House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023

Private Members' Business

Aged Care

11:29 am

Photo of Gordon ReidGordon Reid (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes the Government's commitment to restore dignity to aged care residents;

(2) recognises that the Government is:

(a) delivering on the commitment to put nurses back into nursing homes with 24 hours a day, seven days a week nursing care;

(b) delivering a record 15 per cent pay increase for aged care workers across Australia, the largest ever pay rise in the history of the aged care sector;

(c) delivering support for older Australians who live in aged care homes, so that they are receiving the safe, high-quality care they deserve; and

(d) working to ensure older Australians have tasty and nutritious food in aged care; and

(3) acknowledges this is just part of the Government's commitment to significant new investments to rebuild universal healthcare in Australia.

From day one, the Albanese Labor government have been focused on delivering on our commitment to strengthen aged care and improve the pay and working conditions of our aged-care workers right across the nation. For too long, those working in aged care have been asked to work harder for longer without enough reward. The Albanese Labor government understands this and is working hard to better support our aged-care workers. I'm pleased to move, and speak on, this motion, as this federal government has wasted no time in getting on with the job.

Our aged-care workers are some of the hardest-working Australians in this country. They are undertaking important work in caring for our older Australians who helped build the nation that we all enjoy today—a nation which is inclusive, diverse and strong and which looks towards the future. It is only fair and right that our hardworking aged-care workers are recognised with adequate remuneration and fair working conditions, and that is why, in this year's 2023-24 federal budget, the Albanese Labor government invested a record $11.3 billion over four years to fund a 15 per cent pay rise for our aged-care workers. What this means is that a registered nurse on a level 2.3 award wage will be paid an additional $145 a week, which equates to an annual wage increase of more than $10,000. If you're an assistant in nursing, or AIN, on a level 3 award wage, you will be paid an additional $136 a week, which equates to an annual wage increase of more than $7,100. If you are a head chef or cook on a level 4 aged-care award, you'll be paid an additional $141 a week, which equates to an annual wage increase of more than $7,300 per year.

This brings me to my next point. The Albanese Labor government is acutely aware of the importance of tasty and nutritious meals in our aged-care facilities. As an emergency doctor, I know that it's vital that our older Australians living in aged-care facilities receive the necessary nutrition to live healthy and dignified lives and that we make sure we are combating the effects of malnutrition. I'm pleased that the federal government has established the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which will be tasked with ensuring the quality of food and nutrition for our older Australians living in aged care. The commission has also established a new food hotline for food complaints and food advice, which is staffed by specialists. They will triage calls and work to assist Australians, aged-care providers and aged-care workers across a range of areas.

I'm extremely proud of this government's work to get registered nurses back into our aged-care facilities. You do not have to be a healthcare professional or even have a family member in care to know the benefits of having registered nurses on site in our aged-care facilities. RNs can provide rapid care to patients in an emergency before our first responders arrive, as well as provide medical care and other care within the aged-care facility. Since the first month of this policy being in operation and the 24/7 RNs being back in aged-care facilities, there has been a major increase in the care received. RNs are now 23.5 hours a day on average in aged-care facilities right across the nation. This 24/7 registered nursing was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. It was ignored by the now Leader of the Opposition and the coalition government during their time, which is not surprising, considering their record of neglect during their decade-long time in power.

The Albanese Labor government's improvement measures in aged care are complemented by a range of other investments in health care more broadly—for example, our $3.5 billion investment into strengthening Medicare by tripling the bulk-billing incentive. This investment will see 73,130 people in my electorate of Robertson benefit, with easier access to a general practitioner. I'm also pleased that 41,789 people in my electorate will have the opportunity to buy two months worth of medicine for the price of a single prescription, and that applies to more than 300 common PBS medicines. These measures ensure better access and stronger health care for people living on the Central Coast. We are committed to continuing our work of improving aged care across Australia, and these measures are only the start.

