Senate debates

Thursday, 20 September 2018


Aged Care

4:31 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader (Tasmania)) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate:

(a) notes that:

  (i) the former Treasurer, Mr Scott Morrison, was the architect of significant cuts to aged care to the tune of $1 billion in the 2016-17 Budget,

  (ii) Mr Morrison's $1 billion cut to aged care came on top of the almost $500 million from aged care funding Mr Morrison cut in the 2015 MYEFO,

  (iii) you don't fix aged care by cutting funding to it, and

  (iv) after 5 years of cuts, dithering and inaction on aged care, the government has essentially called for a royal commission into itself;

(b) condemns:

  (i) the Morrison Government for failing to take responsibility for these cuts, and

  (ii) the current Prime Minister's refusal to rule out further cuts to aged care in Australia;

(c) calls on the Federal Government to ensure the Royal Commission into Aged Care examines the impact of the Liberals' years of cuts; and

(d) calls on the Federal Government not to wait for the royal commission to start fixing the crisis it has created.

I rise to speak about the current Prime Minister's shameful record on aged care. What do you get when you cross an inept government, which has spent five years ignoring aged care, with a new Prime Minister who was the architect of cuts that have absolutely gutted aged care? You get an aged-care sector in crisis. That's what you get.

He can deny it all he likes, but it was Mr Morrison's cuts to aged care that brought us to the aged-care crisis we're seeing now. It's mystifying that this out-of-touch government have decided that something is terribly wrong in aged care. I've been pushing for and calling on those opposite to take ageing and aged care seriously for years, but my calls have fallen on deafened ears. They were too busy trying to get the numbers for the former Prime Minister's job to focus on what really matters. But now, with an election around the corner, we've got a new Prime Minister acting like he's a friend to older Australians and proclaiming that aged care is a priority for him. Well, I don't buy a word of it and neither does the Australian community.

Mr Morrison, if aged care is such a priority for you, why keep it out of cabinet? If aged care is really a priority for you, when are you going to respond or action the dozens of reviews and reports on aged care that are sitting collecting dust? If this is really a priority for you, why haven't you committed funding to the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce you so proudly announced last week? And, if you really care about older Australians, when are you going to provide an adequate solution to the home care package waitlist crisis?

As I said, the new Prime Minister is the man behind cuts that have gutted aged care and put the sector under immense pressure. Mr Morrison's cuts to aged care as Treasurer have been listed in this place all week, but I will keep going through them until those opposite step up and take responsibility. One of Mr Morrison's first acts as Treasurer was to slash almost $500 million from the aged-care funding in the 2015 MYEFO. He followed this with an even bigger cut—$1.2 billion from the aged-care funding in the 2016 budget. And, even as the waiting list for home care packages blew out to more than 108,000, Mr Morrison's budget this year did not deliver one extra dollar of funding to aged care—not one extra dollar. And don't forget the 26,000 residential aged-care places he also cut in this year's budget.

The Prime Minister must take responsibility for his part in this. He cannot pretend his cuts as Treasurer were nothing to do with him or that they have had no impact in the community. Mr Morrison's response to his cuts has been appalling. He spent this week belittling his cuts to aged care and accusing us of lying for calling him out on them. You only have to look at the budget papers signed off by the Prime Minister when he was Treasurer. His name is on the papers in black and white. These are the cuts that he's denying. Page 101 of budget paper 2 says, 'The Government will achieve efficiencies of $1.2 billion over four years'. The budget papers don't lie. Under Mr Morrison, aged care received one of the harshest cuts in his budget: $1.2 billion slashed from residential aged-care subsidies for residents. In his budget speech on 3 May 2016, Mr Morrison said, 'In this budget we will continue to cut unnecessary waste'. Mr Morrison, do you still consider aged care to be unnecessary waste?

In budget estimates hearings the same year, the government made it clear that it expected aged-care providers to ensure the same high quality of care would be delivered despite the huge funding cut. Let's be clear: you cannot slash aged care and expect the same level of care to be provided. It just can't happen. You do not fix aged care and the crisis that it's in by cutting the funding.

I remind you that Mr Morrison made this $1.2 billion cut without any idea of the impact it would have on the most vulnerable older members of our community. Well, I can tell you that older Australians are feeling the full impact of this cut. Just look at Monday night's Four Corners program. When Mr Morrison made this cut, he was cutting from those in aged-care homes with the highest and most complex needs. That's what this Prime Minister cut when he was Treasurer. This cut was not about aged-care residents missing out on a glass of wine with their dinner; it was about the frailest and most vulnerable people missing out on things like physiotherapy to manage chronic pain, or the oversight of specialist medications for cardiac conditions, dementia and Parkinson's disease. Mr Morrison's cuts were the difference between receiving physiotherapy to manage chronic pain and living with chronic pain. What a disgrace! The fact that the new Prime Minister could stand in front of the cameras and in the House of Representatives all this week and deny his cuts is unbelievable. Frankly, it tells you everything you need to know about the new Prime Minister and what he's all about. He's a wolf dressed up as a sheep crying crocodile tears. Older Australians deserve better than a Prime Minister who cuts funding to aged care and then lies about it.

