House debates

Monday, 20 March 2023

Private Members' Business

Aged Care

11:40 am

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that the Government:

(a) has failed to admit that the headline aged care promises they made to older Australians and their families, at the 2022 election, are negatively impacting aged care homes across Australia; and

(b) has blatantly ignored the Opposition's concerns that their expedited timeframe for aged care staffing requirements could force aged care homes to close because they cannot access staff, and cause older Australians from rural and regional Australia to travel miles away from their community to receive support; and

(2) further notes that:

(a) the University of Technology Sydney Ageing Research Collaborative report released in 2022 confirms that the Government's expedited requirements for aged care facilities will see homes closed down and older Australians abandoned;

(b) documents from the Department of Health and Ageing, recently released under freedom of information, reveal that 14,626 new workers and nurses will be required in 2023-24 and 25,093 the year after; and

(c) less than five per cent of the surveyed aged care homes currently have the required direct care workforce needed to fulfil the requirements that will be placed on them;

(3) acknowledges that the Government has failed to provide adequate support to assist aged care providers with the significant pressure of preparing for these incoming additional requirements in the midst of serious workforce shortages; and

(4) condemns the Government for making promises to older Australians and their families that it knows cannot be delivered.

All Australians want and expect our older Australians to be well supported and cared for in our community, including in residential aged-care homes. Just weeks ago, the Labor Minister for Aged Care's op-ed stated:

… older people in residential aged care will have access to a registered nurse 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Unfortunately, in a rush to tick and flick an election commitment, the Albanese government has failed to consider the practical reality of national workforce shortages in this area. The lack of registered nurses to meet the 1 July deadline is at a critical level in rural, regional and remote community aged-care facilities. This feedback comes directly from the aged-care providers in our electorates. They are desperately concerned as to how they will meet this requirement. Various reports show that the sector needs approximately 20,000 to 21,000 additional workers. A UTS report showed that less than five per cent of the surveyed aged-care facilities currently had the direct care workforce needed to meet the Labor government's 1 July deadline. Where does the Labor government plan for these nurses to come from?

The coalition has consistently and repeatedly raised concerns with the government regarding the capacity of the sector, particularly those in rural, regional and remote areas, to meet these mandatory workforce requirements. In Senate estimates last year, the government could not—or would not—give straight answers to the shadow minister for aged care. This was regarding just how many new staff were required to meet the 1 July regulation and what provisions are actually in place to support those great providers in our electorates who simply cannot meet this requirement in spite of their best efforts. Where will the additional registered nurses, enrolled nurses and care workforce come from in the midst of what is a significant nationwide labour shortage? Is the government planning to take staff from one health sector at the expense of another? I note that the WA state government's move to a one-to-four staff ratio during the day and a one-to-seven staff ratio at night in the health space will add to the demands on supplying staff in aged care.

We cannot afford to lose any of our aged-care providers, particularly those in rural, regional and remote areas. They are hanging on by their fingernails right now. Sixty-four per cent of facilities in major cities are operating at a loss, and that increases to around 70 per cent in regional, rural and remote facilities in our part of the world. In response to the aged-care royal commission, the coalition invested over $19.1 billion in aged care. In this space, the government has mentioned some exemptions for some facilities. I spoke to a provider in my electorate on Friday. They said it is just so difficult; the amount of time and cost in applying for and maintaining an exemption is extraordinary. There's additional time and cost and reporting. They simply cannot source the required number of registered nurses, in spite of their best efforts, both in Victoria and overseas. They're simply not available. They estimate that, at capacity, this facility will need another eight to nine full-time registered nurses. But where will they come from? It is difficult and expensive to attract suitably qualified overseas trained nurses. They've even used a third party to help source these nurses, subsidising the accommodation of those they can employ. This is already affecting their star rating and will have an even greater impact when those clinical care minutes apply from 1 July.