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

I thank the member for Robertson. Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Daniel MulinoDaniel Mulino (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

11:34 am

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

Labor never misses an opportunity for self-congratulation, and this motion is another outstanding example of backslapping by those opposite. Today I want to focus my attention on their claim that they are delivering the safe, high-quality care that our older Australians so desperately deserve. As Australians would recall, in the lead-up to the 2022 election Prime Minister Albanese and Minister Wells stood in front of the media day after day promising all sorts of things. They promised that they would better understand the issue and that they would deal with this in the government they would lead. 'We can do better than this,' Mr Albanese said. 'I will make it the Labor government's mission to fix this,' he said.

Nothing is more important than keeping our most vulnerable loved ones safe: on that we all agree. It must be our No. 1 priority to protect those who cannot protect themselves and who have put their trust in us as a government to protect them. Yet, while those on the other side are patting themselves on the back and talking about how they are making food more tasty, the statistics on the care and the protection that they have failed to give our loved ones is confronting. The Department of Health and Aged Care report every week on the COVID-19 outbreaks in residential aged-care facilities. This is on their website for all to see. The statistics point to a government that is failing to do better as they promised those living in aged care they would. In fact, safety is much, much worse.

These are the facts. The Liberal-National government, from the outbreak of the pandemic until 2022, was in power. During those 29 months, 2,415 lives were lost to COVID-19 or COVID-19 related issues in residential aged care. It's sad. It's terrible. This was at the height of the pandemic and was at a time when we were developing our response to an unknown virus. We were transitioning from having no vaccination program, we were developing and improving vaccinations and treatments, and we were managing the upheaval of the pandemic and the issues that it was bringing to every aspect of Australian's lives.

During this time, the coalition was guided by trusted medical professionals who offered calm, expert and consistent advice. As we began to emerge from the pandemic in 2022, these same health professionals warned that the pandemic would continue to change and evolve. Governments would need be prepared to respond as needed and learn the lessons of the previous two years. They warned us in the first quarter of 2022 that we were moving into a critical time in aged care and that the federal government would need to act to prevent a wave of winter deaths from COVID-19 and the flu. All sides of politics were privy to this advice. The Albanese government was elected in May 2022. Now, remember that I said that 2,415 lives were lost in the 29 months to May last year. The latest weekly report is that in the 15 months of the Albanese government, under their watch, 3,444 lives were, sadly, lost in aged care to COVID-19 related causes. That is 3,444 in 15 months, under the watch of the Albanese Labor government.

This is not better; this is much worse. Yet those opposite were handed the strategy to protect and prevent these deaths. You were left with a range of effective vaccinations and treatment protocols. With this advice, you are left with the best medical experts and their experience, yet you have overseen the loss of more lives to COVID-19 than were lost during the height of the pandemic. Not a single week has gone by without someone losing their life to a COVID-19 related cause in a residential aged-care setting, yet here you are, standing up and patting yourselves on the back. Shame on you. I call on you, the Albanese government, to address this terrible failure and update us on how you will do better.

11:39 am

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Older Australians helped to make this country the great place that it is today. They worked hard their whole lives setting up for the future that we all enjoy. But as they age they become more reliant on others to give them support and the care that they need. For helping to create this nation, they deserve quality support now that they have reached the point in their life where they need it more than ever.

Ageing is something that most of us will experience; it is a part of life. As we age, many go into aged care, but sadly we have heard some horror stories about what has been going on in some of our aged-care systems. This is not good enough. Those in aged care deserve dignity, and we are a government committed to restoring dignity to our aged-care residents. We are starting to do this by delivering on our commitment to put nurses back into nursing homes, with 24 hours a day, seven days a week nursing care. It's hard to believe that our country got into a position where those in nursing homes did not always have nurses available to them.

When somebody moves out of their home and into aged care, it is one of the biggest moves that they have ever made in their life. It is a difficult time for many. The reason that someone makes the decision to go into a nursing home is that the care they need isn't always available to them. But what is the point if the nurses who can provide this specialised care aren't always there for them? Nursing homes need nurses available 24 hours a day, every day of the week, and that is what we are delivering.