Those opposite had it pretty good when they came into government. Labor had done all the heavy lifting to transform our aged-care system with the Living Longer Living Better reforms, and the opposition at that time were part of those deliberations. All those opposite had to do was oversee the rollout of our reforms in a timely manner. But that was too hard for them. They bungled it because they never had their eye on the ball. They've always treated aged care as an afterthought. You only have to think back to when Bronwyn Bishop was the minister, and the kerosene baths, and the Howard government's reputation for the way they treated older Australians. When Mark Butler became the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, he set about transforming the aged-care sector with the sector, to lead the way. Those who have come after him, the three ministers in the last five years, have failed older Australians.

Those opposite have always underestimated the level of leadership required to oversee the rollout and implementation of aged-care reforms. Mr Morrison says aged care is a priority, but the portfolio still doesn't have a seat at the cabinet table. The current Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, has good intentions but has been left screaming from the sidelines to progress the reforms that are needed in the aged-care sector. The pattern is clear: Mr Morrison is following in Mr Turnbull's and Mr Abbott's footsteps and he cannot be trusted with aged care. We are in the midst of an aged-care crisis because of the lack of actions by those on the other side of the chamber.

The government's call for this royal commission is frankly an admission of failure. They have essentially called a royal commission into themselves because they've been in charge. They've had the responsibility as the government for five years, and we have nothing to show for it except an aged-care sector that is in crisis. They've done nothing but fail older Australians at every turn for the past five years, and now they don't know what to do or how to do it. That's what this royal commission is all about.

The Prime Minister must guarantee that: (1) he will not wait for the royal commission to finish before he starts acting on the issues facing the sector now; and (2) that the royal commission examines the impacts of reduced funding through the Aged Care Funding Instrument; the adequacy of short- and long-term funding of the-aged care sector; the challenges around ensuring there is long-term sustainability of the aged-care system; the adequacies of care requirements for residents in aged-care homes; retirement village living arrangements; poor access to aged-care services in regional, rural and remote Australia, including the dislocation of families; improving transparency of information to consumers, their families and carers; the challenges around ensuring there is a viable well-paid and trained work force now and into the future; and reducing stigma for older Australians.

This royal commission cannot become their latest excuse to do nothing. There are about 14 reviews, reports and inquiries still sitting on the minister's desk without action, collecting dust. The government has cherrypicked its way through a number of key reports and reviews, but piecemeal solutions for an aged-care system in a deepening crisis are just not good enough. Older Australians and their families deserve better than this.

The government's lack of response to the dozens of reviews and reports speaks volumes about where they position older Australians on its list of priorities. Take, for example, the interim report from the Senate inquiry into what happened at Oakden in South Australia—the government has had this interim report for almost a year, but has done nothing about it. The committee was presented with overwhelming, heartbreaking reports from families of the poor quality of personal care. The stories and evidence were harrowing and heart-wrenching, and should have been the trigger for the government to take immediate action. Senator Smith, who's in this chamber, was there and heard the same evidence as I did. It was heartbreaking and soul-destroying for those families to have to go through it again.

Those families have never given up on ensuring that the system is changed—they have been on social media actually commending this government for finally taking some action and calling for this royal commission. But, once again, this government failed to act. It sat on that report. We're at a crucial time in the reform agenda. Older Australians deserve good policies and leadership from government when it counts. After years of inaction, Australia's aged-care system doesn't need more quick fixes from this government; it needs genuine reform backed by real investment.

Equally concerning in the five years of inaction on workforce development, with the exception of scrapping Labor's $1.5 billion Workforce Compact, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments have shown a complete lack of commitment to Australia's aged-care workforce. Aged-care workforce development is one of the biggest challenges facing the sector. With the workforce expected to increase by 300 per cent in the next 30 years, we have to get this right.

Disappointingly, despite saying aged care would be a focus of his new government, Mr Morrison has been silent on workforce development and the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce's strategy, which is also sitting on the minister's desk. His silence on this strategy shows his commitment to his policy area will be little better than his Liberal predecessors. The lack of a response on this strategy fits a disturbing pattern of cover-ups and inaction on aged care from successive Liberal governments. If the Morrison government is truly serious about aged care, it will respond to this strategy immediately and commit funding to it.

