Senate debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020


Aged Care Amendment (Aged Care Recipient Classification) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:59 am

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | Hansard source

Labor will be supporting this bill. As outlined in the explanatory memorandum, the purpose of this bill is to enable a new procedure to classify recipients of residential aged care and some kinds of flexible care from 1 March 2021. The amendments will allow for the introduction of a new classification system that focuses on independently determining the care needs of older Australians, assessing residential aged care and some types of flexible care. Labor does have one particular concern about this bill: the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will not regulate the estimated 254 full-time assessors; the regulation of these assessors will be the responsibility of the Department of Health.

Australians know only too well that the aged-care system under the Liberals is broken. We know that the Prime Minister, when he was Treasurer, cut $1.7 billion from the aged-care budget. This has had an impact across residential aged care. How do we know this? Because families and aged-care workers tell us that these cuts have had a significant impact. Any recent funding commitments have been announced only when the government has been under political pressure. That includes funding for home-care packages and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The question is: why didn't the Morrison government put funding into the aged-care system before COVID-19? Why did it wait until residents were dying to start putting back some of the money it had cut from aged care, the billions of dollars?

Over the past two years, more than 100,000 older Australians have consistently waited on the Morrison government's never-ending waiting list for their approved home-care package. More than 30,000 older Australians died, over three years, waiting for their approved home-care package. More than 32,000 older Australians, over two years, entered residential aged care prematurely because they couldn't get the care they needed. Waiting times for aged care grew by almost 300 per cent under the Liberals, with older Australians across the country forced into lengthy queues for care. As an example, of the 23,000 home-care packages the government announced in the budget, only 2,000 of these packages are level 4, the highest level of care. Compare that to the number of people currently waiting for their approved level 4 package; that figure is 15,873.

There's been inaction on hundreds of recommendations from more than a dozen reviews, reports and inquiries. Complaints about aged care doubled, to almost 8,000, in just one year, but the Prime Minister has failed to properly resource the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to handle these complaints. The Morrison government has failed to fully implement even one aged-care recommendation from a landmark report to stop elder abuse in aged care released in 2017. More than 110,000 calls for help went unanswered by the My Aged Care call centre over the last three years—110,000! The Morrison government delivered just—ready for this?—38 emergency food packages to older Australians isolated because of COVID-19, after announcing it would deliver 36,000 with funding of $9.3 million. Thirty-eight is all they delivered.

On top of all this, there is a failed Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians who is not up to the job. He has lost the confidence of the Australian people, and of the parliament after being censured. The list of overpromising and underdelivering goes on and on. We now know the Morrison government did not have a plan for COVID-19. In black and white this was stated in the royal commission's special report into COVID-19. We know the Morrison government was not prepared for COVID-19 in aged care. Despite the early warnings, it didn't do enough early enough. Aged-care workers had difficulty in accessing PPE. I heard from some of them yesterday. I couldn't believe workers were telling me they couldn't get access to PPE. There was no infection control training for aged-care workers, no surge workforce strategy document and no idea of how many aged-care workers were working across multiple sites. Reports not made public have been hidden by the government.

It is clear the Morrison government has no plan to fix the aged-care system. The Leader of the Australian Labor Party made a speech at the National Press Club back in August outlining eight steps that the Morrison government could take now to address the issues in aged care. These are: (1) ensure minimum staffing levels in residential aged care; (2) reduce the home-care package waiting list so more people can stay in their homes for longer; (3) ensure transparency and accountability of funding to support high-quality care; (4) mandate independent measurement and public reporting—as recommended by the royal commission this week; (5) ensure every residential aged-care facility has adequate personal protective equipment; (6) provide better training for staff, including on infection control; (7) ensure a better surge workforce strategy; and (8) provide additional resources so the aged-care royal commission can inquire specifically into COVID-19 across the sector while not impacting or delaying the handing down of the final report.

We know that Australians are angry. They are upset and they want aged care fixed. We also know that they don't trust the Morrison government or the current minister for aged care, Senator Colbeck, to fix the problems that have occurred on their watch. They also don't trust the Morrison government to act on the royal commission's final report. Be assured that Labor will continue to hold the Morrison government to account, both in the parliament and publicly, on the issues that thousands of Australians are concerned about. Older Australians, their families and carers deserve far better.


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