When an Australian moves into an aged-care facility, it should be a place that is safe, and it should be a place where they can get the highest-quality care. Not only do residents deserve to have this; their families and loved ones deserve peace of mind knowing that the facility is the safest and best possible place for their loved ones because of the high-quality care that is there for them. We are delivering this support for older Australians who live in aged-care homes. We are making sure that their place of residence is safe. We are making sure that the care available to them is to the highest standard in the world.

Those who work in the aged-care sector work hard. Their job is tough. I have no doubt that at times it can be very draining, but they do a great job. During the pandemic, they were on the front line looking out for the most vulnerable in our community, and it's because of them that many older Australians in aged care avoided the worst of the pandemic. They deserve our thanks, but, to put it bluntly, those in this sector were getting ripped off. For the work they did and the toll this can take, their pay was nowhere near what they deserved. That is why this government fought so hard to deliver a record 15 per cent pay increase for aged-care workers across Australia. This is the largest ever pay rise in the history of the aged-care sector. It is a pay rise that these workers really did deserve, a pay rise that was long overdue.

By now, you all know in this place that I love tasty, nutritious food. I believe that as an Australian you should have the right to enjoy food that is tasty and nutritious. But the reality is that some in aged-care facilities didn't always have access to food which was both great and enjoyable for them. We are putting a stop to this by working to ensure older Australians have tasty, nutritious food in aged care, as they should have. It is also important to note that this is just one part of what the government is doing to rebuild universal health care in Australia.

All Australians deserve care that is affordable and that is the best you can find anywhere in the world. People in aged care are human. They are members of our community. They are our grandparents. They are our parents. They deserve the same dignity as any other person in our society, and nothing less. This is what our Labor government is providing.

11:43 am

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

It's very timely that we're having this debate in the Federation Chamber today, because we've just seen a recent report which shows that the number of aged-care facilities being built has slowed dramatically. As we know, the ageing of our community is continuing apace, and it should be of concern to all sides of this debate that we are now seeing aged-care residences being built at an ever-slowing rate. Not only that, we're seeing more and more challenges for aged-care providers to access the workforce that they need. I would ask the government to think again about how they are implementing the recommendations of the aged-care royal commission. As everyone knows, this royal commission was commissioned when we were in government because we wanted to set the pathway for the aged-care sector for the next decade in a sustainable way, a financially sustainable way, and in a way that would allow the care that was needed for our residents to improve, and to make sure that it continued to improve into the future.

There are decisions that the government have taken which they need to look at immediately. One of those is what the minister for immigration has done in requiring that before overseas workers can come into the sector to provide the care and the nurses that are needed they need to enter into an MOU with the union. This is blocking the flow of overseas workers into the aged-care sector. To demonstrate that is what is occurring, I have the transcript of the minister on ABC Radio National this morning. He was asked by Hamish Macdonald:

How many providers have actually signed up to your agreement to access workers from overseas?

Minister Giles said:

Eight providers have signed up so far …

Hamish Macdonald responded:

But eight providers of something like 800 across the country—

pointing out that this isn't working. Hamish then went on to say:

There does seem to be a concern about the unions and the level of access that they would have to these employees—

when you enter into this MOU. Hamish pointed out that the aged-care providers that they'd spoken to were concerned that all of a sudden unions were being given unfettered access to aged-care facilities, and he asked the minister:

Do you think it's an impediment?

The minister said:

Not at all.

We've got only eight out of 800 that have done this, yet the minister is saying it isn't an impediment. And yet, when Hamish and the ABC have asked providers what's holding them back, it's the MOU that's holding them back. So the government needs to relook at all this, because it is this ill founded regulation which is leading to the slowness of the provision of new facilities. The regulations on the sector that the government is putting in place mean that they can't get access to the workforce that they need. If this continues, the situation is going to get worse and all of those recommendations by the royal commission, which were put in place, are going to be worth zilch if the government does not get this implementation right. There was nothing in the recommendations of the royal commission which said that the unions should be allowed in the front door and that aged-care providers should have to sign an MOU. I ask any of the speakers today to point me to where that provision was in the royal commission recommendations. It's just not there.