The Turnbull government's top priority must be a real plan to address the waiting list for home care packages. If today's response by the representing minister in question time was anything to go by, heaven help us all, particularly those on the waiting list. I have spoken about the waiting list all week. There are 108,000 people waiting. That's from the government's own figures. They were released months after the due date, but they are the most accurate that we have. The June figures are now due to be released but, once again, the government are sitting on them, hoping that they can scratch a few names off them. But the figures the minister quoted today were some 74,000. The real figure is 108,000, with 54,000 of those waiting not receiving any support at all from the Commonwealth government. Some 88,000 of those people on that waiting list are living with dementia. I hope the minister is listening to this. The waiting list for home care packages is no longer tolerable. The minister and this government have a history of delaying this important data. As I said, the June 2018 data is now late, so we can only imagine the 108,000 would be somewhere closer to 115,000 by now. What are you trying to hide? Are you going to sit on this data for another three months while you try to reduce the names on the waiting list so it doesn't look so bad?

Under the government's watch, there are now over 108,000 people who are waiting for home care packages to be able to stay in their own home. This is much better for them as individuals and it's certainly much better for the bottom line of any federal government. These numbers are absolutely shocking; they're appalling. Mr Morrison's aged-care package in the budget was an absolute hoax. It was a joke and it was absolutely inadequate. The waiting list grows by almost 4,000 older Australians in just three months. The 3,500 new home care packages a year you committed in the budget won't come close to keeping pace with the demand.

The minister has already publicly admitted the government will need to consider other interventions to reduce the waiting list. Now is your chance to live up to your words, Prime Minister, and to do something. Failure to act will only see more and more older people passing away on your watch or going into residential care or acute hospitals while they wait for home care packages. As the list grows longer and longer, fresh stories emerge daily of older Australians waiting years for home care. The average wait time according to the government's data for a level 3 or 4 package is not what the minister today responded to in question time when he was saying there's a three month wait for level 1 or 2. Levels 3 and 4 have a 12 month wait, and we know from those who are contacting our offices that it can be up to 18 months. How can the Prime Minister say it's okay for a 94 year old with high-level needs to be told they'll have to wait years for care? The reality is he probably won't be here.

Finally, the Prime Minister must rule out cuts to aged care. The latest leak reported earlier this week revealed that the government is considering a further cut to the Aged Care Funding Instrument of up to $5.4 billion. The Prime Minister's response is to bury his head in the sand—'Nothing to see here; move on; business as usual'—while his ship is sinking. This is shameful. The Liberals are too busy fighting amongst themselves, instead of focusing on what matters. The Prime Minister may have changed, but the government is falling apart at the seams; they're self-imploding. And the people of Australia are sick of it. They are sick of this government's deception and dysfunction. They want a government focused on the issues that matter to them, a big one being the aged-care sector in Australia. I see lots of worried faces on the other side of the chamber, and the reason is that they can't stop talking about themselves; they can't stop fighting amongst themselves.

The Australian people turned off a long time ago. They've given up on this government because every day they see the chaos that reigns on that side of the chamber. What the Australian people want is a strong government, and I don't believe this government can provide it. They can't provide the security that older Australians need. What we need is an election so that we can elect Bill Shorten. He will have a minister for ageing in the cabinet. He will, as he has already committed to, put dementia and ageing as a national priority. What we need is a minister in cabinet who will argue for older Australians. (Time expired)

4:51 pm

Photo of Lucy GichuhiLucy Gichuhi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm here today to contribute to this very important debate. This government, our government, takes aged care as one of its top priorities. There is no doubt that Australia's demography is one of an ageing population. The demand for aged-care services is driven by the size and health of the older population.

There are currently over 5.5 million people in this country who will need aged-care services in the next 10 to 20 years. This is what this government is planning about and is funding on. The Australian population is ageing rapidly, with the proportion of people aged 65 years or over in the total population projected to increase from 15.3 per cent in 2017 to 21.8 per cent in 2056, according to the ABS.

This government is very committed to strategically funding this ageing population issue. To accommodate the needs of the rising older population will require a quadrupling of the aged-care workforce by 2050. Our government, this government, is very much aware of the workforce needs. Recent reports on the ageing of baby boomers show that they are eight times more likely to have health problems than the previous generation.

Our government, this government, is so focused on this issue that it has given it a strategic approach that covers not only the short-term and the medium-term but the long-term needs of older Australians. Currently, the number of people over the age of 65 receiving aged-care services exceeds 1.2 million. Of those, 83 per cent are classified as requiring high-level care needs. This government, our government, has recognised that the systems and priorities of those opposite are not enough to cater for the high needs of this ageing population. An estimated 60 per cent of the residents needing high-level care have dementia, at least 40 per cent suffer from chronic pain, over 50 per cent are incontinent and 45 per cent have a sleeping disorder. This government, our government, is aware of these facts. In light of these statistics, it's clear that aged-care funding remains a key and very critical factor to support the welfare of the most vulnerable people in our community.