Will this mean that we'll start to lose more of our smaller facilities? We've got some quite small rural, regional and remote facilities, and they are already struggling to survive. That's something we know right now. What happens to our older Australians in those remote and regional communities if these aged-care homes have to close? I look at wonderful places in my part of the world, like the wonderful Tuia Lodge, with a relatively small number of people. They battle every day to provide those fabulous services to the people they love and care for. Hocart Lodge in Harvey does the same thing, as does Armstrong Village and Capecare in Dunsborough. I know in my colleague Rick Wilson's electorate of O'Connor there are significant issues facing the smaller aged-care provider in places like Katanning. These are the ones we are desperately concerned about, and we want to make sure our older Australians have the care they need.

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to do so, and I reserve my right to speak.

11:45 am

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to rise as a member of the Albanese Labor government at any opportunity to speak about the actions we are taking in aged care. The member for Forrest in her contribution raised some questions, and I think it'd be timely for me to give her some answers to those questions—that aged-care homes that genuinely try to meet the requirement and recruit registered nurses will not be shut down because they can't fill the positions. Let's start there. Older Australians from rural and regional Australia will not be forced to travel miles away from their community to receive support, because their providers can apply for an exemption.

To listen to members of the opposition now speak about aged care is galling—a fearmongering campaign about the improvements to aged care not meeting a time line that was suddenly set by an opposition that for a decade ignored what was happening in aged care, ignored the need for a wage rise for aged-care workers to maintain them in the system and to recruit and retain workers in the aged-care system. So I take this opportunity with relish, because let's be frank about what this motion from the coalition is arguing against. It's arguing against getting more registered nurses into aged-care homes. It's arguing against treating older Australians with greater dignity. It's arguing for refusing to increase care access. It's arguing for refusing to lift standards—in an industry that the whole country knows needs to lift those standards, after the damning reports from the royal commission. It is astonishing that after those shameful findings of the royal commission, delivered on the opposition's watch in government, that the coalition is still actively trying to stop older Australians from getting the care they need.

After 10 years of neglect, the coalition is still trying to slow down and delay reform in aged care. Let's have a look at that 10 years. Let's have a really good look at it. In December 2013 former Prime Minister Tony Abbott scrapped Labor's $1.2 billion aged-care workforce compact, which would have delivered a pay rise to aged-care workers in 2013. In May 2016 former Treasurer Scott Morrison cut $2.5 billion from aged care over four years. In 2018 they ignored the key recommendations of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce report. On 31 March 2021 the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety released its shocking final report, describing the government's approach to care as 'the minimum commitment it could get away with'.

In contrast, this Labor government is putting things in place, starting with fixing the workforce shortage. It's not going to be easy, but the Albanese Labor government are using every tool in our kit to achieve it. In the October budget we delivered $473 million to help providers get their 24/7 nurses. We're delivering a 15 per cent pay rise for aged-care workers to attract and retain the workforce. We're increasing the permanent migration program ceiling to 195,000 in 2022-23 to help ease widespread critical workforce shortages, one of which of course includes aged care. We're providing an additional $1 billion in joint federal-state funding for fee-free TAFE in 2023 and accelerating delivery of 465,000 fee-free TAFE places. We're extending visas and relaxing work restrictions on international students to strengthen the pipeline of skilled labour and providing additional funding to resolve the visa backlog. We're allowing people on the age pension and the veteran pension to earn an additional $4,000. Someone I met quite recently who was working in aged care and was on the age pension is making the most of that. We've done all of that in less than a year.

In comparison, Labor campaigned from opposition; Labor called out the then coalition government for years. And I will finish with this: in my electorate in the middle of the pandemic, aged-care facilities had no PPE on the ground, and that was on the former government's watch. The former government was responsible for the provision of those things, and when they were needed in my community—when the infection hit the aged-care facilities in my community—there was no PPE on the ground. I know that because I helped deliver it. I had to ring the then minister and ask for his assistance to deliver on what should already have been apparently needed and delivered to my community.