If you continue to put more regulation on aged-care facilities, and not in a way that will enhance the care that they give, then it's going to lead to more and more problems in the sector. So it is very timely that we are having this debate when we're seeing reports that the situation is getting worse. I say to the government: don't pat yourself on the back for what you've done in 16 months; have a look at what is still going wrong. (Time expired)

11:49 am

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to rise to speak to this motion on aged care. It's very important that we don't let the issue drop from sight, in spite of the many improvements that have been made across the sector. In previous terms of parliament, I was having to speak about aged care as being 'in crisis'. Now, we have made so many significant improvements that it is really starting to turn in the right direction. On this side, we care deeply about older people and their families; we care deeply about the workforce that works so hard to keep aged care going and provide good care. In the past year, there have been tangible improvements on the ground in aged-care facilities. There have been fewer falls, fewer pressure injuries, fewer avoidable hospital administrations and less use of antipsychotics, and more older people are feeling safe and respected. We're also seeing improvements in the star rating data, with fewer 1 and 2-star ratings and more 4 and 5-star ratings.

How have these significant changes been made in a relatively short time on the back of an absolute crisis in aged care, exacerbated by the determination of the previous government to do the absolute minimum possible? The first decision we took was to support and fund a pay rise for the invaluable aged-care workers. We're investing $11.3 billion to deliver on our commitment to find the outcome of the Fair Work Commission case. That decision is the largest increase to award wages in a work value case under the Fair Work Act. It's 10 times more than the previous government's investment in their so-called workforce pillar. As a result, around a quarter of a million aged-care workers will receive a meaningful pay rise with potentially further increases to come.

We welcome the Fair Work Commission's interim decision, which was the 15 per cent increase for direct care workers. It's a huge step forward, but I note that it's just stage 2 of 3 on the Fair Work Commission's journey to its final decision. The pay rise was won by workers and the strong backing of their unions, who play a key role in lifting the standards for the workforce, strongly backed by us as a Labor government. The next decision we took was to set ambitious targets around care minutes and 24/7 nurses to improve the care of older Australians. We legislated the requirement for 24/7 nursing to make sure aged-care residents could get the clinical care they need around the clock. Our first set of data for 24/7 nursing revealed some really staggering improvements. On average, there is a nurse on site 98 per cent of the time, or 23½ hours a day; 86 per cent of all homes that reported data have a nurse 24/7; and the majority of remaining homes are extremely close to meeting the target. Knowing that care is available around the clock makes a real difference to families, as well as to those who are being cared for.

Then we turned our attention to food and nutrition. Under the former coalition government, the aged-care royal commission found that two-thirds of older Australians were malnourished or at risk of malnourishment. Older Australians in aged care absolutely deserve to receive quality, nutritious and appetising food. We've invested millions in improving food in aged care, and that includes a dedicated food hotline for food complaints and advice, up to 720 provider spot checks annually and up to 500 menu and mealtime assessments each year for aged-care providers to be completed by independent, accredited practising dietitians. There's also $5 million for the Maggie Beer Foundation to educate aged-care chefs to deliver better food. That is free training to deliver better food and nutrition in aged care.

The first components of the Maggie Beer Foundation's program are now available, with 11 online modules to teach aged-care workers how to increase flavour and nutrition for the older people in their care. All aged-care providers are invited to participate. This is to encourage a whole-of-sector uplift in food and nutrition. We've also strengthened accountability and transparency, which goes to the heart of the next phase of changes. We're committed to increasing transparency. From early next year, we will provide a full picture of how our residential aged-care providers are spending their money. There is more to do, and we will keep doing it.

