Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Matters of Urgency

COVID-19: Morrison Government

4:41 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It has been almost two years since COVID first hit Australia, and the government has failed to open up any new quarantine facilities. Mr Morrison has said it isn't a race—well, he's certainly tried to prove that! We have another new COVID strain and still no new federal quarantine facilities. Mr Morrison has been caught with his pants down yet again, but he has also pulled the Australian public's pants down.

Prolonged border closures are having a cascading effect across Australian society and the Australian economy. One essential area that is being disrupted is aged care, an area which has a massive crisis at the moment due to its very low wages and very poor working conditions. Just six per cent of residential aged-care workers have a permanent full-time job—just six per cent. There are shortages of labour across the aged-care system, and this tight labour market for those providers is causing undue havoc for the most elderly and vulnerable people.

The government says job security is a made-up issue. Well, when you have six per cent of the aged-care workforce who are full-time, then job security certainly is an issue. The other 94 per cent are casuals or precariously employed part-time subcontractors or labour hire workers. And now we have seen exploitative gig platforms like Mable replacing even part-time jobs, both in aged-care services and also in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. These undervalued workers, who are doing part-time jobs with full-time bills, are leaving the industry in droves, due to the fact that the wages are so pitifully low. Why are aged-care workers so poorly paid and insecure? Some have suggested it's because 86 per cent of them are an undervalued female workforce. This government sees aged care as being women's work—so why should they be paid a living wage? This government has the responsibility to make sure we have aged-care workers to protect and deliver for our aged population.

In relation to aged care and how it's operating now, quite clearly, there have been a number of calls by industry providers for the government to deal with the crisis of aged-care workers. I note that the minister is not listening to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which stated very clearly that there was a need for increased support. In the royal commission's Final report: care, dignity and respect, on page 211 of volume 2, the commissioners said:

We both consider that Australia’s aged care is understaffed and the workforce underpaid and undertrained.

Yet what steps have we seen from the government? They have extended student visas so that students can work in aged care for up to 40 hours. And of course all that does is take some pressure off for a moment, whilst evidence has been given time and time again about the number of shifts that aren't being covered, because people can't be retained. You get paid more working at Woolies and Coles—and no reflection on those jobs; they're important jobs, as we've seen through the pandemic—on a cash register or stacking shelves, than you get paid looking after our elderly.

For those who don't appreciate all that, imagine having responsibility for a dementia patient. I've spoken to many aged-care workers over the last 18 months, and just recently—only a matter of months ago—in Forster, workers from three different facilities. Those workers said: 'We love our job, but we have people missing shifts, we have shifts that need to be filled, we have services that can't be provided and, quite frankly, the pay is so low it's horrific. And we're dealing with dementia patients who have everything from memory loss to violence.' That's the sort of system we've seen broken down through this entire period of COVID, that's the system we've seen highlighted during the COVID period and that's the system that needs to be aggressively improved, right across the system, so that all Australians can have a better go in aged care.


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