11:51 am

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm given to reflect that the government is fast learning the difference between opposition and government. In opposition, everything looks so easy. It's easy to throw stones, but, of course, the buck stops with the government, and the government is in place now and they have been disingenuous. In fact, that contribution from the member for Lalor was exactly that. It was the coalition government that took funding for aged care from $13.3 billion in 2013 through to $30 billion in 2022. That's a 126 per cent increase. I wouldn't call that a dereliction of duty.

In opposition, Labor provided 60,000 home-care packages, or a little fewer. When they came to government there were around 220,000, so there was around about a quadrupling of home-care packages. That also is not a dereliction of duty; that's an incredibly big effort. Now, they can say there should be more, and they've been given the opportunity now to do more, but they might find it's not quite as easy, as I said, from government as they first thought.

Firstly, it's a reasonable question to ask: why were there only 60,000 home-care packages when Labor were in government and when they left government? Secondly, what would they have done to ensure there were more than 220,000 when they came to government? Having said all that, they said in opposition that they would fix aged care and, in fact, they were campaigning in April, May and June last year for a 25 per cent increase in aged-care wages. Eventually the Fair Work Commission settled on 15 per cent and, to be fair, the government doesn't actually have to do what the Fair Work Commission says. They could give 25 per cent if they wish—they are the major funder of aged care—but they went along with the 15 per cent. But not only have they not now, 10 months later, delivered the 15 per cent; they haven't delivered the 10 per cent. Now it has been whittled down to 10 per cent in June and 5 per cent in June next year. So not only have they not delivered on their promise to the people in May; they haven't delivered on the 10 per cent that the Fair Work Commission told them to give—so they're still hanging out for that—and we're still 14 months or 15 months away from the 15 per cent.

Now, I've been talking to aged-care providers in my electorate and they're very concerned about some of these decisions of the government. For instance, if you live in the country, one of first things you'll know, Mr Deputy Speaker Wilkie, is that our aged-care facilities have to pay above-award rates. So they are already paying 10 or 15 per cent higher and even higher percentages for good aged-care staff. The 15 per cent increase is actually predicated on the award rate, so if they are paying above that, are they going to tell these nurses, 'I'm sorry, you can't have a pay increase because you've already got over-reward rates,' or are they going to be forced to give the 10 per cent on top of the inflated 10 per cent that is in place already, which is going to further erode their ability to compete and to deliver the services? And we know that many of these nursing homes are losing money.

Further to that, they're very concerned about the stipulation about the mandatory hours—the 24/7 for registered nurses, the 40 minutes a week from a registered nurse, rising to 44 minutes by, I think, 2030, and the 200 minutes from other aged-care staff. Firstly, I don't know where on earth they're going to get those extra registered nurses—almost 7,000 across Australia mind you. Given that we can't get them in the regional areas anyhow and are often reduced to paying agency rates for those nurses—given that that's difficult to find—they don't know how they're going to meet those mandated timeframes. I was talking to a provider who said, 'We employ more enrolled nurses than the industry average in our component workforce and we believe that gives a better standard of care to our residents.' To fund the registered nurses, if they can find them, they're going to have to cut the ratio down and have fewer enrolled nurses and more aged-care workers that have cert IIIs or whatever in their facilities. They believe that this will erode their capacity to deliver the same high-level care that they are delivering at the moment. They don't see any flexibility in that coming from the government. The member for Lalor says that facilities will not have to—(Time expired)

11:56 am

Photo of Tracey RobertsTracey Roberts (Pearce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to respond the motion tabled by the member for Forrest, which allows me an opportunity to highlight the many significant policies of the Albanese Labor government, policies that aim to restore the respect and dignity of older Australians in aged care, just as they deserve. One of the highlights of being a local member is spending time in the community listening to the stories, experiences and needs of my constituents. I welcome that feedback because my job as a federal member for Pearce is to hear and respond to my community and care for their needs to ensure families, businesses and organisations are supported by our government.