11:54 am

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by acknowledging the member for Robertson's credentials in the medical profession, which provide him with an experience and understanding of the importance of qualified health care and a firsthand appreciation of nurses and the critical role they play, not just in hospitals but across all health and aged-care services. I thank him for recognising our nurses right across the country. Whilst I respect the member for his previous work, what the member for Robertson has not done is run a business, and his opening address has shown a lack of consideration for the implications that a shortage of available workforce and soaring inflation have had on any business, regardless of the types of goods or services that it provides.

The provision of quality care at meaningful levels is paramount. To support our increasingly aging population, we need to do this. But the current 24/7 burden is quickly pushing regional aged care facilities to the brink of closure. We know that centres around the country have already begun to close under the strains, with reports of over 30 already shutting their doors since the announcement was made. Interestingly, these 30 have predominantly been in peri-urban and metro settings, locations that have better workforce access than the regions. But we've ready seen the writing on the wall, and many have left.

Further compounding the issue is the negative rate of growth when it comes to available beds in regional areas and inadequate growth even in the metro areas, compared to our aging population projections. In Cowper alone we have waiting lists in the hundreds to get into our local aged-care facilities, and yet, as reported in the Australian just this morning:

Residential facilities in the major cities added just over 1200 beds in the past financial year, which is barely half the average pace of the past five years.

The number of beds in outer regional Australia has also gone backwards, with 86 fewer beds in remote areas in the 12 months to mid-2023 compared to an average annual growth of 116 beds over the five years.

We have an ever-growing aging population, and, as a result of this government's actions, we have a shrinking bed rate. The article goes on to explain that new staffing requirements are discouraging successful 'providers to expand their services due to a shortfall of available workers'. Of further concern is the sectors uncomfortable predicament that more than half of the aged-care facilities are actually operating at a loss, meaning they have no ability to apply for loans to physically build and expand their operations.

This isn't an opinion piece; this takes into account the advice of industry heavyweights, and, in my own electorate, I'm hearing the same words from the smaller regional providers that service the Mid North Coast, providers like Nambucca Valley Care Group, who are recognised as one of the gold-standard providers in New South Wales. John Butler, the NVC Group CEO, has told me his concerns about the quality and standard of their facilities in years to come. NVC's buildings are aging and in need of upgrades and expansion to cope with the increasing client base, but, due to the sector's dwindling profitability and the impact of inflation, John is unable to put up a business case to acquire the further funds needed. NVC Group recognised the future issues early on, and 10 years ago they created a college onsite that offers a certificate III in individual support in order to train and retain local stuff, but it's not enough as enrolments have been on the decline since COVID. And this is the case across the board in the industry.

I recognise that the coalition instigated the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. It brought with it a number of recommendations, and I do acknowledge that this government is attempting to implement many of those, but, as we so commonly see from this government, there are changes introduced in knee-jerk fashion without proper consideration, and we need to look at this in detail. (Time expired)

11:59 am

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Older Australians helped build this country. They've worked hard, paid their taxes and raised their families. They rightly expect that their federal government will support them in their later years after a life contributing to their communities and to our nation. The Albanese government recognises this significant contribution and we're 100 per cent committed to better supporting our older Australians after a decade of neglect by the former coalition government.

In their time we saw an alarming rise in malnutrition amongst older Australians in aged care, a concerning lack of access to quality, timely care, rising allegations of assault and abuse in the aged-care sector and overuse of chemical restraints. What a woeful record that was, sadly, reconfirmed in the findings of the royal commission into aged care. The fact that the interim report of the royal commission was titled Neglect says it all. Unlike the coalition, we have taken a proactive approach to restoring care, dignity and respect into our aged-care system, a system that is highly dependent on the care provided by our much-valued aged-care workers. I know—and our government knows and our union advocates know—how much pride these aged-care workers take in their work. Many of these workers have shared their harrowing stories with me.

