Monday, 15 June 2020
Private Members' Business
That this House:
(a) the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on older Australians, their families, their carers and the aged care workforce;
(b) the valuable contributions made by the more than 360,000 aged care workers who have continued to deliver care and support to older Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic;
(c) all aged care workers play a valuable role to deliver care and support to older Australians in residential and home care;
(d) many aged care workers are low paid and around 87 per cent of them are women;
(e) the Government's decision to exclude a large proportion of aged care workers from receiving the retention bonus;
(f) excluded aged care workers who will not receive the retention bonus include those delivering services under the Commonwealth Home Support Program as well as in-direct care workers in residential aged care facilities including lifestyle and leisure therapists, cleaners, hospitality workers and gardeners;
(g) the exclusion of any aged care worker from receiving the retention bonus is unwarranted and unfair;
(h) on 20 March 2020 the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians issued a media release that stated the retention bonus payment would be 'after tax'; and
(i) on 5 June 2020 the Department of Health's retention bonus guidelines stated the payment would be 'subject to income tax';
(2) conveys its disappointment that the Government made:
(a) a decision to exclude about 40 per cent of aged care workers from receiving the retention bonus; and
(b) a late decision to switch the retention bonus from being after tax to being before tax that will see aged care workers lose hundreds of dollars they were previously promised;
(3) calls on the Government, as a matter of urgency, to reconsider its decision and pay the retention bonus to all aged care workers irrespective of their role or where they work and to explain why it changed the rules around the payment being after tax to the payment now being subject to income tax; and
(4) acknowledges the work all aged care workers undertake each and every day and thanks them for their continued dedication to care and support older Australians in residential and home care.
What we've heard from this government around the retention bonus for aged-care workers is what a great job the government is doing, but it's really about what a great job the aged-care workers have done during this global pandemic. When you look at what has happened here in Australia compared to what has happened overseas in care homes, we have done a tremendous job, and that job has primarily been done by some of the lowest paid, most hardworking workers in the country. Everybody knows that there aren't enough aged-care workers and that we don't pay them enough in Australia. It's something that we need to fix.
There is no doubt that the 360,000 aged-care workers in Australia today deserve the retention bonus that they were due to be paid in June and in September. But what we've since learnt from this government is: (1) the first payment is going to be late—apparently it can't be made until July now, instead of in June; and, importantly, (2) over 125,000 workers will be excluded from this retention bonus. These are workers that work in residential aged-care facilities—81,000-odd of them. Then the rest of them, 40,000-odd, work in home care and are not eligible for this payment. These are workers who have been working every day on the front line. When there was a question asked in the parliament today, we had the health minister stand up and say, 'Oh, yes, but they weren't on the front line.' Those cleaners in those residential aged-care facilities that the minister was asked about today are absolutely on the front line. They are part of the infection control measures in these facilities. They are working incredibly hard. They are not paid very well.
The retention bonus was intended to ensure that we had enough aged-care workers turn up to work every day during the pandemic, because they were frightened. They were frightened for themselves and frightened for their families and loved ones, because they didn't want to bring COVID-19 home. Frankly, they were not really paid well enough for the type of work that they were having to do during this COVID pandemic. When you talk to some of the workers that were in some of those facilities about what it actually entailed when there was an outbreak, nobody in this place could possibly want to deny these workers this payment. What is supposed to have been a unifying recognition payment for aged-care workers throughout Australia has become divisive to the point where some aged-care providers are actually considering paying the payment themselves—when they can't afford it, when they've got viability issues—to try to equal out the workforce, because they know how divisive this government payment has become.
Not only that, but to make it worse, when it was announced by the minister we had this wonderful media release where he says the payments are going to be 'up to $800 after tax per quarter—paid for two quarters' and then 'Two payments of up to $600 after tax per quarter—for two quarters'. The first payment was for residential aged-care workers, and the second payment of $600 was for home-care workers. Of course, on the Friday before the long weekend, what did we see? Just a couple of weeks ago, the minister leaks out and puts on the webpage quietly how this retention bonus is going to actually work. What do we find out? We find out the truth of the payment: that it's actually not after tax; it's before tax. For some of those workers who are currently trying to extend their qualifications, who may have a HECS or VET FEE-HELP debt and are having to pay their tax, this could actually mean a significant loss of this retention bonus fund. Some of these workers who thought they were getting $800 are now getting just over $600, and some of them are getting zero.
