House debates

Tuesday, 2 February 2021


Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

4:49 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to the debate on the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Bill 2020. Speakers on this side of the House before me raised as one of the concerns about this bill that it doesn't cover in-home care. I just wanted to raise another concern that has been raised with me in my electorate, which is one that I'm sure the government will take note of and work to make sure is addressed before aged-care facilities are asked to implement this new scheme—that is, making sure that there is certainty about how the scheme is to be applied and the sorts of serious incidents it covers.

It's been raised with me that the current documentation available on the departmental website has some ambiguities about 'neglect', 'intentional' and 'recklessness'. It is the case that there are a number of incidents in aged-care facilities that result in serious injury that don't fall into the categories of neglect or intention or recklessness but are accidents. It has been raised by many who are concerned about there being guidance, because people who work in aged care want this guidance so they can make sure that they are giving the best care where they can, they are reporting incidents where it's appropriate and they are not taking up a lot of time and scarce resources when it's actually not necessary for them to report incidents. It's not a criticism of the legislation but simply a concern that has been raised with me that I wanted to put before this House so that the government can consider it. Of course, I would be very happy to forward more details of that concern to the minister if the minister is interested.

I turn to the second reading amendment and to the fact that the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety not only shone a light on many of these serious incidents that need to be addressed but also, more than that, shone a light on how badly neglected and underfunded the aged-care system is and has been for some time. It is something that should cause shame to all of us to have an interim report that says:

Many people receiving aged care services have their basic human rights denied. Their dignity is not respected and their identity is ignored. … It is a shocking tale of neglect.

We had an aged-care royal commission in this country because our communities would no longer accept this neglect of their loved ones; because our aged-care workers would no longer be silent about the way-too-low wages, poor conditions; and because precarious employment often prevents them providing the care that they want to while living the sorts of lives they should be able to live; and because brave Australians from across the country wanted their voices to be heard. It is to those people and everyone who joined the campaign to force this government to finally call a royal commission whom we owe our thanks.

The interim report of the royal commission—and the hundreds of thousands of Australians who wanted their voices heard and who wanted the aged-care system fixed—was released last year before hundreds and hundreds of Australians died from COVID while in residential aged care, on the Morrison government's watch. In the stark words of Peter Rozen QC, senior counsel assisting the royal commission into aged care, the evidence would reveal that neither the Commonwealth Department of Health nor the aged-care regulator developed a COVID-19 plan specifically for the aged-care sector.

It was in August last year that the leader of the Labor Party—the member for Grayndler—stood at the Press Club and, in the absence of a government plan, offered eight points for the government to consider, which included minimum staffing levels in residential aged care and reducing the home-care package waiting list so more people can stay in their homes for longer, because we still have over 100,000 Australians approved for residential home care waiting for their packages, and the Department of Health says that more than half of them are eligible for the highest level of care.

Ensure transparency and accountability of funding to support high-quality care: it should be the case that aged-care providers who receive taxpayers' money have to acquit how they spend it and how they spend it on care for the people that are in their facilities. There should be independent measurement and public reporting, as recommended by the royal commission.

Every residential aged-care facility should have adequate personal protective equipment and better training for staff, including but certainly not limited to infection control, and a better surge workforce strategy. And, in August of last year, the Leader of the Opposition's recommendation was that additional resources go to the aged-care royal commission so that they could inquire into COVID-19 across the sector but not impact or delay the handing down of the final report. We've seen little willingness from the current government to adopt any of those minimum and sensible recommendations.

I know that the people of Dunkley have had enough. They tell me over and over again that action needs to be taken on aged care, because they know we didn't have a royal commission because this Prime Minister or this government wanted one. They know that we had a royal commission because eventually the Prime Minister and the government realised that they had no choice. In less than a month, the Prime Minister and the government are also going to be put in a position where they're not going to have a choice, because the royal commission is going to hand down its final findings and recommendations, and this government cannot simply stand up and say: 'Sure. We accept that,' and think that that will be enough.