Now in government, we are acting swiftly to end the barriers to quality, compassionate care. In the past year there has been a reduction in pressure injuries, physical restraints, significant unplanned weight loss and the use of antipsychotic drugs in aged care. We've also seen improvements in the star rating data, with fewer one- and two-star ratings and more four- and five-star ratings, fewer falls, fewer avoidable hospital admissions and more older people feeling safe and respected in aged care.

Working in aged care is physically and emotionally demanding work. It is skilled work and the aged-care workforce deserve to be properly recognised in their pay for their work. This is why it was a top priority for our government to make a submission to the Fair Work Commission in support of a meaningful pay rise for aged-care workers. As a result, about 250,000 aged-care workers will receive a 15 per cent pay rise, with further increases to come.

Our government is also setting ambitious targets around care minutes and 24/7 nurses to improve the care of older Australians. To lift quality care and safety standards in residential aged care we are legislating around-the-clock nurses and increased care minutes. A skilled and dedicated workforce is the foundation of a better aged-care system—a system we all want to see. Our first set of data for our 24/7 nurses mandate revealed staggering improvements. On average there is a nurse onsite 98 per cent of the time, or 23½ hours a day. We have also addressed the shocking findings from the royal commission, which revealed that more than two-thirds of residents in aged care were malnourished or at risk of malnourishment. A good meal with good nutrition is crucial to quality of life for everyone, but especially for older Australians. I am proud to say that the May budget invested $12.9 million to help make this happen. Our significant investment will increase the capability and, importantly, the accountability of aged-care providers to provide good food and nutrition.

We took a plan of action to the federal election to address the crisis in aged care—a plan that provides a clear direction in reforming the aged-care sector; a plan that was informed by the recommendations of the royal commission. We believe the work of the royal commission, the story told, the voice it gave to vulnerable older Australians and its recommendations are vital.

In closing, I'd like to thank the member for Robertson for moving this important motion today. To care for those who once cared for us is a great honour, one that this government will always take to heart.

12:04 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Robertson's motion is an important one, and there were elements of the member for Corangamite's speech which I heartily endorse. People who are in their twilight years have paid their taxes, have worked hard and certainly deserve the very best of care. But it is a little bit like that 1981 Yes Minister episode, 'The compassionate Society', where Minister Jim Hackett is reminded of a hospital that is going so well. It's top of the pops on every parameter, but it's got no patients! And, indeed, as you look around regional Australia, many of the aged-care centres at the moment have fewer patients, fewer people and fewer aged-care residents simply because they can't find the staff and simply because they can't meet some of the expectations and requirements brought about by this Labor government.

The royal commission was important. We put it in place as a coalition government. Yes, some of the situations and some of the evidence was harrowing, to say the least. But you have a council-run aged-care centre in a little town such as Coolamon near Wagga Wagga, where they have had to close an entire wing, 11 beds, because they can't find the staff. Then you have this expectation from those opposite of 24/7 nursing. It just doesn't add up.

Indeed, we heard only today that a very high percentage—more than half—of aged-care centres across Australia are not making a profit—not making any money. At Adina Care Cootamundra I met with management, including chair Lee-Anne Hogan and board members Charlie Sheahan—who happens to be the local mayor—and Darryl Sedgwick. They are beside themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to continue to provide the care, because they simply can't make ends meet.

At Cowra Retirement Village, known locally as 'Bilyara', chief executive officer Wayne Snelson is in exactly the same position as Cootamundra and Coolamon: they simply cannot find staff. They have great difficulty in making their books balance.

The aged-care facility at Harden Murrumburrah has been taken over—thank goodness—and seems to be back on its feet, but it was a struggle for a long, long time. As the local member, I fought hard and advocated for the retention of services there when the then owners, Southern Cross Care, decided they were closing up. It was—I am not overplaying it or overstating it—a tragic situation.

In recent times, Signature Care has opened up a marvellous, new, state-of-the-art facility at Turvey Park. Unfortunately, some of the staff members have come from other facilities in regional centres to work there. So that places a drain on those other smaller facilities in other smaller towns.