Where is the equity in recognising all of the aged-care workers from this government? Why not acknowledge what a tremendous job they've done? Why not give them all access to this retention bonus, as was intended to be the case in the first place? Why not even stick to your word in black and white in your own media release where it says 'after tax'? Why has it suddenly become 'before tax'? Where is the explanation from the government about how something that was supposed to be a bonus to keep workers turning up during the pandemic turned into such a divisive payment that some of the workers are now saying, 'It isn't even worth it'?
We on this side, in the Morrison government, won't be lectured by those on the other side about aged care. As senior Australians know, Labor can't be trusted when it comes to aged care. Despite their plan at the last election for $387 billion in new taxes, including their retirees tax, Labor provided no additional funding in their costings for home-care places or any additional funding for aged-care quality, the workforce or mainstream residential care. This shows Labor's hypocrisy on aged care. All Labor can say on aged care is that they will reveal their policies closer to the election. Clearly, Labor are waiting for somebody else to do their work for them. Labor's deceit shows that they don't understand the aged-care sector. They are more interested in cheap politics than genuine solutions for these important issues for Australians. But I am pleased to have the opportunity, on this private member's business today, to highlight how the Morrison government is positively supporting our aged-care sector through the COVID-19 pandemic. The government is committed to supporting and building a strong and dedicated aged-care workforce that delivers high-quality aged care to all senior Australians. Several workforce measures to support a strong and dedicated aged-care workforce have been put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures have ensured that aged-care recipients continue to receive care during these difficult times. They include emergency support where a residential aged-care facility doesn't have the capacity or the capability to continue service delivery due to COVID-19; remote locums to support aged-care providers in remote Australia if they are unable to source staff—Aspen Medical has been engaged to provide this support; and access to surge workforce capacity, through the online platform Mable, to help providers if they are unable to fill critical skills because of staff having to self-isolate due to infection. The COVID-19 Aged Care Support Program is also reimbursing approved aged-care providers for eligible expenditure incurred through managing the direct impacts of COVID-19. Aged-care providers have been able to temporarily offer more hours to international students to ensure the care of senior and vulnerable Australians as part of the campaign to combat the impact of coronavirus.
There is also the $234.9 million retention bonus for direct care workers working in aged care. The government is providing $234.9 million to eligible workers in residential aged care and home care during COVID-19 to help retain them in the workforce at this critical time. This payment is specifically to encourage direct care workers providing clinical care and personal care to continue to work on the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full-time direct care workers in residential care facilities, including personal care workers, registered nurses, enrolled nurses and allied health will receive a retention bonus of up to $800 per quarter, paid for two quarters pro rata, if they work over the applicable time periods.
Eligible home-care workers include workers providing clinical care, personal care, cleaning, in-the-home support activities, such as meal preparation, social support and services such as shopping, community access and transport. They will receive town $600 per quarter, paid for two quarters pro rata, if they work over the applicable time periods. Employers—that is, aged-care providers and agencies who provide aged-care staff—will need to apply for a grant to receive the payment on behalf of their workers. The grant rounds open today.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been several heroes, from our healthcare workers to those essential workers in supermarkets. I would like to acknowledge those very many in Moncrieff who have been looking after our senior and much-loved Australians. It has been so heartwarming to see our community lend a helping hand to our senior citizens who have needed to self-isolate for their own safety. Whether that be picking up groceries or medication for your neighbour or making a phone call just to check in, thank you to all of those who have gone above and beyond to check in on our senior citizens. We've faced an extraordinary health challenge, and the hard work and sacrifice of our frontline health aged-care workers have protected some of those we love the most. Working in aged care is never an easy task, but it has been particularly challenging during this time. You've all done a spectacular job of guarding our precious citizens. Through your hard work, you have saved lives every hour of every single day, and I thank you for your dedication to the aged, senior citizens in Moncrieff, on the Central Gold Coast. You have kept those in residential aged care protected and safe.
