Senate debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020


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

11:06 am

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Aged Care Amendment (Aged Care Recipient Classification) Bill 2020. From the outset I'd like to say that I concur with Senator Sterle's contribution to this debate. The amendments before us will allow for the introduction of a new classification system that focuses on independently determining the care needs of older Australians accessing residential aged care and some types of flexible care. Labor will be supporting this bill as it enables a new classification procedure to do a shadow classification of recipients of residential aged care and some kinds of residential care plans in Australia.

Reform is necessary because we know that the current funding model has been broken for some time. Currently the fiscal contribution that the Australian government makes to aged-care providers is administered through the Aged Care Funding Instrument, ACFI. ACFI is a tool that assesses the care needs of residents and is the largest source of revenue for residential aged-care providers. ACFI is based on dependency, so there are limited incentives for aged-care providers to actively encourage reablement and rehabilitation methods.

This mechanism is broken, as I said, and we have known this for many years. There needs to be a complete overhaul if we are going to overcome our self-imposed aged-care crisis. In 2017 there was a review of the ACFI. It found that this outdated instrument needed to be replaced. That was in 2017, and we are now at the end of 2020. The government have been sitting on this report for three long years, but it is in line with their very slow, let's-not-have-any-reform approach to the aged-care sector.

Concurrently, many aged-care providers are not commercially viable. These corporations usually employ complicated business structures, which, while being legal, cast a veil on their financial performance and transactions. Transparency must accompany this sector. Increasing reporting requirements will allow for more informed policy and investment decisions. Labor also believes we need better transparency around funding. We also need to know how that funding is being used in aged care and what improvements have been carried out to provide quality care for older Australians.

Labor has been saying for a very long time that there needs to be more transparency for older Australians and their loved ones so that they know what's happening. There are a lot of questions about transparency as to the taxpayer funds that go into aged care. Over $20 billion a year goes into the aged-care system to support older Australians to either stay in their home or be cared for in residential homes. We need more accountability about where that money is actually going and more oversight of how that money is being spent.

Under the amendments to this bill, there will be a move to a new instrument as a possible replacement for ACFI. This has been designed by the Australian Health Services Research Institute at the University of Wollongong. The group undertook the Resource Utilisation and Classification Study in 2017, and on 10 February 2019 the government announced a trial of an alternate residential aged-care funding assessment tool called the Australian National Aged Care Classification assessment tool. While we support this bill, we do have concerns that the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission will not regulate the estimated 250 full-time assessors of this new instrument. The regulation of these assessors will be the responsibility of the Department of Health.

We on this side are frustrated with the lack of commitment to reforming the aged-care system and returning quality of care to all residents. I have lost count of the amount of times I have stood in this place and said the same thing over and over. This government has been slow to act, to bring about any reform, and it keeps hiding behind the guise of the royal commission that it called into its own failings. In the meantime, older Australians are dying of neglect. They are waiting for home-care packages, and this government is taking so long to roll out those aged-care packages that, we know, older Australians are dying after they have been assessed as needing a level 3 or a level 4 package. If that's not bad enough, older Australians who have passed away are receiving letters regarding their approved aged-care package. The indignity, the disrespect and the incompetence of this government is having a terrible effect on Australian families whose loved ones have passed away waiting for aged-care services that never arrived.

Let's look at the performance of this government when it comes to aged care. The performance is fundamental to a minister of the Crown worthy of a portfolio of those opposite who never perform their duties. They take the Australian people for granted every minute of every day. We know that the first failing of every consecutive Liberal government that has been in power in the last seven years—there have been a number of leaders, as we know—is that there has never been appointed a minister for aged care who sits in the cabinet room, to take the concerns of this sector to that cabinet table. It's a failing.