What Australians expect and deserve is a government that will implement reforms swiftly and will fund them without reservation. After seven years of presiding over systemic and ongoing failures in Australia's aged-care system, this Liberal government cannot continue to deny responsibility, it cannot underfund the system and it cannot pretend that the serious and shameful problems don't exist. When we have royal commissioners who say, 'Had the Australian government acted upon previous reviews of aged care, the persistent problems in aged care would have been known much earlier and the suffering of many people could have been avoided,' then there is no excuse not to act. We cannot have a government that continues to put 'bandaid fixes on the run'. It is not good enough. And that's not my phrase—'bandaid fixes on the run'; that's the royal commission's phrase in its interim report, titled Neglect. It is an abrogation of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government—to care for those who can't care for themselves, to protect Australians when they face dangers which they can't defend themselves from and to be on their citizens' side. Australians expect that they're entitled to the best quality level of care in aged-care homes, and the royal commission has been clear that more is needed to enable providers to meet those expectations consistently—more funding.

I also challenge the Morrison government. Here are some other things that are needed to help ensure Australian citizens get their expectations met in aged-care homes consistently: acknowledge not only what you want praise for, but where you have failed and take responsibility for fixing it; fund the system properly, because if we can't do it now when can we do it; address the pay and the conditions of workers and minimum staffing levels for the sake of the workers and for the sake of the people that they've dedicated their working lives to care for.

It is not too much to ask of an Australian government that it ensures senior Australians have dignity and meaning in their later years no matter how many resources they have available to them and no matter what their personal wealth is. What Australians need now is a federal government that demonstrates through actions and outcomes, not announcements and spin, that it is truly on their side. I challenge the Morrison government to be that. But I can tell you this: a federal Labor government will be that and will be on the side of all Australians. The people in Dunkley know that I will continue to stand up in this place at every opportunity I get to say we have to fix our broken aged-care system for the sake not only of the people who are there now but also of people in the future.

I want to end this contribution by raising a positive example of an aged-care facility. We do hear a lot about where things go wrong, and that does have to be fixed, but we have to also mention the facilities that are great and where things are going well. The Village Baxter in my electorate—I know that Kim Jackson will be slightly embarrassed that I am praising her and her staff so publicly in the parliament, but they deserve to be praised—is a facility that sat down at the start of last year, before the federal government had taken steps to deal with the pandemic, and said, 'It looks like we've got an issue. How can we make sure we're prepared for it?' They took out their old sales plan and their infection control plan. They talked with their residents. Before masks were mandatory they had staff and medical staff wearing masks. They educated their wider community about what was required to keep their residents safe. They did an amazing job in the face of the same difficulties that staff and facilities across Victoria and across Australia did and they did it well, and I want to make sure that they are remembered for how well they did it. As Kim has said to me, aged-care is about people. Our approach, as with everything we do, must value those people at the centre of every decision. That is a guiding principle that works for aged care, and it's a guiding principle that should be adopted by governments and would work for governments: people should be at the heart of every decision. In a year when Australians fought fires, floods and, as Kim Jackson has said to me, microscopic enemies that we couldn't see, we needed to make sure that we learnt from that that people should be at the heart of every decision.

5:02 pm

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we are at the start of a new parliamentary year, but in many respects it is groundhog day, especially for this government, which means nothing has changed in the lives of the precious people this government is bound to care for. This government turns up year after year showing next to no progress on aged care and on how we can better support the elders of our community, whether that care is in their own home or in a specialist facility. In the midst of our country's COVID-19 crisis last year, thousands of families, including mine, found themselves confronted by the Morrison government's complete failure to care for our elderly. The interim findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety grabbed the headlines, but the bells had been ringing long before 2020.

It has been more than three years since a serious incident response scheme was first recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission. The Carnell-Paterson review, commissioned by the government in the wake of the Oakden nursing home tragedy, also recommended introducing a scheme. The Morrison government has taken far too long to introduce a response scheme that will respond to cases of assault and abuse in our aged-care system. At Oakden in South Australia, a 99-year-old woman with dementia was indecently assaulted. What more motivation does this government need? How can people in my electorate—indeed, those right around Australia—trust this government to respond properly to last year's royal commission when it takes more than three years to respond to the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Carnell-Paterson review? Failures in this government's system continue to be exposed.

I want to weep as this government sits on its hands, promising to act but so far failing to deliver. My own family has experienced these failures firsthand, but first I want to give a voice to the people of the mighty Eden-Monaro, the people that I serve. Rhonda wrote to me recently. She's a health professional with decades of caring experience. She is now the primary carer for her mum, who is approaching 90. Like many families, Rhonda's mum wants to stay at home for as long as possible. Like many, what we've seen unfold in nursing homes around the country has left Rhonda and her mum feeling anxious about the prospect of nursing home care.