I would like to comment on how the government has provided more than $850 million worth of measures to support senior Australians in aged care and the sector more broadly.
I rise to wholeheartedly support the motion and echo the comments made by the member for Franklin. These past few months have been unlike any other we've seen in our lifetime. We are in a global health pandemic and a significant economic crisis. People's health, jobs, businesses, lives and livelihoods have all been plunged into uncertainty. But the pandemic has highlighted who it is that keeps the economy and society chugging along—and, surprise, surprise, it's not the bankers, it's not the lawyers, it's not even the real estate agents; it's nurses, aged-care workers and other healthcare workers, our teachers, supermarket staff, truckies, posties and, of course, cleaners. Healthcare workers have shown up to work day in and day out in incredibly risky circumstances and they've put their lives on the line. While we haven't seen any deaths of healthcare workers in Australia, thankfully, we know that around the world about 250 nurses have lost their lives to COVID-19. Aged care has been a particularly hard-fought battle in the war against coronavirus, because, as we know, the elderly have been the most vulnerable. Aged-care workers, some of our most underpaid and undervalued workers, continue to deliver care and support to older Australians during the pandemic. The government, quite rightly, thought that aged-care workers should be compensated for this and they agreed to pay them a retention bonus. 'Great,' we thought, 'this government is actually thinking about workers.' But—and somehow I feel a little sorry for those on the other side today that they have to defend this—the government have, of course, completely reverted to form. They just can't help themselves from overpromising and underdelivering.
When the government announced the retention bonus, the Minister for Aged Care made it clear that the payment that the workers would receive was after tax. But, when the guidelines for the retention bonus were released, the payment amounts were suddenly switched to being before tax—and, as the member for Franklin said, with no explanation. This will mean that aged-care workers will receive around 30 per cent less than the $800 and $600 they were originally promised. To quote the secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Annie Butler:
This bonus was intended to recognise the dedication and commitment aged care workers have continued to show in treating and protecting older Australians during the crisis, potentially putting their own safety and their families' safety at risk. But just as we've gained control over the pandemic, aged care workers have weathered that storm and we're on the path to recovery, the Government has backflipped on its promise, which was in writing to every aged care worker, and now said 'we don't actually think you're worth the full amount'.
This is even more disappointing when you consider how little our incredible aged-care workers are already paid for the work they do. The government is clawing back hundreds of thousands of dollars from the lowest paid, hardest working people in our society. For a government that has an extra $60 billion sitting in the bank because of its bungles, this seems like an incredibly sneaky and stingy thing to do.
In an even crueller move, the Morrison government has excluded about 40 per cent of aged-care workers from even being eligible for the retention payment. Today is International Cleaners Day. Cleaners have been absolutely crucial in the fight against COVID-19, and cleaners who work in aged care will not get the retention bonus. Those who sit opposite have excluded around 125,000 aged-care workers, from those who deliver home-care packages to cleaners, laundry and catering staff. Seeing as the government does not seem to value them—
Government members interjecting—
and I see members on the other side are laughing at this tragedy—I want to say to all cleaners out there: thank you—
Government members interjecting—
They won't even be quiet to let me say to you: 'Thank you. We value you. Thank you for the work that you do. You deserve the retention bonus. Your work throughout this crisis has been nothing short of heroic. The payment isn't about retention. It's about recognition—and you deserve it.' A big thank you should also go to the unions, the United Workers Union and the HSU, who represent the cleaners and fight for them every day. There's one more point. The majority of aged-care workers are women, and the bungling of this is just another example of how disproportionately adversely affected women have been throughout the COVID-19 crisis and the fact this government does not care. More women have lost their jobs. More women have lost work hours. At the same time, it is women who have picked up extra domestic labour. The male-dominated construction sector receives targeted taxpayer stimulus but not the childcare sector, which is 97 per cent female, and certainly not the aged-care sector. Women deserve better. Aged-care workers deserve better.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 17:02 to 17:15
Before I get into the substance of the motion, I would like to start by paying tribute and thanking all the aged-care workers across the country and in particular in my electorate of Ryan. We rely on aged-care workers so much in our society, and we appreciate the work that they do to care for our loved ones. But they have never been more vital than in the last few months during COVID, when they have been a vital resource protecting some of those who are most at risk. I would really like to thank them and congratulate them for rising to the challenge. I know it's been an anxious time for everybody, but they have truly gone above and beyond to make sure that our vulnerable residents were protected.