I meet with many groups, and I have been in regular contact with the group Aged Care Reform Now, which is working for change in the aged-care sector to ensure everyone's loved ones are appropriately looked after. Two fearless advocates that I would like to specifically mention are Amina Schipp and Yvonne Buters, who are driven by dreadful personal experiences of their loved ones in aged care and who are determined to see change for the better. Members of this advocacy group were recently in Parliament House to attend an aged-care roundtable. I can say with all certainty that, as a government, we care. The Albanese Labor government cares deeply about the now and the future of Australian families young and old.

Our government has a plan, and that plan includes increasing staffing levels to improve the quality and amount of care that older people receive, including putting nurses back into nursing homes. In less than a year our government has already had a positive impact on aged-care workforce shortages. The latest aged-care workforce estimates reveal the overall gap in supply and demand for workers is getting smaller. In 2023-24 the forecast gap in the number of registered nurses needed is now 8,400, down from 11,700. That is strong, steady and welcome progress. Departmental figures estimate that currently 80 per cent of facilities do have a registered nurse onsite 24/7.

The Albanese government has listened and consulted and we continue to do so. This consultation has taken place with many organisations representing the interests of older Australians and those who look after them. Undoubtedly, workforce and staffing are among the biggest challenges in the economy and the aged-care sector. However, it is important that I remind those opposite that this workforce crisis did not begin on 22 May 2022 when we were elected. For almost a decade the aged-care workforce was neglected by the coalition. And now faced with an opportunity to do good, to correct that shocking history and lack of care for older Australians, it is outstanding that the coalition chooses to argue against this very critical policy to boost the number of registered nurses in aged-care homes. Nobody should argue against treating older Australians with greater dignity. Even after shameful findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety the coalition is still actively trying to stop older Australians from accessing the care that they need.

In contrast, the Albanese Labor government has achieved a positive change. We delivered $473 million to help facilities provide 24/7 nurses, we are delivering a 15 per cent pay rise for aged-care workers and we are lifting the numbers for the permanent migration program to 195,000 to ease the critical workforce shortages. Rewind back to the coalition's time in government and their record has been less than impressive. In 2013, they scrapped Labor's $1.2 million compact to provide an aged-care pay rise. In 2016, they cut $2.5 billion from aged care. In 2018, they ignored the key recommendations in the aged-care workforce strategy taskforce report. And in 2022, the coalition refused to support a pay rise for aged-care workers. I also call out those opposite for sparking the shameless mischievous rumours that homes will be shut down because they can't get a 24/7 registered nurse. That is blatantly wrong. The importance of returning dignity and respecting our older Australians is a priority for our government, and nobody—nobody—should get in the way of such a crucial objective.

12:01 pm

Photo of Gavin PearceGavin Pearce (Braddon, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Health, Aged Care and Indigenous Health Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in support of this very important motion brought forward by my good friend and parliamentary colleague the member for Forrest. She understands the issues and certainly the significant challenges facing the aged-care sector, not just in her region but in rural and regional areas right across Australia. In May last year, Prime Minister Albanese was elected on a promise to fix what he considered to be 'a growing crisis in aged care'. There is nothing more fundamental to meeting that commitment and protecting the lives of our most vulnerable, but Labor has failed on this front. COVID-19 deaths in aged care since the Albanese government was elected have surpassed the total deaths under the former government between 2020 and 2022. In fact, there have been 2,652 COVID deaths in the first eight months under Prime Minister Albanese's watch, compared to 2,415 for the entire two years of the previous government. The minister said that she would put back into aged care the care factor. But instead, she's ripped out measures that the former government had put in place that were protecting older Australians. Sadly, this mismanagement has come with deadly consequences, and the government should apologise to the Australian people for its failure.