I am sure that everyone in this chamber agrees that aged care is an issue that hits home for each and every one of us. This should be one of the bipartisan issues. We should come together in a bipartisan fashion and manner to put our heads together and work for all Australians. We all know someone who is receiving some form of aged-care service, whether it is our parents or grandparents. This is not the time to take political capital or capitalise on issues that affect all of us Australians. Old and young: we are all affected by ageing processes.

I'm particularly passionate about aged care because I was honoured to look after my grandmother, who still holds a special place in my heart. She was a woman of strength and wisdom and one of my solid rocks that I stood on. I see so many grandmothers on the streets of this country every day, every hour, and we cannot turn a blind eye or take political capital or take advantage to capitalise on an issue that should be one of the most bipartisan issues this parliament has ever handled at such a critical time. I talk about my grandmother because I link my experience with her to the experience of so many families with elderly parents, elderly grandparents, elderly relatives or just elderly neighbours. In Australia, I encountered aged care while training aged-care workers and nurses. I have had the opportunity to look into the eyes of ageing Australians and wonder if we will be able to give them the dignity and respect that I saw with my grandmother. I wonder how they feel. I wonder what they think.

The need to value and look after our seniors is so central to Australia as a civil and noble society. The need for dignity, respect and freedom has to be maintained and preserved, and we can't afford to make political gains and capital and mileage out of our seniors. As a society, we can never forget that older Australians are the people on whose shoulders we stand. We are whom we are today because they worked, they paid taxes and they looked after us when we were younger. Now it is our time to come together in a bipartisan fashion and give back to our seniors.

Because of this, our government, this government, is providing record aged-care funding of $19.8 billion this year. Our government is not—and I repeat 'is not' with 'not' in capital letters—planning any changes that will reduce funding to aged-care services. Annual funding will increase to record levels by $5 billion—yes, $5 billion—over the forward estimates, from $18.6 billion in 2017-18 to $23.6 billion in the 2021-22 financial year. For this government, aged-care spending has increased by more than an average of six per cent each year. That is an average of $1 billion of extra support for older Australians each year. Our government is adding an additional 13,500 residential aged-care places and 775 short-term restorative places. Since the last budget, this government has been delivering 20,000 new high-level home-care packages to support senior Australians to remain at home longer.

This government is doing what it can, what is needed, to support our senior older Australians remain in their homes for as long as they can and for as long as they want. By 2021-22 more than 74,000 high-level home care places will be available, an increase of 86 per cent from 2017-18. Over $100 million investment in mental health services for ageing Australians in the community and in residential care has been provided, consisting of a $20 million trial to improve mental health services for Australians over 75 years of age, and $82.5 million in new mental health services for people with a diagnosed mental disorder living in residential aged-care facilities.

Last week, this government announced an additional $16 million to police the quality in aged-care services and providers. This government is also bringing forward $90 million this financial year to support quality in residential aged care and aged-care capital works in regional, rural and remote Australia. The government is also examining options for a more stable, certain and efficient residential care funding tool to replace the current Aged Care Funding Instrument, which has been recognised by the independent Aged Care Financing Authority as no longer being contemporary and as inefficient, too subjective and lacking stability in outcomes. Development of a new funding tool is being led by the University of Wollongong, who will provide a report to the government by the end of this calendar year. Any new tool adopted by our government will involve a better and more efficient way of allocating the funding pool. Let me reiterate once more that our government is not considering any options that would reduce, in any way, manner, form or shape, the funding pool.

This government is committed to ensuring that Australians in the aged-care system are better cared for. The need to value and look after our seniors is central to any civil and noble society. Their need for dignity, respect and freedom has to be maintained and preserved. We cannot afford to take political gains or political capital from such an issue affecting very vulnerable members of the community. This government knows that our older Australians are the people on whose shoulders we all stand on. This government has demonstrated that senior Australians' needs are a top priority.

5:06 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the fact that Senator Polley has raised this very important issue for debate this afternoon. Before I begin my contribution, I would like just to congratulate my two colleagues the shadow minister for ageing and mental health, the Hon. Julie Collins MP, and Senator Polley, for the great job they've done in the area of aged care, holding the government to account and developing our policies, because we need a strong alternative to this government. The government's cuts in recent budgets to the aged-care sector have been cruel and unwarranted, and they need to be looked into.

Labor has been saying for a long time that the aged-care system is in a state of national crisis. Unfortunately, when the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Bill Shorten, raised the crisis in the sector in parliament earlier this year, the government attacked him and accused him of fearmongering. They even claimed his comments were akin to elder abuse.

Australians think of our country as a caring nation. We should respect our older Australians for all they have contributed to the nation and all that they contribute still. Sadly, we have seen the concerning images in the recent Four Corners program, and it is clear—very, very clear—that actions need to be taken. Labor is appalled and angry about the vision and stories that aired during Four Corners recently.

Like every other Australian that saw that, I was saddened to see the crisis in our nation's aged-care system, particularly the standard of care being delivered in some nursing homes. Australians, across our nation, are genuinely shocked about the abuses that have happened to elderly Australians—beloved elderly family members who deserve quality care. We must give elderly Australians the love, the care and the respect that they so mightily deserve.