It would also be remiss, on International Cleaners Day, not to thank all the cleaners involved in aged-care facilities as well. Again, they've played such an important role in the last couple of months during COVID to keep our vulnerable residents safe.
During the pandemic, I've taken the time to speak with many of the facilities in the Ryan electorate, with many of the staff and many of the residents, to thank them for rising to this challenge so remarkably and so swiftly. In particular, I have spoken to the residents at the Cairns Aged Care Centre at Chapel Hill. They even took the time—keeping in mind again that it's an anxious time for them—to compose a letter to the Prime Minister. With a little bit of indulgence from the House, I will read a small excerpt. This is from the residents at the aged-care centre:
We feel safe in your care, knowing you have our best interests at heart. The guidelines you have set out have helped reassure us that we are protected when temperature checks are done religiously to all staff, visitors and for us. Our lifestyles have been somewhat curtailed; however this pandemic has invented new and interesting ways of dealing with social distancing laws and restrictions. The wonderful use of technology has enabled us to have face time with relatives, friends and grandchildren. The direction has been a great help and clarity to help us plan our lives, enabling us to put what is necessary into practice effectively and was a great assistance in reducing the risk and promoting excellence in care.
That is from some of the residents in the aged-care facility in Chapel Hill in the electorate of Ryan. It's because the Morrison government has moved so swiftly during the COVID pandemic to protect both the sector and some of our most vulnerable residents, particularly looking after the lives and livelihoods of frontline staff.
We have provided more than $850 million in measures that support both our senior Australians in aged care and the aged-care sector more broadly. These measures include an additional $205 million COVID specific support package for residential aged care providers, to ensure that our providers can continue to provide the additional safety measures that were in place and required during COVID. We know that protecting our most vulnerable from COVID means a significant extra burden on the sector. We've acted decisively to make available targeted measures to ease this pressure and ensure they retain their staff.
We are providing $234.9 million to eligible workers in residential aged care and home care during COVID to help keep them employed, to help retain our aged-care workforce during this most difficult and important time. The Morrison government's retention bonus means that eligible full-time direct care workers will receive a bonus of up to $800 per quarter if they work over the applicable time periods. Eligible home-care workers, including those providing much needed services, such as meal preparation, social support or helping with the shopping or transport to the shops, will receive up to $600 per quarter over the applicable time periods. This is in place to encourage our direct care workers to keep doing the important work that they are doing on the front line. It's disappointing that Labor have taken this opportunity, when so much good work has been done by this sector, to politicise it for cheap political points. We're disappointed, but we're not surprised.
The Morrison government has moved swiftly to ensure that frontline workers in the aged-care sector are supported and that they, in turn, are supporting the residents within their care. Again I'd like to thank them very much for all the work they are doing and assure them that, despite the lines being peddled by the Labor Party, the Morrison government will continue to ensure that they are well supported into the future as they continue to deal with the COVID crisis and look after some of our most vulnerable residents.
I'd like to thank the shadow minister for ageing and seniors, the member for Franklin, for this motion and for her fearless efforts in holding the government to account in this critical area. Make no mistake: aged-care workers are amongst the great unsung heroes and heroines of this pandemic, and they deserve to be recognised and rewarded. That's why the aged-care retention payment is good policy. It recognises the profound contribution of aged-care workers at this time, rewards them for the sacrifices they've made every day and encourages continuity of care and employment in the sector. But the government's decision to exclude certain workers and then change the rate at which they will be paid is utterly unforgiveable.
It is imperative that all aged-care workers receive the aged-care retention bonus, regardless of their job title. It needs to be delivered as an after-tax payment, as was in fact promised in writing. These are not Labor's words; these were the minister's words in writing. There was nothing ambiguous at all about the statements and there was never an assumption that before tax would be the option, which is what the government is now proposing.