Let me give you a sense of what Rhonda shared with me. She said:

Mum is on a full pension and has a debilitating back injury from years of being a nurse. Two years ago mum broke her leg, which has further impacted her mobility. For several years mum has been receiving a community home support package, which has helped with cleaning and showering. In light of mum's increasing care needs and the subsequent financial demands, we organised an ACAT assessment. The assessment was conducted in April 2020 and mum was assessed as needing a level 2 home-care package. In November 2020, mum was advised that, as funds were not available for level 2, she would commence on a level 1 package and we had three months to select a provider to manage the package. Mum elected to remain with her existing provider, who had been very helpful.

But their advice to Rhonda was to reject the level 1 package because Rhonda's mum would be at a financial disadvantage. She would be out of pocket almost $3,000 a month. As Rhonda said, 'We waited eight to 10 months in anticipation of financial support only to find out that mum could not actually afford to take up the package.'

Knowing that her mum's needs are increasing, Rhonda has been looking at the higher level 3 and level 4 packages. She has been alarmed to hear that many people waiting for those higher care packages often die before the packages are made available to them. Again we weep for those families, as this government watches on. Rhonda says, 'I do not understand who actually benefits from these home-care packages if those on pensions can't afford them or die waiting.' We're talking about a woman who has served her community as a nurse, helping those in need throughout her whole life. It's a total disgrace.

Sadly, Rhonda and her mum are not alone in Eden-Monaro. The latest waiting figures for home-care packages reveal just how broken our country's aged-care system is under the Morrison government. The waiting list for home-care packages across the country shows that 100,000 older Australians are in desperate need of care. In my electorate, more than 1,100 people are waiting—up from 600 people in the previous reporting period, a nearly 50 per cent increase. These figures are heartbreaking and reveal the pain and trauma many local families are feeling as they look to provide care and dignity to their loved ones.

The government says it has injected more money into the system. Well, people in Tumut, Queanbeyan, Cooma, Jindabyne, Bega and Narooma are yet to see or feel any improvement. 'More will be announced in the budget,' the Prime Minister says. Well, families don't have the luxury of time. Every moment counts in the days that we share with our elders.

At Braidwood poor Norman, aged 90, has had to argue with the aged-care minister to get a provider to visit his regional community, which is about an hour down the road from here. At one point Norman went 11 weeks without his regular home-care visits because the provider said it couldn't service Braidwood. As Norman told me: 'I'm 90 years of age and had a stroke 12 months ago. This leaves me in a difficult position, not to mention the rest of the folk who were getting the service.' Thankfully, Norman's service has been rebooted, but only after he jumped up and down about the system. Australia's aged-care system is broken when people like Norman and Rhonda can't get the assistance they need and deserve.

The system was broken long before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic only served to put extra stress on this system, resulting in the death of hundreds of people. My Nanny Hobby could have been one of those. She passed away in the middle of Victoria's second wave, not as a direct result of COVID but the cracks in the system didn't make her last months happy or comfortable. Living with dementia, 91-year-old Gladys Hobson endured six negative COVID tests and the collapse of services at her original home, including meal services. My family simply couldn't see her traumatised any further and pulled her out, but it was no easy task, as my nan was placed in a COVID ward before heading to her final days in a private hospital. She spent her last weeks free of the distress that had become such a feature of her day. My family were lucky that we were able to find other options and could move her, but what about the elders and families who don't have those options? These are the people and families who need this government to meet its duty of care. We need to put the care of these fragile people at the heart of our aged-care system, at the heart of aged-care reform and at the heart of government.

No-one in my community has any confidence in the current system. Day after day the evidence of serious neglect mounts. Another Eden-Monaro constituent, Robyn, wrote to me:

It seems to me that the amount of money allocated to each eligible aged-care recipient is eaten up by administrative fees. The current model has created an industry at the expense of the aged-care recipient. The service organisation is profiteering while the aged-care recipient either goes begging or is woefully underserviced.

Another constituent, Belinda, wrote: 'It is just like a morbid lottery. It has nothing to do with care or respect.' Frank wrote:

The royal commission revealed the litany of abuse and neglect that the coalition government has known was occurring under their watch. The government regards the aged as leaners on the budget. As the royal commission reported, this neglect has led to the cruel fact that men over 85 years have the highest rate of suicide of any group in the country.