Labor welcomes the aged-care royal commission. It is an important instrument that will get to the heart of the issues in the aged-care sector. We're glad that the government has called for one, but it wasn't that long ago that Minister Wyatt and the government were claiming that we didn't need a royal commission. However, just before that episode of Four Corners was aired, suddenly they were calling for a royal commission. Let me say, that does not absolve the government of their own contribution to this crisis.

After five years in government, every one of those people opposite must accept some responsibility for what's happening today in the aged-care system. The Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, must take responsibility for much of the crises that we are seeing. As Treasurer of Australia, it was he who was responsible for the cuts of $1.2 billion from the aged-care sector in the 2016-17 budget. This cut to aged care came on top of the almost $500 million from aged-care funding Mr Morrison cut in the 2015 MYEFO. This money was taken out of the aged-care budget and hasn't come back. Although the government keeps disputing the $1.2 billion figure, let me make it clear that it's in the government's own words that we can actually confirm the cut. You only have to look at the budget papers signed off by the current Prime Minister when he was Treasurer. His name is on these papers in black and white. The cuts he's denying can be found on page 101 of the 2016-17 budget paper 2, where it says:

The Government will achieve efficiencies of $1.2 billion over four years through changes to the scoring matrix of the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) that determines the level of funding paid to aged care providers. The Government will also reduce indexation of the Complex Health Care component of the ACFI by 50 per cent in 2016-17 and establish a $53.3 million transitional assistance fund to support providers.

Further, on the same page, the government states:

The savings from this measure will be redirected by the Government.

So how do you get savings without a cut? Of course at the time of the 2016-17 budget, there were strong voices in the sector opposed to this $1.2 billion cut. Those voices including the AMA, the Aged Care Guild and Catholic Health Australia. At the time, the Sydney Morning Herald reported:

The Turnbull government's $1.2 billion of aged care funding cuts could force smaller providers to close down or sell up and may lower standards of care for the elderly, industry groups warn.

Even the share market reacted, with the same article stating:

Investors reacted negatively to the news, sending the shares of listed aged care providers Regis, Japara, and Estia down 6.6 per cent, 3.8 per cent, and 2.6 per cent respectively.

The government cannot rewrite history, no matter how much they would like to and no matter how much they've tried. It's clear that Mr Morrison as Treasurer used aged-care funding to prop up his budget without considering the elder Australians who would be impacted. We have now had five years of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, but when will they start taking responsibility for the outcomes of government? Have they forgotten that they've controlled the Treasury purse strings all this time?

The royal commission must examine the impact of the Liberals' years of cuts, because you can't fix aged care by cutting funding to it. It's sadly inevitable that, in some areas, standards in the care of older Australians have begun to slip under the weight of these cuts. This government has failed to take the care of older Australians seriously enough, and you can see that through their ministerial arrangements. The coalition does not have a minister for ageing, and the aged-care portfolio is not even included in the cabinet. And due to their continuous infighting, we have seen three different aged-care ministers across the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments, who have had carriage of the Living Longer Living Better reforms for five years but who have all failed to do little if any reforms across the ageing portfolio.

Sadly, the current minister for aged care, Mr Ken Wyatt, has struggled to progress further reform that is needed in aged care because Mr Morrison, the current PM, appears to view aged-care funding as a commodity to be cut and used elsewhere. There have been several inquiries into the aged-care sector which the government hasn't acted on. More than a dozen reviews, reports and inquiries still sit on the minister's desk without being actioned. They just sit there collecting dust. Maybe they're being used as book ends. Maybe he rests a cup of coffee on them, who knows, but what's happening is they're not being acted on.

The government's cherrypicked its way through a number of key reports and reviews leading to aged-care reform now being piecemeal in nature. The quality standards and reporting system aren't working. There aren't enough aged-care workers and they aren't given enough pay, respect or support. The role of nurses and personal care workers in the care of our older Australians is critical and will only become increasingly important. The number of people aged 85 years is rapidly increasing and it's projected to double by 2032. We'll need to see a tripling of the aged-care workforce in the next 30 years to provide a high standard of living and care for this growing proportion of older Australians. It's predicted that the aged-care workforce requirements will need to increase from around 366,000 currently to around one million people in 2050. It is clear that the government's got to ensure that we have an adequately skilled and equipped aged-care workforce to care for our rapidly ageing population.

The savage cuts hit older Australians in residential aged-care facilities the hardest, with a 50 per cent cut to the indexation of complex health care subsidies. Prime Minister Morrison and the Liberals cannot be trusted to ensure that older Australians get the aged-care services that they need.