The aged-care sector is facing immense challenges on many fronts, including workforce shortages, increased reporting requirements, and ongoing regulatory and compliance changes. But the Albanese government's refusal to listen to them is wearing thin on the industry. The aged-care centres in my region are contacting me daily, saying that the burdens this government is imposing on them will force them to close. Recently, I visited Waratah Lodge in Wagin Western Australia with the member for O'Connor, another regional member that just gets his electorate. I met with Kath, the shire president, and her team at the Waratah Lodge, which is a wonderful aged-care home. It was awarded WA's best aged-care facility in 2018. But in 2023, sadly, they're likely to close their doors thanks to the imposed burdens placed upon them by this government. They're saying that Labor's compliance rules for the big capital cities are fine but they're just not workable in the bush, because nurses aren't available, because personnel isn't there, because they run on the smell of an oily rag, because they use community-minded people as volunteers. They're saying that they have accrued a number of savings over the previous years but that these have all gone, have been depleted, and they're now at a crossroads—it's make or break. To throw more money at the problem isn't the answer. There needs to be a complete, holistic strategy formulated specifically for aged-care facilities and home-care packages in regional and remote Australia.

The burden has fallen on to our local shires and local governments, unfortunately. Councils are pitching in and doing their best to keep these places alive. They're injecting their own funds, their own personnel, their own resources in order to keep these homes open. But those funds need to be redirected to somewhere else, unfortunately. Sadly, the Albanese government is sending both our aged-care sector and our local councils broke, shutting down aged-care centres in Queenstown—you'll appreciate this, Deputy Speaker Wilkie—in Smithton or in East Devonport in Tasmania. It might not mean anything to city dwellers, but, I'll tell you what, it means a lot to those elderly folk in those local communities. This will rip regional families apart and isolate people who just want to live and die in the communities that they served their life in and gave their life for. The aged-care minister is blatantly ignoring the pleas from the bush, where they're experiencing unsustainable financial positions due to Labor's accelerated time frame, and this will force regional aged-care homes to close.

In conclusion, Prime Minister Albanese preached to the Australian public in the lead-up to the federal election that he would make it his mission to fix aged care—his mission, he said. To use a military term, this 'mission' must be classified as a mission failure. Not only this, but Labor's intervention has made the situation on the ground far worse than it was when they entered. In government, as in the military, this critical failure must be borne with some consequences. All I'd say to this minister is: you need to start listening to the bush when it comes to aged care because it's a very different situation than that of the big capital cities.

12:06 pm

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

I'd like to thank the member for Forrest for tabling this motion. As the member for Gilmore, I am committed to improving the quality of aged care for our communities, getting nurses back into nursing homes and putting our most vulnerable people first. I am proud of the incredible work the Albanese government has done to prioritise aged care in this country. I find it absolutely shameful that the former Liberal government allowed aged care to deteriorate to the neglectful state it was in when we took over government. Even so, the Liberals continue to argue against getting more registered nurses into aged-care homes. They continue to argue against treating older Australians with greater dignity. They are standing in the way of increased care access and improved standards. They are standing in the way of putting 'care' in aged care. After 10 years of neglect, they're still trying to delay critical and necessary reform. It is as if they did not do enough damage to aged care in government; now they're trying their best from opposition—disgraceful. Unlike the Liberals, the Albanese Labor government recognises and, most importantly, respects the contribution older Australians have made to this country. We truly believe in our hearts that they deserve dignity and respect. These are not just hollow words for hollow reasons; it's action because that is what is needed.

I want to tell you a story about Connie from Worrigee. Connie came to me late last year asking for help. Connie needed a new mobility scooter to get around and compression stockings for her legs. She needed domestic support services for the house she shares with her husband. It sounds pretty simple, really. But she was having trouble getting that simple support. I quickly looked into these issues, and I'm delighted that they were soon resolved. Now, Connie can move around more freely with her new scooter, and her home is getting the cleaning services they need. Simple. Connie is just one example of the hundreds of people I have helped to regain their dignity with small changes. I love supporting our community and advocating for those who need it, and I'll always make that a priority.