We then have the situation in Harden, just outside our electorate, where the Southern Cross Care retirement facility is being closed. There is no interest from this government in helping regional Australians, no help with establishing those places needed in Jindabyne or extending care in any other of our regional communities. When it comes to aged care, the Morrison government continues to hide from its responsibilities. A decade of inaction will be further highlighted when the final report from the aged-care royal commission is handed down later this month.

Money alone is not going to fix the problems Australians see every day. There is no evidence from those opposite that the thinking and compassion needed to get us where we need to be is even happening. We're a trillion dollars in debt, and some of the big reforms needed in this country are left untouched. This experience should count for something. The need is evident to anyone with a heart, but so too is the opportunity. Fixing the waiting lists and reforming aged care could be part of our recovery from the bushfires and COVID-19. Jobs in the care economy provide meaningful work, especially in country towns, and clearly meet a desperate need. These workers are doing their very, very best; it is the system that is broken. My great hope is that this government finally hears the call of Australians and does what we need it to do.

While the Serious Incident Response Scheme is very welcome and long overdue, we need deep and lasting aged-care reform. This needs to be just the beginning, because Australians deserve better. I'll continue to highlight these issues in the electorate of Eden-Monaro, because I have their back.

5:13 pm

Photo of Zali SteggallZali Steggall (Warringah, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Bill 2020. The main point of the bill is the establishment of the Serious Incident Response Scheme, putting in place a new system of managing reportable assaults and unexplained absences in residential aged care. It will also require providers to manage incidents of abuse and neglect and take responsible steps to prevent incidents. It will require approved providers of residential care and flexible care delivered in a residential aged-care setting to report all serious incidents to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. It will remove the existing exemption for reporting assaults where the alleged perpetrator is a residential aged-care recipient with a cognitive or mental impairment and the victim is another care recipient.

These changes are important reforms to improve the management and transparency of and accountability for serious incidents within the aged-care sector. Unfortunately, through the aged-care royal commission, we have heard numerous cases of neglect and abuse in the aged-care sector, so many cases that the interim report from that royal commission was titled simply Neglect. The neglect, however, goes far beyond the reporting of incidents. It's throughout the system, where funding cuts and reduced staffing ratios continue to weaken the standard of care provided to aged-care residents.

The Serious Incident Response Scheme is necessary, but it is dealing with the symptoms of a neglected system rather than addressing the cause and increasing staffing ratios and the training provided to carers. So, while I welcome the establishment of this scheme and the recognition that the government bears some responsibility for the neglect in aged-care facilities that we too often hear of, I maintain that broader reform of the sector and increased funding is required to address the root cause of these reported incidents of abuse and neglect.

In Warringah, aged care is a key issue. Of the total population, 15.7 per cent are over 65, and this proportion is growing. I've spoken with local providers about this bill and I've engaged with Leading Age Services Australia. Local providers and the LASA agree in principle with the need for the broader incident-reporting scheme but believe the legislation as currently drafted may cause some difficulties as well for the sector. They're concerned that something like a heated argument between two residents about who gets to sit where at dinner would possibly be a reportable incident under the legislation. There's also a concern about the lack of a need for consent from residents for the reporting of incidents, particularly in respect of incidents between residents and family members. While the LASA are working with the regulator and the department on refining these elements, they argue—and I would agree—that these elements should be agreed to and sorted out prior to the parliament passing this legislation.

The proposed commencement schedule is another concern shared by the sector. The new reporting arrangements are due to commence in April this year; however, the aged-care facilities are yet to receive detailed guidance from the department on how they will be implemented and what the requirements are. The bill also introduces a range of new penalties for breaches of incident-reporting and other obligations. In the circumstances, the sector argues that the new penalty regime has come from left field; there wasn't detailed consultation and they've not had the opportunity to discuss the detail with providers. In the broad, the new penalties better reflect appropriate degrees of escalation and the opportunity for review than the current penalties regime, but the new penalties sit alongside existing penalties, which further complicates the regulatory environment for providers. So a broader overhaul of the penalties regime as part of the response to the royal commission findings would be more appropriate.

But there's no doubt that there are broader concerns about the aged-care sector. As we heard during the royal commission into aged care, there are countless stories of neglect throughout this underfunded system, and it requires a broad overhaul. But today we saw further data released from the royal commission showing that 36.9 per cent of nursing-home residents presented to an emergency department at least once in 2018-19. We need more regular reporting of this data and more transparency in the aged-care sector, beyond the context of a royal commission.