Outside of residential aged care, we also have the majority of older Australians who are receiving care in their homes. This is another area that's been mismanaged by the government—the home care package waitlist. The government has a history of delaying reporting on this important data. The March 2018 quarter was delayed by three months and the June 2018 data is now late, even after the minister committed to releasing this data on time. They're just sitting on the data, and I'm not sure why. I have to ask: why are they just sitting on that data? Is it something that they don't want us to see? Whatever the reason, it's completely unacceptable.

Under the government's watch there are now more than 108,000 people on the home care package waiting list, including 88,000 people with high needs, many of whom are living with dementia. Around 54,000 of these older Australians who are waiting have no home care package at all. Those are 54,000 Australians who are not getting the support they need to shower and get ready in the morning or with cleaning around their homes or with any number of issues. That support could make life just a little bit easier for them. Those are 54,000 Australians who do not receive the dignity or live with the dignity that they deserve. We should judge ourselves as a nation by how we treat our elderly. How can the government say it's treating older Australians with dignity when more than 100,000 of them are waiting for care? Labor's called on the government time and time again to fix this crisis but, like the 108,000 older Australians, we're still waiting for action.

Today in question time I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Senator Scullion, three simple questions. These questions were very straightforward: how many older Australians are currently on the government's home care package waitlist; how many older Australians currently on the government's home care package waitlist are receiving no home care package at all; and how long are some older Australians being forced to wait for their approved package level or, worse still, are without any home care package at all? I was hugely disappointed by Minister Scullion's answers to my questions on this issue—hugely disappointed!—because he just made motherhood statements about keeping senior Australians in their homes, and his answers, when he finally got to some numbers, used outdated data to try and understate the demand. He wouldn't even use an accurate figure. He used a figure from 31 December 2017, almost nine months out of date, when his own minister had used the 108,000 figure earlier. That's the government's own number. That's Minister Wyatt's own number, and Minister Scullion couldn't use it. They were absolutely shameful and disastrous answers to three very simple questions.

Then we had Minister Canavan arguing that asking for this information in question time shouldn't even be allowed—seriously!—and that the minister shouldn't even be expected to answer any question that involves statistics. It was utterly unbelievable, but I know why Senator Canavan did that. He did it because he was trying to save Minister Scullion from his own ineptitude and the rest of the nation from seeing it. If the minister isn't able to answer a basic question, maybe he should consider a different career choice.

Australia needs a national dementia strategy to help it deal with the growing toll that this disease is taking on senior Australians. Many older Australians living in aged-care facilities have dementia, and they're simply not getting the high level of care that they need. A very dear friend of mine recently spent her final weeks and months living with dementia in an aged-care facility. Over the past few years and months, I've seen a lot of what happens in this area. I've seen the limitations of staff. I've seen that staff aren't able to take the time they would like to care for their clients. I've seen the understaffing and overworking of the carers and staff who are doing their very, very best under huge pressure to save both time and money.

We can't wait for the results of the royal commission to start undertaking important reforms. They have to start now. The quality standards and the reporting system aren't working. There aren't enough aged-care workers, as I have said before—and I gave the numbers earlier about how much the system needs to grow because we've got such an ageing population. They aren't given enough pay, respect or support.

Just earlier this week, I met with representatives from the Health and Community Services Union who cover workers in this area in Tasmania. Their members are passionate about providing high-quality care for the senior Australians that they look after. Can you imagine though how hurt these members were when former Prime Minister Turnbull told them to get a better job. That tells us what this government thinks about aged-care workers and aged care in general. No wonder the sector's in crisis, if this is the attitude of the government towards workers.

The union and their members are extremely concerned about the crisis the aged-care sector is in because, unfortunately, not all operators do the right thing by their clients or their staff. The union emphasised to me just the other day the need for accredited training and increasing the size of the workforce. We also need to ensure workers get appropriate levels of pay which will drive professionalism in the industry and give workers the security to make major decisions and to stay in the industry. It's not good enough to tell aged-care workers to get a better job. They already have a good job; they just need to be recognised for it and provided with the resources they need to be able to do it well.

In conclusion, the Prime Minister has been the architect of cuts that have gutted aged care and put the sector under immense pressure. We're in the midst of an aged-care crisis because of the actions, and the lack of actions, by those on the other side of the chamber. And when the now Prime Minister cut $1.2 billion from the funding for people with complex and higher needs in the 2016 budget that actually contributed dramatically to the problems in the system. The Prime Minister must take responsibility. He cannot pretend his cuts as Treasurer were nothing to do with him or that they had no impact. He cannot keep misleading people. The cuts were in his own budget papers, and the stakeholders reacted to the cuts at the time.

The royal commission must investigate the impact of the Prime Minister's cuts to the sector when he was Treasurer. The government must not exclude their cuts from the royal commission's terms of reference and hide from the responsibility that will lie at their feet. So, while the chaotic and divided Liberals have fought amongst themselves, the care of older Australians has been sadly neglected. We must fix this crisis now, because it would be a great injustice to our vulnerable senior Australians to do otherwise.