But it shouldn't have come to this. It shouldn't take going to your local member to get these issues solved. That is why the government is working hard to create an aged-care system which is efficient and fair, an aged care system that puts emphasis back on care. Fixing the workforce shortage isn't going to be easy, but we are using every tool in our kit to achieve it. In the October budget, we delivered $473 million to help healthcare providers get 24/7 registered nurses for facilities. We are delivering a 15 per cent pay rise for aged-care workers so that we can attract and retain more workers to this critical industry. At the same time, we have introduced 180,000 fee-free TAFE places in workforce shortage areas so we can train and build the workforce we need, now and into the future. While we work hard to rebuild the local workforce, we've helped providers meet these new requirements by extending the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, among other schemes, to help fill those gaps in regional and rural areas, like the New South Wales South Coast. That is already making a difference to local aged-care providers. These are the types of things a Labor government achieves, and all of that in less than one year.

That's in stark contrast to the Liberals' record. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety described the former government's approach to aged care as 'the minimum commitment it could get away with'. That's the Liberals' record in one sentence. They will do the minimum they can get away with. And what did that get us? The other simple and accurate describer from the Royal Commission, the title of its report: neglect. While the Albanese government is working hard to put nurses back into aged care, the coalition has continued business as usual: fear mongering and spreading misinformation. The vicious rumours that aged-care homes will be shut down because can't get registered nurses are blatantly wrong and dangerous. They should be ashamed to be spreading such lies in order to continue their neglect of local people.

We are committed to improving the quality of aged care in Australia. We are taking action to address the workforce crisis, putting nurses back into nursing homes, increasing funding for training and education, and providing financial support for aged-care providers. We will continue doing absolutely everything we can to ensure that every Australian can age with dignity, respect and care.

12:11 pm

Photo of Anne WebsterAnne Webster (Mallee, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the motion by the honourable member for Forrest. In particular, I call attention to the University of Technology Sydney Ageing Research Collaborative report, which strikes home at issues raised with me by leadership at many aged-care facilities in Mallee. These issues largely centre around care minute requirements and the lack of registered nurses to meet expedited requirements legislated by the Labor government. The report states that meeting the incoming mandated standards will require an additional 6,922 full-time registered nurses in Australia by 1 July. Meanwhile, at Senate estimates the Department of Health and Aged Care said that an additional 10,000 to 14,000 nurses would be required to fulfil the care requirements due to come into effect by October this year. Less than five per cent of aged-care homes currently have the required direct care workforce needed to fulfil the requirements that will be placed on them. It's astounding: 95 per cent of homes will need to find more staff. And as we know, the workforce is already thin.

It is an impossible situation. These figures highlight a serious issue that is only going to get worse over time. Mallee aged-care residential facilities have certainly made it loud and clear to me. Facilities such as Dimboola's Allambi Elderly People's Home, which sadly has had to close recently for this reason. Or Minyip's Dunmunkle Lodge and Donald's Johnson-Goodwin Memorial Home, who have both communicated the issues that they are having. And facilities such as Maryborough's Havilah Hostel, another community institution of over 160 beds that is also facing troubled waters. Two out of three residential facilities around Australia are unviable, and the closer we get to the deadlines this Labor government has determined, the more pressure will be applied.

I have been working closely with Mallee aged-care facilities and their communities, listening to their concerns and writing to the ministers concerned, with little to no understanding reporting. In Dimboola, before the closure of Allambi, I faced an impromptu community meeting and delivered their petition to the Prime Minister from the many concerned residents of that town. I recently met with the chief executive of Dunmunkle Lodge, Peter Ballagh, and board member Andrew Clark, and talked through their situation, listening to their proposals as to how they could make their facility remain viable and sustainable. Recently I took the shadow minister for health, Senator Anne Ruston, to Maryborough, where we toured the Havilah Hostel and met with the board. I've been in contact with the federal Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, regarding Mallee aged-care facilities, and I would welcome her to visit them with me to see firsthand the reality of their situations.

