Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Community Affairs References Committee; Report
I just want to thank Senator Siewert for the way in which she chaired this inquiry. It was a long overdue inquiry. I want to put on record our thanks to all of those who made submissions—particularly those who took the time to come and be witnesses before us. This inquiry is so important. I sincerely urge people to read that report. It is a unanimous report, so it has been signed off by government senators, the Greens and Labor. I think there are very important issues around the workforce and where we need to go forward.
Obviously, we do not have a lot of time tonight, because I understand there are speakers on other issues, but it is really important that the new minister, who has said numerous times that he wants to work with the sector and he wants to work together to ensure that the aged-care sector has a strong workforce going forward, now has these 19 recommendations. I urge as many people as possible to read that report not only from within the sector but also family members of those who are already in care or anticipating that they will be in care, because I think it is really useful and a very important report. It is an enormously important sector.
I want to also put on record my thanks to the Community Affairs References Committee secretariat. We all know that the Community Affairs References Committee is a committee that has an enormous workload—it sincerely does—so I want to put on record my appreciation for the secretariat and the staff there and thank them very much for what they are doing.
I also put on record that we should never forget that the framework for the changes that have happened over the last three to four years have been brought about by us, when we were in government and Mark Butler was the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing. In consultation with and with the support of the opposition of the day, who are now the government, as well as the sector, he brought about a new framework and foundation for the future of aged care in this country. With the best intentions of the best framework that you have, you must always remember that there needs to be review. We are all waiting with anticipation for the report from David Tune, who is conducting an inquiry that was legislated to review what is happening in the aged care sector. On top of that, we know that there is an enormous issue facing this sector and the Australian community. We are an ageing population. We are all living longer, which is a good thing, but it means that people who want to age in their own home need more support to be able to do that. What we also know about people as they age in their home is that when they do go into residential homes for care it is at the high end of medical conditions. There are usually a number of morbidities that they have to face.
Also critical to any changes going forward is the workforce. The government has set up a task force to look at workforce issues. The government must take the leadership role in this. They are the major contributors from a financial point of view and they have a moral obligation to ensure that moving forward we have the best aged care system that we can have. Quite clearly, there needs to be a national accreditation for those people who are working in this sector and there also needs to be more incentives for people to gain further skills, whether they are working as carers on the floor or whether they are nurses working in the sector. We need to ensure that those people are recognised. For years we have needed to ensure that people working in this sector receive the remuneration that they deserve. We need to ensure that older Australians have the respect that they deserve in their later years. Whether people are being supported at home or are in a residential home, we need to ensure that the workers involved in their care are acknowledged through remuneration, are respected and have the opportunity to have a career path going forward. With every change—and we have had a lot over the last three or four years—in consumer directed care, which is there to support people in their own homes and will be rolled out into residential homes, we need to ensure that the workforce does not suffer any further issues around casualisation of their employment. Those carers and the people they are looking after, older Australians, need to be supported to ensure we have the best workforce, and they need the opportunity to have a career.
Notice has now been given. The report has 19 recommendations. It is a really good report that has been brought down. It is now up to this government and this minister to ensure that we get a very speedy and comprehensive response. We have asked for a number of things to happen. One of them is obviously to ensure that this new task force has representation from unions and older Australians on it. We need everyone who is involved in this sector making those decisions going forward. We need them to examine whether a national register of carers who work in this sector or a code of conduct for health workers will be adequate. We have also asked the government to review whether or not there should be a ratio of nurses to residents in a residential home. We have not gone any further than saying that this should be examined.
There were a number of senators who participated in this inquiry. I am pleased that we went from west to north to south. We went right across the country. We went out to regional Australia. This is a very good report. I commend it not only to those in the chamber here but particularly to the Minister for Aged Care and the government as a whole. This is an opportunity to turn things around as far as having a highly skilled, accredited workforce going forward, because, after all, every one of us is going to have a loved one or find ourselves at some time in the future needing this support.