It is no mistake, no coincidence, that the speakers from the coalition on this motion are the members for Braddon, Wannon, Cowper and Mallee. They know—and I see the member for Gilmore here—and the people of the regions know what a crisis this is. Let's not play partisan politics about this: let's see what we can do together as parliamentarians to get the situation sorted. I appreciate that Minister Wells, who is responsible for aged care, has put conditions in there whereby aged-care centres can apply to put off the 24/7 nursing for a while. But the tsunami is coming, and it is coming to a regional town near you. It is coming to an aged-care centre or a retirement village near you.

It is so, so sad when we lose service and lose beds. In Coolamon's case, it was an entire wing. Those residents either have to be shipped off to somewhere else a long, long way away, or they just shut the doors and the people who have their names down can go to a facility in somewhere like Narrandera or elsewhere—many, many kilometres away. Their loved ones, if they still have a partner, then can't visit them. They lose touch with the community that they have been in for all of their lives. It is so sad. We need to do better. We need to do better as a parliament. The government certainly needs to do better on this, because this is a major problem in regional areas. I call on the government to do everything it can and to show compassion and to make sure that they get this situation sorted. (Time expired)

12:09 pm

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

I'd like to thank the member for Robertson for tabling this very important motion. I am very pleased to be here today to speak about aged care. Improving aged care for residents and supporting our aged-care workers is something I am passionate about, and I know it is so important for people on the New South Wales South Coast. I remember vividly one conversation with a family member whose mum was in aged care. He lived away but he said: 'I worry about my mum. Can you please just fix aged care.' With the Gilmore electorate having the second-oldest demographic in Australia, there are many elderly people who need care in our region and many workers who show up, day in, day out to take care of the ones we love.

Before I was elected in 2019, aged-care workers came to me many times crying out for more support. They said they just wanted more time to be able to care for residents. They wanted aged-care workers to be remunerated for the important work they do, and they wanted to be able to attract and retain aged-care workers in recognition of how important aged care is to our loved ones. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety described the former government's approach to edge care as 'the minimum commitment it could get away with'. That's what aged care looked like under the former government—the bare minimum. But the tide is turning. I am proud that the Albanese Labor government is working to fix the aged-care sector. I care deeply about the people and families who rely on aged care, the dedicated workforce that sustains it and the quality of care they provide.

Older Australians deserve better than a broken aged-care system, and since being elected we have hit the ground running. Our reforms are producing real, tangible results on the ground, and I've seen them working. The Albanese Labor government committed $11.3 billion to fund and deliver a pay rise for aged-care workers. That's a 15 per cent pay rise for these essential workers. That's around 250,000 aged-care workers in this country getting a pay rise which is long overdue. Aged-care workers can now feel happy to have a government that understands the physical and emotional demands of their work as well as the skills required—a government who knows they deserve proper recognition in their pay.

On a recent visit to a local nursing home I was told about the difference our fee-free TAFE is having on encouraging more people to study the Certificate III in Individual Support (Ageing), which is great news. We've also brought in 24/7 registered nurses to enhance the quality of care for older Australians and mandated an increase in care time per resident. This is in direct response to the aged-care royal commission's recommendations. Having nurses in aged-care facilities 24/7 is the right thing to do. It leads to better treatment and safety in the case of emergencies and also less strain on our hospital emergency departments. Quality care is better than emergency intervention and proper nutrition is key to better care.

Food and nutrition in aged-care homes is another issue we're addressing. Two-thirds of older Australians were malnourished or at risk of malnourishment under the former coalition government. The importance of good nutrition can't be understated. The Albanese Labor government has invested $12.9 million to improve food quality and nutrition in aged care. This includes the establishment of a dedicated food nutrition and dining support unit, menu and mealtime assessments, dietary guidelines and a communication campaign to raise awareness of residents' nutritional needs.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives

Sitting suspended from 12:13 to 12:24

As I was saying, transparency and accountability are essential in aged care. The Albanese Labor government has made it clear we are committed to increasing transparency regarding public dollars spent in aged care. Next year, we will provide a comprehensive breakdown of how residential aged-care providers allocate their funds. This will mean residents and families can make informed choices about their care providers. People will finally be able to see where and how the money is spent.