Today I'd like to share with you some of the words of Mr Alan Brewer, the CEO of Mayfield Aged Care in my electorate of Newcastle. He wrote to me to let me know his grave concerns about this very issue. As Mr Brewer put it: 'Older Australians are the most vulnerable to the potentially deadly coronavirus, and that means that our proud and passionate aged care workers have been and remain on the front line in the battle to protect our treasured elders'. Mr Brewer is absolutely right. Aged-care facilities are higher risk environments when it comes to the COVID-19 infection. Indeed, in the United States around one in three coronavirus deaths have been residential aged-care residents or staff. Just let that sink in for a moment. This is staggering, but it hasn't happened in Australia, and a lot of credit for that must go to the deeply committed and caring staff who have been absolutely vigilant and central to managing this risk of infections. They have put themselves in harm's way every single day. They have made sacrifices in their personal lives and they have taken on extra responsibilities to keep residents engaged as restrictions really reduced the quality of life that many people were able to lead.
Despite this, 40 per cent of the workforce have been excluded from getting the aged-care retention bonus. Thousands of workers, indeed around 125,000, including cleaning staff, laundry staff, catering staff and activity staff, have all been left out of this payment retention bonus. Thousands of workers are cut out of this program by the stroke of a pen. Today being International Cleaners Day, I want to give a particular shout out to the cleaners, who have worked tirelessly to keep aged-care facilities clean and safe for residents, visitors and their families. Again I point to Mr Brewer, who wrote to me and argued, 'All staff are responsible and essential to the delivery of safe and effective care in the context of COVID-19.' I couldn't agree more. He says, 'Providing the retention bonus to some staff and not others devalues their dedicated work and has been a source of significant anger and distress amongst employees'. We know the member for Franklin brought this to our attention earlier on in this debate.
But it gets worse. The government didn't just exclude vital workers; it also went back on its written promise to workers about how much they would be getting. The initial announcement could not have been clearer, stating that for residential care staff, they would get 'a payment of up to $800 after tax per quarter' and that would be paid for two quarters. It's in black and white. But when the guidelines were released people were shocked to find that this had suddenly changed, and the payments would now be made before tax. With no warning, justification or apology the rules were changed, workers now losing up to $200 each. All aged-care workers should receive this bonus, and it should be delivered as an after-tax amount as the minister promised in writing. Thank you to everyone working in our aged-care sector.
We're all aware of the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on aged-care facilities. For residents unable to see their loved ones, family members suffering heightened anxiety worrying about the health of elderly relatives, and for employees of an aged care facility it has been a stressful time working to ensure the safety of elderly residents whilst also worrying about their own health. In northern Tasmania, the restrictions put in place both federally and by the state government did an effective job of keeping residents, workers and their families safe, with no coronavirus cases reported in aged care to date in my electorate of Bass. I know it was so difficult for family members not to visit their loved ones and it has been an isolating time for residents, and I would like to say thank you for doing the right thing. Your efforts did make a difference. Thank you to all the workers in aged care for the wonderful care you have delivered under incredibly stressful circumstances. I'd also like to take this opportunity to commend my Tasmanian colleague the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Richard Colbeck, for his consistent and strong leadership throughout the COVID-19 crisis. We've heard a lot of words from Labor today, but they have been very quiet about their own record on aged care. We know that Labor can't be trusted when it comes to aged care, and senior Australians know it too. Despite their high-taxing agenda at the last election, Labor provided zero additional funding in their costings for home-care places and zero funding additional funding for aged-care quality workforce or mainstream residential aged care. In contrast, the Morrison government is committed to supporting a strong and dedicated aged-care workforce that delivers high-quality aged care to senior Australians. We've put together a number of workforce measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, and these measures have ensured that aged-care participants continue to get quality care during these difficult times. These measures include emergency support where a residential aged-care facility does not have the capacity or capability to continue service delivery due to COVID; remote locums to support aged-care providers in remote Australia if they can't source staff; and access to surge workforce capability through the online platform Mable, to help providers if they are unable to fill critical skills because of infection or if staff have to self-isolate.