So far the government has blatantly ignored concerns from both the coalition and the community that their expedited time frame could force aged-care homes to close because they just cannot access staff. This will either see residents sent to overburdened hospitals or see older Australians in rural and regional Australia forced to travel away from their local town to find a residential facility elsewhere, separating them from their families in the final years of their lives. This is simply un-Australian. We want and expect our older Australians to be well supported and cared for in their own communities. That is why in government the coalition called for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, to ensure oldest and most vulnerable Australians receive care that supports and respects their dignity, and that recognises the important contribution they have made to society. The final report of the royal commission made 148 recommendations, the product of compassionate scrutiny of Australia's aged-care system. In response, the coalition committed $19.1 billion to a five-year plan to improve aged care with new home-care packages, respite services, training places, retention bonuses and infrastructure upgrades. We listened to the experiences of Australians who gave evidence to the royal commission, and I thank each and every one of them.

12:16 pm

Photo of Sally SitouSally Sitou (Reid, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When I saw this motion coming up for debate I raced to put my name to speak because I find it extraordinary that those opposite are now criticising the Albanese Labor government on our progress to fix aged care. Often times in this place, disagreement or tension is created out of the smallest of differences, and I know that it is just the way politics happens. But on aged care, there really is clear blue water between this government and those opposite, and I was astounded to see this motion framed the way it has been. After 10 years of complete neglect of the aged-care system, I am shocked to see those opposite come in here to criticise our efforts to repair the system. After 10 years of coalition neglect, I am shocked to see those opposite come in here to tell us that we're not doing enough to attract and retain the workforce in aged care. After 10 years of coalition neglect, I am shocked to see those opposite are seeking to condemn this government for cleaning up their mess. We are fixing this broken system, a system those opposite left in a state of disrepair.

Despite that neglect, there are some facilities that are doing well; for example, the Bernard Chan facility in my electorate that I visited with Anika Wells, the minister for aged care, last year. It is providing culturally appropriate care to elderly Chinese Australians. They have bilingual staff, ensuring that elderly are able to speak in their mother tongue; they celebrate Chinese traditions and cook Chinese food so that those Chinese Australians are able to feel comfortable in their final years. They are also exceeding their minutes-of-care requirements. They've managed to do this thanks to committed staff and great management, not thanks to those opposite.

Let's take a look at what we on this side are doing to attract the workers required for our aged-care system. In the October budget, we delivered $473 million to help providers get nurses on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are increasing the permanent migration program ceiling to 193,000 in 2022-23 to help the widespread critical workforce shortage, including in aged care. We are providing an additional $1 billion in joint federal-state funding for 465,000 fee-free TAFE places in 2023, which includes several courses in aged care. Anyone who meets an aged-care worker knows that many of them do this challenging work because they find it rewarding to care for others. But for too long, they have been underpaid for the valuable work that they do. We are delivering on 15 per cent pay rise—15 per cent, think of that.

The member for Forrest comes in here complaining about workforce shortages in aged care yet she was part of a government that sat on its hands for almost a decade. They did nothing to make the industry more appealing to workers, nothing to help aged-care workers. Let's take on the last element of this motion. Those opposite are like the emperor without any clothes on, trying to hide behind a fig leaf. That fig leaf is made of vicious and untrue rumours. Aged-care homes that genuinely try to meet the requirements to recruit registered nurses will not be shut down because they can't fill those positions. Older Australians will not have to travel from their community to receive support, because they can apply for an exemption. In their desperate attempt to distract from their own neglect, they are now trying to spread fear and anxiety amongst older Australians.

We are putting registered nurses into aged-care homes. We are making a requirement of these facilities to provide a minimum standard of care. The department has estimated that 80 per cent of facilities have a registered nurse on 24/7 and additional facilities are very close to meeting that. Here is my suggestion to those opposite: stop trying to deflect and distract from your own failures. Instead, work with us to help fix this broken system, because older Australians deserve better than this. They deserve a genuine reform of the system. We are doing the hard work now to help fix this problem. You ignored the workforce shortages for too long, for too many years. I'm proud to be part of a government that is helping to fix the mess that you left behind.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

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