5:23 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm delighted the Labor Party have raised this matter for debate because it allows me to, first of all, congratulate all of those community and other aged-care facilities that do such a wonderful job for our older Australians. It allows me to recognise carers in aged-care facilities and those who help with home help, and I congratulate them on the wonderful work they do.

This also allows me to talk about the bill coming before the parliament in the not too distant future, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill. It allows me to talk about the royal commission into aged-care issues that's been announced by our government and it also allows me to remind older Australians about the 'granny tax', as it's called, that the Labor Party propose imposing upon older people. It allows me to talk about the abolition of franking credits, which impact very, very considerably on the incomes of older Australians who are self-funded retirees and who have shares that they get a small income from. They depend on those franking credits, which the Labor Party propose to take away from them.

I think older people well recognise that, from the days when Liberal governments first introduced the age pension to Australia many, many decades ago, it is the Liberal and National parties that have done more for older people and continue to do so. That is because we want to help people who've made a major contribution to our country over many years. We want to reward those who've done such sterling work for our country during their working lives and who now are entitled to their senior years in good care and condition.

I speak with a little authority. My late sister was in an aged-care facility for a number of years in my home town of Ayr, in a facility that was run by the community funded Lower Burdekin Home for the Aged. My mother was there several decades ago, and I still remember the care she got there.

I have an older sister who receives home care, and I'm conscious of what she receives, and my brother-in-law also receives home care. Whilst at times he has some complaints about the service, by and large he recognises—as I recognise and everyone recognises—that it's a wonderful service, supported by the government, which allows people to stay in their homes longer than would have been the case in the past.

A niece of mine actually works in an aged-care facility. I know what a wonderful, caring person she is, and she tells me often about the great experience it is—how it is not just a job but helping people. Most of the staff at the facility have that experience.

I'm also quite well familiar with the Bowen Old People's Home Society, who over the years have provided a wonderful service for that community. Again it's a community run and community funded organisation, with some help from the federal government. I know the one in my own home town. I know the Good Shepherd Home, in Townsville, which does wonderful work there. I know the facility in Ingham. I have had a bit to do with the facility in Tully, further north, and in Innisfail—a great organisation which was the recipient of quite substantial federal government assistance just recently. I'm even conscious of smaller communities to the west of Townsville, out towards Mount Isa, smaller towns whose councils have done wonderful work in providing aged-care facilities—on a very limited status, I might say—to their residents so that those residents don't have to leave the community they've lived in all their lives and go into one of the bigger cities to get care in their advancing years.

I've certainly heard stories of some problems at times, but by and large these facilities, particularly those I mentioned but facilities everywhere, do a wonderful job looking after older people. We should recognise the work that is done and thank those who are involved in that particular line of business.

Again, the Labor Party's approach in getting rid of franking credits would have a huge impact on older people. I'm not quite sure where Labor's current policy is. It changes every day or so, depending on what's popular today and what's not popular. I understand they made some changes to it, but that doesn't address the real problem that the Labor Party's policy of taxing older people has evolved.

I do have some more specific points I want to make, but before doing that can I just respond to the previous speaker. I thought her lettuce-leaf style attack on Senator Scullion in this chamber was most disingenuous. She was asking Senator Scullion—who is not the minister for aged care; he represents the minister for aged care—detailed questions about statistics, and she took umbrage at the fact that he didn't immediately have those in his head. Had the question been on Indigenous affairs, on which he is the expert, I'm sure he would have had all of the figures and statistics and the policies and approaches at the front of his mind. But, as he represents the minister for aged care and a number of other ministers, I'm not surprised that he didn't have these detailed, estimates-type questions immediately to mind. As it's turned out from the speech that Senator Bilyk just gave, she had the information anyhow. It amazes me that she was wasting question time asking Senator Scullion for numbers and statistics which she already had. Clearly the Labor Party have very little to ask about and are just filling in time at question time.

I was amused that a previous Labor speaker spoke about how we, being the government, were concentrating on internal matters of our party, when, except for today, every question asked by the Labor Party at question time this week has not been about jobs, aged care, the economy, workers or infrastructure; they've all been about the Liberal Party. And the Labor Party have the gall in this debate to attack us for looking inwardly at ourselves, when their complete focus this week has been on anything but the issues that are of importance to Australians!

The home care industry has over the years had some problems—as I say, in the minority of cases. But, as a result, our government set up an inquiry into that. We got Ms Kate Carnell, a well-known public figure and former Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, and Professor Ron Paterson to have a look at the industry and make recommendations about what needs to be done. As a result of the recommendations of the Carnell-Paterson review, the government made some announcements in the 2018-19 budget to establish a new commission from 1 January 2019, and that is what is dealt with in the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill, which I understand has been introduced into the other place.