The COVID-19 Aged Care Support Program is reimbursing approved aged-care providers for eligible expenditure occurred during managing the direct impacts of COVID-19, and aged-care providers have been able to temporarily offer more hours to international students to ensure the care of senior and vulnerable Australians as part of the campaign to combat the impact of coronavirus.
It's important to note the $234.9 million dollar retention bonus for direct care workers working in aged care. The bonus is available to eligible workers in residential care and home care during COVID-19 to help retain them in the workforce at this critical time. The payment is specifically to encourage direct care workers providing clinical care and personal care to continue to work on the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full-time direct care workers in residential care facilities, including personal care workers, registered nurses, enrolled nurses and allied health workers, will receive a retention bonus of up to $800 per quarter, paid for two quarters if they work over the applicable time periods.
Additionally, eligible home-care workers, including workers providing clinical care, personal care, in-home support activities such as meal preparation, social support, and services such as shopping, community access and transport, will receive up to $600 per quarter paid for two quarters if they work over the applicable time periods. Employers can apply for a grant to receive the payment on behalf of their workers. The grant round opens today and will provide a huge benefit to the many northern Tasmanians employed in the aged-care field.
We've provided more than $850 million in measures to support senior Australians in aged care and in the sector more broadly—real action, real investment, that makes a tangible difference to the lives of senior Australians. But all Labor have to say on aged care is that they will reveal their policies closer to the election. Labor are waiting for someone else to do their work and their deceit shows that they don't understand the aged-care sector and are more interested in cheap politics than in genuine solutions to an important issue for senior Australians.
As COVID-19 continues to unfold, it is a particularly difficult time for older Australians and their loved ones, with the very real fear of contracting COVID-19, coupled with isolation and distress as delays for home care grow and support slips away. The Central Coast of New South Wales, my electorate, is a popular place for older Australians to live. Almost one in five locals are aged over 65, higher than both the state and national average. Aged care is also a large employer on the coast, with 24 residential aged-care providers in addition to in-home care, respite care, day centres and nursing services. As we face COVID-19, aged-care workers on the coast and across Australia have been working hard to protect older Australians and keep them safe—and they themselves should be safe in their own workplaces. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of personal protective equipment and the acute shortages. On 1 April, news outlets reported 80 aged-care providers with confirmed cases of COVID-19 or facing sever risk were forced to ask for access to the government's emergency stockpile of PPE that, unless there was a confirmed case of COVID-19, aged-care providers would expect delays. This is not good enough for aged-care workers or the residents they are trying to keep safe.
The lack of support for aged-care workers didn't stop at PPE. On 20 March, the Minister for Aged Care told workers he was going to support them during COVID-19 and that they would receive some financial assistance, some compensation and recognition for their work. He said that they would 'receive a payment of up to $800 after tax per quarter, paid for two quarters, for direct care workers' and 'two payments of up to $600 after tax per quarter, for two quarters, for those who provide care in the home'. But, when the guidelines for this support, the so-called retention bonus, were released on 5 June, the payment amounts were switched to before tax. This was after excluding 40 per cent of aged-care workers from the bonus payment altogether. Cleaning, laundry and catering staff were all ruled out of this financial support.
The confusion of the retention bonus—who is eligible and how much for—added to the strain of some of Australia's lowest paid worker on the front line of this pandemic. Aged-care workers deserve better—workers like Sheree, from Tuggerawong, who willingly complied with a requirement to stop work until returning a negative COVID-19 test after reporting cold-like symptoms to her employer. The problem was that the results took three weeks while Sheree was without pay. Aged-care workers like Sheree, protecting older Australians, shouldn't be penalized for just doing the right thing.
During COVID-19, older Australians need more support, not less, to stay in their own homes and to avoid hospital stays or early entry into residential aged care—people like Joan Whitney. Joan is a widow whose son died three years ago and her closest relatives are two nieces in their sixties who live over an hour away. Joan is currently struggling to get by on a level 3 package. She is going backwards financially paying for extra care and has been told it is likely to be a 12-month wait for a level 4 package. Joan is hearing and vision impaired and largely immobile after a recent hospital stay. I wrote to the Minister for Aged Care over two months ago, on 6 April, about Joan's plight and the risk older Australians face due to delays, and I am still waiting for a response.