Richard Colbeck, as the minister for aged care, is perhaps the worst minister this country has seen to have responsibility for aged care. This may be about him being incompetent, but it could just be that he doesn't care about this sector. For the majority of this year, his lacklustre performance in this portfolio has seemingly been accepted by those opposite—particularly by the Prime Minister, who, at the last election, promised that he would make older Australians a priority of his government. Well, he has failed. I have asked, and my colleagues have asked, countless questions of the minister during question time and in estimates, and been unable to get answers. Very few questions, if any, have been able to be answered by the minister. What I get is um's and ah's, the shuffling of paper, disinterest and incompetent answers—and that's an affirmative.

Minister, I would like you to give all Australians an early Christmas present and resign before the reshuffle and you're moved out. That would be a sign that you have acknowledged that you have failed in your responsibility as the minister for older Australians. It would be respectful to older Australians to have a minister, and to have a Prime Minister, who lives up to his election commitments and makes older Australians a priority. It's all very well to make the announcements and have the photo opportunities where this government is pretending it's doing something in aged care, but we in fact know that you are not. You have failed. You make announcements about the rollout of new aged-care packages, but the reality is that we know 30,000 older Australians—it is probably more now—have died over the last couple of years waiting for their home-care package that they were accredited and were advised that they were entitled to. I'm sorry, but it's just part of human nature. If you're in your 80s or 90s and you've been classified as needing a level 4 package to enable you to stay you at home, the likelihood is that will not live, with that level of care denied to you, for those 18 months to two years before you may—may!—get the level of care that you need. That is a disgrace, and it is unacceptable.

In this place last night we worked until midnight, which is fine. We're happy to do that, because it's our job to be here and to pass legislation. In fact, I will just remind some people who normally sit in this chamber that you get elected as a senator to represent your state and territory and to actually vote. Last night, Senator Griff baled out on that responsibility and squibbed out, just as we saw Bridget Archer, the federal Liberal member for Bass, squib out in the other place. She failed to vote on the cashless debit card legislation that she spoke so passionately about and raised her concerns about. She didn't have the commitment to follow through and vote that legislation down. Ms Archer will have the opportunity again today to vote down this legislation when it goes back to the House of Representatives. I would put my house on it that she will not vote that legislation down. I can guarantee that she will squib out again, and she will support the government's attack on First Nations people and the majority of people who receive welfare. By abstaining from voting, she ensures that their human rights and their dignity are taken away and attacked again by this government.

Let's get back to the failings of this government on aged care. Let's face it, I could be here all day with all that they have failed to deliver for older Australians. This is a callous, heartless government. They make commitments at election time. The Prime Minister loves a photo opportunity, but he fails to deliver, on so many levels of responsibility, the commitments that he gives when the cameras are focused on him. This government and this minister for aged care had ample warning to ensure that the aged-care sector was prepared for COVID-19 when it happened. But what did they do? They wanted to blame everyone else—the Victorian government and everyone else except for themselves—for failing to ensure that there was PPE and that there was adequate training for the aged-care workforce. And let's not forget that it was this government that called the royal commission into their own failings. They can try and rewrite history and go back and blame the previous Labor government, but they've been in government for more than seven years. The responsibility for the failings in aged care rests firmly with them. The interim report from their aged-care royal commission was entitled Neglect. That's the word that every Australian associates now with aged care in this country. It's their failing.

I would like to acknowledge and take this opportunity to thank those who have worked in the front line of aged care in this country, particularly through the COVID-19 pandemic. More importantly, there is what they do for older Australians, whether it's in their home or whether it's in residential care, every day and every night. That's the carers, the kitchen staff, the nurses, the cleaners, the maintenance crew, the admin, and the boards—particularly for the not-for-profit aged-care providers. They do a wonderful job for their communities. So I give a big shout-out and acknowledgement to them, and I wish them and their families a lovely Christmas, a Christmas that I am sure is going to mean so much to all of us as we leave this place.

Well, I have a Christmas greeting for the minister for aged care. It's fantastic that he's in the chamber here today to listen to our contributions. Merry Christmas, Richard Colbeck. You are on the naughty list this year, so don't be surprised if Santa Claus doesn't come down your chimney. I can guarantee you won't have to worry about its next Christmas, because you won't be the minister for aged care.


No comments