We've listened to the experts and heard the voices of those who are impacted. The royal commission gave a voice to vulnerable older Australians, and we listened. Our 2023 budget allocated a record $36 billion to aged care, addressing 69 recommendations in full or in part, and we will continue our work in transforming the aged-care sector into something all Australians can be proud of.

12:25 pm

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

As both the shadow assistant minister for regional health and as the member for Mallee I have been so concerned about the regional aged-care crisis that I facilitated a regional aged-care summit in Mildura on 6 July this year.

In 2018, the coalition government established the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety to ensure our oldest and most vulnerable Australians receive the quality care they need and deserve. The royal commission recommended a registered nurse on duty 24-hours a day seven days a week in every aged-care facility across Australia by next July 2024. In a race for a headline, the Albanese Labor government mandated it earlier to 1 July 2023, a pledge they had to humbly admit they could not achieve, and hence exemptions are in place.

The 100 regional aged-care summit attendees from peak bodies and the coalface were all on board with delivering registered nurses 24/7 in aged care, but regional providers highlighted how hard this is to actually achieve in the context of the workforce crisis in regional Australia: 'The 24/7 registered nurse requirement creates a perverse decrease in care continuity by preferencing the employment of inexperienced agency RNs compared with personal-care assistants, enrolled nurses and endorsed enrolled nurses who have provided care for many years to residents in that same aged-care facility.' The summit highlighted that there was a cost premium to deliver aged care in regional Australia and the perverse financial incentives that prioritise care workers to practice in the public system.

The knock-on effect of Labor's rushed approach is evident in my electorate of Mallee, with Dimboola's Allambi Elderly Peoples Home closing its doors. Earlier this year, shadow minister for health and aged care, Anne Ruston, and I visited Maryborough's Havilah Hostel in my electorate amid fears of their closure. I'm pleased to say that advocacy for Havilah has paid off and they have received some federal funding to keep their doors open.

Earlier this year, in Queensland, Mount Morgan's Carinity Summit Cottages and Petrie Gardens Aged Care Service in Tiaro announced they were closing, displacing over 30 elderly residents. It is estimated that 30 aged-care facilities have had to close across this nation in Labor's reckless policy rush.

Let's reflect on the coalition's funding in aged care. In August 2021, the former coalition government funded $150 million in capital grants under the Aged Care Approvals Round, which in Mallee included $4.5 million for Princes Court Homes in Mildura; $4.66 million for Oasis Aged Care in Irymple in my patch; $4.96 million for Havilah in Maryborough, which I just spoke about; and $350,000 for the Cohuna Village. The 2021-22 budget included $396.9 million over five years for capital investment to enable aged-care providers to improve their buildings and build new services. In 2022, the coalition spent a further $35.3 million in multipurpose services programs to update and upgrade 110 aged-care sites, improving services in Robinvale and Manangatang in my patch. The coalition's 2022-23 budget committed $522 million in funding for aged-care reform, taking the total investment in response to the royal commission to $19.1 billion. By 2025-26, funding in aged care is estimated to grow to $34.7 billion.

In home care, the Liberals and Nationals increased new home-care packages by 357 per cent, from 60,000 under Labor in 2012-13 to 275,597 in 2024-25. The regional aged-care summit highlighted, again, the regional cost premium to deliver home-care services. Packages cannot fully deliver what recipients need, due to workforce shortages. The summit recommended a regional travel supplement to address the city-country divide. The summit also recommended a growth funding round for the Commonwealth Home Support Program to enable more providers to enter the regional market.

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.