I'd like to turn now to the isolation and loneliness many older Australians have felt during this crisis. Measures put in place have helped stop the spread but have also left families disconnected—families like Rebecca's. Rebecca contacted me because her six-year-old is desperate to see his GG, who is 97 years old. He has had his flu shot and can't understands why he can't see his great-grandmother, who he visits every fortnight. When the family asked the aged-care home, they were given a flat no. It's a relief that other family members can visit from behind perspex, but GG can't see her great-grandson, and his mum, Rebecca, tells me that 40 minutes on the phone just isn't the same. Why is this happening, when aged-care homes have been given $205 million, or the equivalent of $1,350 for each resident in regional areas, to help cover COVID-19 costs, such as staff and visitor screening?
I would like to finish by acknowledging all the aged-care workers for their efforts during this global pandemic. It has been a comfort to residents and has given families peace of mind to know that they are receiving the best of care. On International Cleaners Day, I would like to close by giving a special shout-out to cleaners working in aged care. You deserve the retention bonus, too. Every worker in aged care plays a critical role in keeping older Australians protected and safe and giving families peace of mind, to know that they are okay, as we continue to fight this global pandemic—and you should be properly supported to do your job. Sadly, applause and gratitude do not put food on the table or keep a roof over their heads.
Our aged-care workforce has done exceptional work at the front line of the coronavirus pandemic. Their job is among the hardest of all frontline workers. In March, coronavirus was predicted to take the lives of thousands of aged-care residents. Aged-care providers put in place tough visitation rules to protect lives, and this has caused immeasurable sadness for both residents and workers—sadness but a necessary precaution. In the end, though, it is an aged-care worker who is telling a husband, a daughter, a grandson—a great-grandson in that case—that they can't visit the ones they love. That is a very difficult job.
Our aged-care workers have been patient, compassionate and professional during this difficult time. Residents reported high levels of stress and confusion, aware of how vulnerable they were. News stories about outbreaks in aged-care facilities stoked fears. Rigorous social distancing and hygiene requirements made everything slower and so much more difficult. There are easier and safer ways to make a living than working in aged care. Our workforce could have quit, but this would have been disastrous in a sector already suffering entrenched chronic understaffing, not to mention losing continuity of care—so important to wellbeing.
It has been spoken about already, but I will add my voice to it too. The retention bonus announced in March was intended to keep workers in their roles through the worst of the crisis. We know our aged-care workforce isn't do 'it' just to make a buck, but the payments of up to $800 for residential aged-care workers and $600 for home-care workers for two quarters was a welcome acknowledgement of their hard work in really tough circumstances. In March, the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians said that this payment would be after tax—he actually emailed me to tell me this—but last week we discovered that it will be before tax. This backflip isn't just a minor accounting error. According to the peak body LASA, a typical aged-care worker will lose at least 30 per cent of the retention bonus due to this change.
This is a really appalling reversal of an initiative that won widespread support from the sector when it was announced. The reasons for the reversal aren't clear. With women making up 87 per cent of residential care services and 89 per cent of in-home care services, it's women who, yet again, are bearing the brunt of this change. We have a perverse situation where the JobKeeper payment has made some 17- to 18-year-olds, who before the pandemic only did a couple of shifts a week, rather rich indeed, while a small bonus—just a small one—is being clawed back from one of the most underpaid and casualised workforces in Australia, from people, mainly women, who have actually earned it. It's not too late to fix this. The retention bonus opens today, and I call on the minister to honour his original commitment.