A constituent approached me with her own story of her partner's experience with the system, and she would like me to share her story for the record. John was diagnosed with a brain tumour and subsequently suffered a stroke. He required the care of a residential aged-care facility. Following his admission, John endured multiple reviews by his ACAT, the aged-care facility provider and other specialists. John's wife, Paula; My Aged Care; and the aged-care provider disagreed about the level of care required, and they ended up in countless rounds of dispute. The only person that paid a price, ultimately, was John, in the level of care he received. In 2019, John was admitted to hospital, and, upon admission to hospital, his accommodation at the aged-care facility was terminated immediately, with the facility stating they were no longer able to care for him. The termination notice did not offer any alternative care arrangements, and Paula felt isolated by the experience, with no-one to care for John. With nowhere else to go, he spent his final months in two different hospitals, until he passed away.

We need to do better as a parliament—and I'd urge the government to do better—but also as a society. This is not how we should treat the elderly, people who have spent their lives contributing to our society, to our economy and to our welfare. This story of the costly burden of compliance and reviews is uncomfortable. There are so many stories across so many electorates of people where the system is failing them. It is possible that there were reportable incidents in John's case that potentially could have been reported through the Serious Incident Response Scheme. So we need more qualified staff at the aged-care facilities and more consistency of care to improve the standard of living for older Australians. The level of admission to emergency departments for aged-care residents is a concern, and it must be a red flag to the government that there is a lack of sufficient staffing ratios—a lack of registered nurses and the people with the experience and the qualifications to deal with the high level of care needed.

Home care is an issue that comes up a lot. I commend the intent of the government to keep more people out of aged-care facilities and in their own homes. It is something that comes up a lot when I speak to constituents. But to do this we need to be better at delivering the home-care packages that they need to support their independent living arrangements. I've spoken in this place previously of the need to address the urgent needs of 100,000 people waiting for approval of their home-care packages. I regularly receive correspondence from constituents complaining of the difficulties in obtaining an ACAT assessment, and then the long waiting time for the home-care packages. A constituent recently approached me with concerns that her father has been waiting nearly two years for the approval of his level 3 home-care package. It seems that the greater the level of support required the longer you have to wait.

The ultimate cost of this delay far outweighs any savings government realises from not approving the package sooner and delivering it. With the cost and the quality of life for those in need, not to mention the frequent hospital visits and the countless hours of unpaid carer responsibilities taken on by family members taking them away from their usual employment, there is no saving by failing to deliver the high level of home-care packages needed. It's inhumane that, last year, 28,000 Australians died while waiting for their home-care package to be approved. How many of them would have lived longer, more comfortable lives had their package been approved and delivered sooner? The elderly deserve respectful, affordable, accessible and safe aged-care options that are offered in a timely manner. We want aged care that promotes independence and wellbeing, with choices so people can stay at home longer while being healthy and connected, and more options for a suitable mix of home help and medical support.

So, whilst I welcome this bill and the need for the Serious Incident Response Scheme that was recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission report, and I welcome that this bill is consistent with the findings of the interim report of the royal commission and is recognised by the community, the sector and providers, I urge the government to accelerate its negotiations and communications with providers to finalise the detail of the reportable incidents and the rollout of the required information to affected providers as soon as possible.

I urge the government to look more broadly at the changes they are making—from the penalties alignment to the opportunities presented in this bill to the need for broader reform of the aged-care, home-care and disability support sectors. We need to simplify the system and make it easier for people to understand; improve access to the care that they need; reduce administrative costs; and ensure that the money goes to where it is needed, which is for the care of our elderly.

5:23 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very glad to make a contribution to this debate this evening on the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Bill 2020, and I stand in strong support of the amendments moved by Labor's shadow minister, the member for Hotham. This is an important piece of legislation that enables the creation of a Serious Incident Response Scheme for residential aged-care facilities. The scheme will help reduce abuse and neglect by requiring care providers to manage incidents and to take reasonable steps to prevent them. This includes the organisation wide governance systems for management and reporting of incidents of abuse and neglect. This is an absolutely vital step which Labor has consistently called for. But, frankly, it's nothing short of shameful that the government has taken so long to act.

The creation of a serious incident response scheme was recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission in its Elder Abuse—A National Legal Response report, which was published back in 2017. That was four years ago. This same recommendation was made by the Carnell-Paterson Review of national aged care quality regulatory processes, which was part of the inquiry into the South Australian Oakden facility for dementia patients.

