Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 December 2017


Aged Care

8:09 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | Hansard source

I rise this evening to speak yet again about the Turnbull government's blatant disregard and disrespect for the care of older Australians. Here we are at the end of another year—it's now almost five years that the Liberals have been in government—and nothing has changed when it comes to ageing and aged care. Older Australians are still not a priority for this out-of-touch government.

The responsibility for ageing is still being put in the too-hard basket, and the ageing portfolio is in the hands of a minister with no clout. The Minister for Aged Care doesn't have a voice at the cabinet table, and there's no weight behind the portfolio. The Turnbull government certainly leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the care of vulnerable older Australians. When it comes to the ageing portfolio, all we've seen from this out-of-touch government is the removal of the Aged Care portfolio from cabinet, with the minister responsible, Mr Ken Wyatt, shouting from the sidelines to be heard; a string of heartless cuts to the funding; a mounting pile of reports and reviews awaiting a formal response; and a growing number of people waiting in limbo to receive home care.

At Senate estimates in October, we heard that the federal government really is living up to its do-nothing reputation, after departmental officials confirmed that there were at least six reports and reviews gathering dust on the minister's desk awaiting a formal response. In total, it really is about 10 reports and reviews waiting for a response. Obviously feeling the heat, those opposite have shown some movement, but it's nothing to jump up and down about—believe me! A few weeks ago, they released the findings of the review of the National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Ageing and Aged Care Strategy and the culturally and linguistically diverse aged-care strategy review.

Earlier today, they tabled a response to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee report on the care of younger and older Australians living with dementia and behaviour and psychological symptoms of dementia inquiry. The report for this inquiry was tabled almost four years ago, on 26 March 2014. That was four years ago, and the Liberals tabled their response only today—and what a weak and unsubstantial response it was, offering another example of the government abrogating their responsibilities when it comes to the Aged Care portfolio. While it's refreshing to finally get an official government response—even though it's four years later—this is just a small drop in the ocean, and there is still a long list of important documents that the Minister for Aged Care needs to respond to.

Two major pieces of work that have recently been added to the minister's growing pile of reports and reviews are the Tune review, the aged-care legislated review, and the Carnell review, a review of the national aged-care quality regulatory processes. The government's go-slow response to both reviews is completely inadequate. Seriously; how many reports is it going to take for this government to take action and show some leadership in this policy area? The David Tune review, tabled in parliament in September, reaffirmed the government's support for implementation of home-care changes introduced on 27 February 2017. This review also confirmed that there are almost 90,000 older Australians who are unable to access home-care packages, including 68,000 people with high needs. There's a large number of vulnerable older Australians with dementia waiting for home-care packages.

To date, the government has been unable to reassure us that there is going to be any improvement in the situation—and, quite frankly, this is beyond a joke. We're talking about real people. We're talking about people such as the 92-year-old man with high-level needs who was told he would have to wait 18 months for a level 4 home-care package. And a woman contacted my office because her mother is still waiting for a level 4 home-care package—the highest level of home-care package currently available—that she was approved for 12 months ago. This is totally unacceptable.

When will we see action, Minister? That's the question that I'm putting to the minister, and that's the question that needs to be put to the Prime Minister. The buck stops with the minister of the day, and the buck stops with you, Mr Turnbull—you're the Prime Minister. If your ministry is incapable of acting, the Prime Minister needs to step in. The government says that things have improved, but people in the community are still being admitted to hospital or are in residential care while they wait for a home-care package.

Instead of fixing the problem and responding to the Tune review, the government's underwhelming response has been to reject two of the 38 recommendations and to convert level 1 and 2 packages for home care into 6,000 higher needs packages. But no new funding has been committed, and we still have some 62,000 packages short of the current demand for higher level packages. That's 62,000 older Australians who are in need of the level 4 package who still can't access one. The situation with the waiting list for home-care packages requires urgent attention from this government. Quite frankly, Australians deserve better, particularly older Australians and their families and carers.

The other major review gathering dust on the minister's desk is the Carnell review, a review of the national aged-care quality regulatory processes, which again reaffirmed what the government should have already known, that the accreditation process for providers is failing older Australians. You only have to look at what's happened in South Australia if you want any more evidence. It's completely unacceptable that the government has only acted on one of the review's 10 recommendations. To date, the only thing the government has committed to is to not tell providers when their reaccreditation will be. Given that providers already pre-empt reaccreditation every three years, it's completely ineffective. It's a blunt instrument, and it just doesn't cut it, Minister.

Has this government no shame—really, no shame at all? These are some of the most frail and vulnerable people in our society that we're talking about. That's why I keep coming into this place on this matter. My question is to the minister: why call for this review and then fail to act or give any time frame for action on the remaining recommendations? The Turnbull government is failing older Australians. The disinterest has allowed this system to fail older Australians. I make no apologies, none whatsoever, for demanding that the government ensure all Australians have access to safe, adequate and quality care as they grow old. It's absolutely vital that families can have faith that their loved ones will be safe and receive high-quality care.

Let's not forget that the Howard government were in power for 11 years and they did absolutely nothing in relation to aged care, because it all became too hard for them. They had to wait until a Labor government was elected and then we saw real progress under the former minister, Mark Butler. But we cannot afford for this government to not act now. The issue around access to home-care packages is at crisis point. The government can put its head in the sand, but on this side we won't. We have been working seriously with the sector. We have been consulting with them. We are committed to making sure that older Australians get the care and the respect that they deserve.

I'm really proud to be part of the team under the leadership of Bill Shorten, who recognises how important the issues of ageing are in this country. On 21 November, our leader, Bill Shorten, said that a future Shorten Labor government will make Australia the best place in the world for people with dementia to live and that Australia will play a leading role in finding a cure. There's a huge difference between this government and what a future Labor government will do in relation to the care of older Australians. We will show respect to those people who are living with dementia. We will support them. We will support their families and we will support their carers. We will do everything possible to ensure that there's a cure, and that those people with dementia will have the support that they so richly deserve.


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