The pandemic has also thrown into sharp relief the understaffing of aged-care facilities. From my time on the board of St Catherine's Hostel in Wangaratta, I know that our workforce does incredible work with dedication, compassion and care. But across the sector there are simply not enough adequately skilled staff. According to research published in The Medical Journal of Australia, 60 per cent of residents are living in aged-care homes with unacceptable staffing levels. This is neglect with deadly consequences. Indeed, the interim report from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety told a shocking tale of neglect and an underpaid, undervalued workforce, and it is for these people that this retention bonus is so important. On only my fourth day in this place, I supported the member for Mayo's bill calling for mandatory disclosure of staffing ratios. This will help families and older Australians make more informed choices about the facilities they consider. The member for Mayo's 2018 bill was supported by the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport.
In the wake of the 'black summer' bushfires, I've seen that it is older people who are leading our recovery. They're the backbone of our local community organisations. They volunteer with the Red Cross, BlazeAid, the CWA and emergency food services, and sometimes it's simply their moral strength and wisdom gained over many years which bring so much comfort to our communities. In return, we owe older Australians, and those charged with their care, respect and dignity and our appreciation.
I thank the member for Franklin for bringing forward this important motion. It is nothing new that our aged-care workers are absolute champions. In my electorate of Gilmore, we have one of the highest numbers of age pensioners in Australia, so it is no surprise that our aged-care workers are hugely important to us. Aged-care workers work tirelessly to help care for our loved ones—our mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles. The work is hard and far too often undervalued by this government. We know that our aged-care workers are some of the lowest paid in our community, but they do it because they genuinely care. It isn't just those who are providing the direct care that are making a difference. It isn't just those workers that are invaluable and essential. It takes a village, as they say. Cleaners, cooks, hospitality staff and laundry staff, therapy assistants and lifestyle workers, gardeners and more are all essential and all valuable workers who deserve support and recognition. Especially today, on International Cleaners Day, thank you for everything you do to care for our families. COVID-19 has created its own special challenges for the aged-care sector. Our elderly community members have been the most susceptible to the virus, and special care and consideration had to be made to protect them in aged-care homes. But this wasn't easy. So, it is hard to imagine why the government would then turn around and deny around 40 per cent of aged-care workers the aged-care retention bonus. Aged-care workers that will miss out on the bonus include aged-care workers delivering care and support under the Commonwealth Home Support Program, therapy assistants, leisure and lifestyle workers, hospitality workers, cleaners and gardeners. They will all miss out. Why? All of these workers deserve better. They have been left out in the cold by a government that simply doesn't know or doesn't care about what they do. It's simply appalling. These workers are doing amazing things. I want to give just one example that shows the value of this work.
The Illawarra Retirement Trust Booraja Home Care program is one I have spoken about before. It is an Indigenous targeted program based in the Batemans Bay and Moruya areas that provides culturally appropriate home care to local elders. Booraja had been seeking further funding support under the Commonwealth Home Support Program, and I have been proud to help them secure enough funding for them to keep their doors open—for now at least. A couple of weeks ago I went to their office in Moruya to visit Bunja and his team. Not only does Booraja provide wonderful services to local Aboriginal elders; it also provides employment to young Aboriginal people, helping them to create connection with their community and culture.
Word of mouth has been spreading about the help Booraja can provide, from mowing lawns to helping with shopping, cleaning and more. The program pairs elders with younger carers to help create connection to country and kin and a sense of belonging for both sides. Bunja and the team were full of excitement and hope at growing their client base. They told me how their services can often extend to broader support for the family, particularly when an elder sadly passes way. It is a community affair. Their care and support go so far beyond the tasks they do. Carers are bonding with elders, discovering family and community ties that they never knew, sharing stories and memories.
Targeted programs like this are exactly where we should be investing. Creating jobs for Indigenous youth is a challenge across the country, but in my electorate, where we have the highest youth unemployment rate in New South Wales, it is absolutely critical. But the minister has been slow in committing to the necessary funding. Now they, along with 43,000 workers under the Commonwealth Home Support Program, will miss out on this retention bonus. That is simply not good enough. The Prime Minister needs to step up and reverse this decision now. Our aged-care workers deserve better.
I want to thank each and every one of our amazing aged-care workers. Your work protecting our loved ones from COVID-19 has not gone unnoticed. We are so grateful to you for all you have done. I will keep supporting all our aged-care workers until the government does the right thing and gives all aged-care workers equal and fair treatment. They deserve no less.