In 2018-19, there were more than 5,000 reported cases of abuse—a number that has been growing year on year. As shocking as this figure is, the Morrison government's own report, which it commissioned KPMG to do in 2019, found that these 5,000 reported cases of abuse are just the tip of the iceberg. The government was given this report in November 2019, detailing the scale of the problem and the urgent need for action. But what did the minister do? Nothing. That's right—nothing. Not only did he do nothing but he actually sat on the report for a further six months. Australians weren't told about the terrible extent of this situation until it was quietly released in June the next year. Make no mistake: it is very serious indeed. Clearly, 5,000 older Australians being abused in a residential facility every year is a national tragedy, but the KPMG report estimated 50,000 cases of assault and abuse in aged care across Australia go unreported every year. Just take a moment to let that number sink in. Unfortunately, the Morrison Liberal government didn't see this information as being urgent enough to release immediately or as a matter worthy of national attention.

Even after the government revealed the damning truth about the state of Australia's aged-care system, older Australians and their families had to wait another six months for this legislation to come before this parliament. This is absolutely shameful. Thousands and thousands of cases of abuse quite likely went unacted on because this government didn't seem to understand or heed the urgency of the situation. So Labor are glad that this bill has finally come before the House, but we have been a long, long time waiting. While we still have concerns that it doesn't also encompass home care, for example, we will, of course, support its passage today. But we need to recognise that this appalling delay in responding to the calamity of abuse in our aged-care system isn't an aberration. No, it is absolutely par for the course when it comes to the way in which the Morrison government has managed—or, more accurately, mismanaged—the care of older Australians.

Let's be clear: the scheme created by this bill, while important, goes no way to repairing the damage done to Australia's aged-care system under this government. It's not just residential aged care that has been neglected by the Morrison government. Sadly, the situation is just as bad when it comes to the home-care packages. Alarming new data that Labor secured through Senate estimates revealed that there are close to 100,000 older Australians who are still waiting for packages that have been approved, and my community in Newcastle learnt that 2,600 people in the Hunter aged-care planning region are now languishing on a waitlist for aged-care home packages that they have, again, already been approved for but don't have a hope in hell of being able to access because of the lengthy waitlists that now exist. The diabolical reality of the home-care system under Mr Morrison is that too often someone has to die in order for a new home-care place to become available. Older Australians are now having to wait two years or more to access the packages they have been approved for. Shamefully, more than 30,000 older Australians died waiting for home care that they'd been approved for in the three years to mid-2020.

Make no mistake, Australia's aged-care system is in crisis as a result of the reckless underinvestment and mismanagement by the Morrison government. Aged care is a Commonwealth responsibility, yet the Morrison government washes its hand of any responsibility. Well, Prime Minister, it's time you stepped up—no more excuses, no more dodging and weaving—this crisis in aged care is on your watch, and it's time you fixed it.

Possibly the most compelling insight into the depths of Australia's aged-care crisis can be found in the title of the interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. After months spent reviewing the evidence, Neglect was the single most accurate term that this august and independent commission could find to describe the diabolical state of Australia's aged-care system. The interim report found that, under the Liberals, Australia's aged-care system is failing and failing badly. The media statement accompanying the interim report explained:

Commissioners describe the many problems that older people and their families have in trying to get access to aged care services, service shortfalls, the dispiriting nature of residential care, serious substandard care and unsafe practice, an underpaid, undervalued and insufficiently trained workforce, and isolation of young people with disabilities.

Commissioner Richard Tracey AM couldn't have been clearer in his summary, which said:

The neglect that we have found in this Royal Commission to date is far from the best that can be done. Rather, it is a sad and shocking system that diminishes Australia as a nation.

The interim report of the aged-care royal commission was released in October 2019. At that stage, no-one had even heard of COVID-19. The words 'lockdown', 'iso' and 'hotspot' were not yet part of our daily vocabulary. But when COVID-19 arrived the system, which was already in crisis, fractured further along the fault lines that had developed under the Morrison government. The very foundations of Australia's aged-care system buckled under the pressure of this deadly disease, and the Morrison government did not do enough to stop it—685 Australians in residential aged-care facilities died. Some families and loved ones were forced to say goodbye in online videoconferences. Mothers and fathers, beloved grandparents and cherished uncles and aunts were taken too soon, all because the Morrison government failed to have a proper plan for COVID-19 in aged care.

