House debates

Tuesday, 2 February 2021


Aged Care

7:50 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Aged care in Australia is in a state of national crisis. I think a lot of people who interact with the sector have known that for a long time, but we have absolutely irrefutable evidence in the interim report to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety that was provided to the government some time ago. What this report tells us is that we have a system where fundamental features of caring for vulnerable elderly Australians are being mismanaged for many of the people who are in residential aged care. I'm speaking here about things like wound management, where many Australians would have been just appalled and disgusted to see photos of maggots in wounds. I'm talking about the evidence in this report that tells us that up to half of the residents in residential aged care today are malnourished. I'm talking about basic fundamentals like the management for the many people in aged care who are incontinent, who are living in homes where incontinence pads are being rationed and who are sitting in urine and faeces. I don't think there is a single Australian out there who thinks that these things are acceptable. The question for this parliament and especially for those opposite is: what are we willing to do about these problems?

Residential aged care takes up a lot of the focus of this conversation, and I think it is where some of the most egregious examples of awful mismanagement have been found. But I want to draw the House's attention here to what is an extraordinary crisis in the number of Australians who are waiting for home-care packages. Residential aged care gets a lot of focus but in fact the vast majority of users of the aged-care system are people who are living at home, who need additional support to stay in their homes, which is what most Australians desperately want to do.

There are about 100,000 Australians today who are waiting for funding to get a home-care package, and I really want Australians to understand what that means. What that means is that the Morrison government has, through its public servants, assessed that Australian as someone who needs support in the home to live in their home safely. But what doesn't necessarily follow is the money, so we've got 100,000 people out there who have been told that they need support to live in their homes safely but they have to wait, and some of them, many of them, are waiting for years and years and years.

So what happens while people wait? What happens is that their condition deteriorates, so instead of needing an entry-level phase 1 package, they go up to needing a stage 3 or stage 4 package. We know that many go into residential aged care because they actually have no option when they don't have the funding they need to live in their home, even though—as you know, Speaker—it would be much cheaper for government if we actually provided them the support they needed to stay at home. In the absolute worst case scenario, vulnerable Australians who need help in their homes die while they are on the waiting list. Now, no Australian should die while they are on the waiting list for home care that the government has already told them that they need. We know that, in the three years leading up to mid 2020, more than 30,000 older Australians died while they were waiting for a home-care package to be approved. This problem has been profoundly exacerbated by the neglect of this critical policy area by the Morrison government. In fact, in the time that the Liberals have been in office, the wait times for aged care have exploded by almost 300 per cent.

One of the cruellest parts of this whole system of home care is that the people who are made to wait the longest for care are the ones who are in most need. The people who are in most danger of falls, of other critical medical incidents, are having to wait for years for their packages. That is not in line with how Australians want to see this system run.

I mentioned that the government has known about these problems for a long time. We are having a royal commission, but you would have noticed at the time the royal commission was called that one of the real refrains coming out of the sector was: do we need another report? We've known about these problems because this is not the first report this government has commissioned to tell them that the system is broken. What is lacking is not information about how bad the system is. What is lacking is political will from those who have the power to fix this problem, to actually prioritise these issues and to make a serious impact on them because what is what older Australians deserve.