our responsibility as a government to ensure our elderly are looked after and respected. In its swift response to the interim report, the government announced a funding package of $537 million. This response particularly focuses on three areas. The first is more home care packages to reduce wait times and connect people to care sooner. The second is to better manage medicine and physical restraint. The third is to help with the transition of young people out of residential care. We have set an ambitious target to stop younger people entering aged care by 2022.
It's important to highlight that these measures are not the end of the discussion on how our aged-care sector can be reformed. There's no doubt that more will need to be done; the government acknowledges that. We continue to step up and do everything we possibly can. That's why this royal commission is so important. The substance of the government's response must adequately deliver to it.
I do not support this motion, and I do not support the ongoing lies from those opposite with regard to government policy in aged care. Let's be clear: this government has delivered record investment in aged care. This government supports older Australians with more choice and better access to quality care, particularly in my electorate of Moncrieff on the Gold Coast where we have a growing and ageing population. Our record speaks for itself. Since the election, the coalition government have delivered increased investment across the aged-care system. We will deliver $5 billion in funding boosts in the forward years to 2022-23. The government remains committed to supporting senior Australians to live in their own homes longer. Since the 2018-19 budget, the Morrison government has invested in 44,000 new home care packages, at a cost of $2.7 billion.
The ongoing representation, which we see in the media and from the Labor Party, of the government as privatising aged-care assessments is false. The only people talking about privatisation here are the Labor Party members, with their union mates, who haven't yet ruled out a new universal tax on aged care of up to $40 billion. Labor can't be trusted when it comes to aged care. Labor can't be trusted with senior Australians, and they know it. Despite Labor's plan for $387 billion in new taxes at the election, including their retirees tax, which would have hurt over 6,000 seniors in my electorate alone, Labor provided no additional funding in their costings for home care places, aged-care quality, the aged-care workforce or mainstream residential aged care. This is a clear example of Labor's blatant hypocrisy on aged care.
Labor's inability to offer a single aged-care policy alternative raises many questions. They refuse to rule out a union-led, Medicare style universal levy of up to $40 billion on taxpayers before the royal commission releases its final report. All Labor can say on aged care is that they will reveal their policies closer to the election. What about the last election? Where were their policies? Where were their packages? Labor's deceit shows that they don't understand the aged-care sector and, as usual, are more interested in political spin than in genuine solutions to an important issue for Australians and their loved ones.
I want to acknowledge that, in spite of the findings from the royal commission, there are some very good home care providers out there today, right now, who do a great job. I recently visited most of the aged-care facilities in my electorate to speak with the aged-care providers and our senior Australians themselves. Caring for the elderly can be a rewarding experience, although at times it's challenging. I've been humbled by the care and compassion that aged-care workers have wrapped around our senior Gold Coasters in their golden years of life.
To close, I wish to underline an important fact: the government is focused on guaranteeing essential services for older Australians to ensure they have more choice, be that in aged care, staying at home longer or gaining access to the support they need. 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. They contribute an immeasurable amount to their communities. It's up to this generation and our government to ensure older Australians are well cared for and live out their days comfortably.