Labor has a plan and has been calling on the Morrison government to act now on minimum staffing levels, on more home-care packages, on transparency of funding, on public reporting, on adequate personal protection equipment, on better training and surge workforce strategy and on additional resources for the royal commission. But this isn't just Labor's perspective—no. In it's report, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety itself found exactly this: that the Morrison government did not have a plan to manage COVID-19 in aged care. We now have, in black and white, confirmation that the Prime Minister and his incompetent minister Senator Colbeck did nothing to prepare the aged-care sector for the impact of this deadly virus.

The commissioner said that the Morrison government is responsible for aged care and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic in aged care was insufficient. Let's be clear—there can be nothing more serious than the deaths of Australian citizens on a minister's watch, and close to 700 older Australians in aged-care facilities lost their lives because this government did not have a plan. The Senate understood the gravity of this situation when it censured the aged-care minister in September of last year, but still the Prime Minister refused to act.

The Prime Minister has shown again and again he's too weak, too compromised or too arrogant to hold members of his government accountable for their actions. He consistently does nothing when the member for Hughes continually compromises Australia's national health response by spreading grossly irresponsible lies about COVID-19. He stayed silent when ministers falsely accuse families, students, jobseekers and Australians with a disability of owing money, a disgrace that's created untold pain and prompted a $1.2 billion court settlement for 400,000 Australians. He stayed out of it when his government spent $30 million on a piece of land in Western Sydney worth only $3 million—notably, a piece of land that was owned by a Liberal Party donor. But you'd think that even this 'born to rule, protect your mates' Prime Minister couldn't possibly sit back and do nothing as hundreds of Australians died in facilities that his government was responsible for. But that's exactly what he did.

As long as we have a Prime Minister that fails to act on egregious acts, as long as we have a Prime Minister that refuses to adhere to the important principles of ministerial responsibility and as long as we have a Prime Minister that thumbs his nose at scrutiny and chooses his colleagues over his nation then situations like this will continue to happen. We've already had 30,000 older Australians die waiting for a package that they were entitled to and we have 100,000 more still waiting. If those numbers don't scare you, Prime Minister, I don't know what will. No-one should have to die waiting.

In closing, I'd like to reiterate that Labor does support this bill but there is no excuse for the time it has taken to get to this parliament. The tardiness of this bill is just another example of the callous disregard and neglect with which the Morrison government has treated older Australians. We have seen the devastating consequences of the Morrison government's failure to not prepare our aged-care system for COVID-19. It's now time for the Morrison government to stop focusing on dismantling our responsible lending requirements, to stop going after workers' pay and conditions, to stop pulling protections from vulnerable Australians in the middle of a global pandemic, and to start owning up to this mess and focusing on fixing our broken aged-care system.

5:38 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

The Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Bill 2020 introduces a serious incident response scheme that will respond to and take steps to prevent the incidents of abuse and neglect of older Australians in residential aged care. This includes those receiving flexible care delivered in a residential aged-care setting. The scheme will provide greater protections for older Australians by taking into account broader instances of abuse and neglect, and by introducing more robust requirements for residential aged-care providers to respond and report.

From 1 April 2021 this bill introduces legislative requirements that will build provider capacity to identify risk and respond to incidents if and when they occur. By imposing these requirements, the scheme is expected to drive learning and improvements that will reduce the number of preventable serious incidents in the future. The bill will also provide new powers to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to enforce the requirements of the scheme and the aged-care responsibilities of approved providers and related offences more generally. These are standard regulatory powers which will provide the commission with a more graduated suite of powers for ensuring compliance and protecting consumers. Additional information-gathering powers are also provided to ensure the commission is equipped to obtain the information it requires to administer the scheme and the commission's regulatory framework more broadly. The scheme complements and supports existing regulatory settings, including the integrated expectations of the aged-care quality standards, the Charter of Aged Care Rights and open disclosure requirements. Together, these will all support residential aged-care providers to engage in risk management and continuous improvement to deliver safe and quality care to older Australians.

I thank members for their contributions to debate on this bill. The health, safety and wellbeing of older Australians is of the utmost importance to the Australian government. Any abuse of a person in residential aged care is unacceptable, and it is important that these incidents are reported, managed and prevented from occurring in the future.

I wish to table an addendum to the explanatory memorandum, which responds to concerns raised by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. This addendum clarifies how subordinate legislation will operate to support the arrangements in this bill. I thank the committee for their comments.

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

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