The commission brings together the functions of the Aged Care Quality Agency and the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner. Further work will be undertaken next year to bring the aged-care regulatory functions of the Department of Health into the commission from 1 January 2020. This reform is part of a two-year agenda to strengthen and enhance the care regulation to protect and assure the quality of care provided to aged-care consumers. Consumers, of course, are at the heart of the reforms, and the commission's objectives will be to protect and enhance the safety, health and wellbeing, and quality of life of aged-care consumers to promote confidence and trust in the provision of aged care and to promote engagement with aged-care consumers about the quality and care of services.

The commissioner will take on the functions currently performed by the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner and the CEO of the Aged Care Quality Agency, with specific functions that also set out and relate to engaging with aged-care consumers in developing and promoting best-practice models for engagement and providers, and also seeking and receiving clinical advice in relation to the functions of the commissioner, which is envisaged to occur through the engagement of the Chief Clinical Adviser, with an expert clinical panel to be established to support the Chief Clinical Advisor.

On aged-care funding reform, the Labor Party, in speeches in this chamber during the week, have clearly showed that, regrettably, they cannot even understand the budget papers. In spite of valiant efforts by various ministers during the week to explain this to Labor Party people, it's clear that they don't know how to pick up one of the budget documents and actually read it. If they did that, they would see that the facts of the matter—not their political misinformation campaign but the facts of the matter—are that annual funding will increase to record levels by $5 billion over the forward estimates, going up from $18.6 billion in the current financial year to $23.6 billion in the 2021-22 financial year. Our government is providing record aged-care funding of almost $20 billion this year.

Aged-care spending has increased by an average of more than six per cent each year during the term of coalition governments. That is, on average, $1 billion of extra support for older Australians each year. We're adding an additional 13,500 residential aged-care places and another 775 short-term restorative places. Based on the latest data, in the current financial year the average Australian government payment, that is subsidy plus supplements, for a permanent resident in residential care was $66,000 per resident. This compares with $53,100 in 2012-13, which listeners might recall was Labor's last full financial year. This is an increase of $12,900 per resident, or a 24.3 per cent increase.

I emphasise again that these are the facts. Labor, unfortunately, as I said, can't read the budget papers. They don't really understand what they say. But anyone listening to this debate, and I'm sure there are a lot of people in the chamber and around Australia who would be interested in this subject, will well remember the Labor approach to figures and benefits that coalition governments give. The Labor approach is: tell any lie you like and make up any story you like; say it often enough and advertise it often enough, and hopefully the public will believe it. You've got to look no further than the last federal election where the Labor Party invented this 'Mediscare' campaign, where one of the bright sparks in the back room said: 'Let's go out and say the government's going to sell Medicare and privatise Medicare. Let's do that. That should get a headline.' They made a major campaign on that falsity. There was not a skerrick of truth in it, as evidence subsequently showed and as we tried to say at the time.

The Labor Party work on the proposition that you can tell any lie at all and that if you say it often enough then enough people might believe it, might agree with it, and change their vote at election time and perhaps change the government. That's what the Labor Party is doing with these aged care attacks. They're not supported by facts. The facts are as I've given them and as my colleague Senator Gichuhi clearly enumerated in the wonderful address she gave to the chamber. I'm sure my colleague Senator Fierravanti-Wells will also elaborate on the facts and figures of the good things that the government is doing.

I conclude my remarks by saying I'm delighted to take part in the debate. It does allow us to highlight the good things our government has done. It does also allow us to clearly demonstrate that Labor has no interest in older people except for how they can tax them to bring in more revenue for the crazy schemes that the Labor Party come up with at election time.

5:41 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll start by saying that it's good that Senator Polley has brought this notice of motion on aged care because it does afford me the opportunity to go back in history and put on record, Senator Macdonald, some additional facts—most especially going back to when Labor was in power and what they actually did in the aged-care space. At the 2010 election, then Prime Minister Gillard said that if she was re-elected then aged-care reform would be her second term priority. Of course, during the 2007-2013 term, Labor presided over 20 reviews and inquiries into aged care and ageing issues, including three by the Productivity Commission. Like many of the Gillard government's goals, this was yet another empty statement masked as an achievement.

As I indicated, there were all these reviews when Labor were in government. One of these reviews was, very importantly, the landmark report of the Productivity Commission, which was delivered in 2011. It was a two-volume report entitled Caring for older Australians. At that time, as shadow minister for ageing and for mental health, it was certainly a document that I was very familiar with. Senator Polley comes in here and says, 'Those opposite haven't responded to the latest inquiry.' Let me remind the chamber that it took the Gillard government over 250 days to respond to the 58 recommendations within the Productivity Commission's landmark 2011 report. That response took the form of a $3.7 billion package over five years—of which, can I just underline, less than $580 million was new money. Of course, like most things that those opposite do, the package was announced in April 2012 and it represented an assortment of cherrypicked recommendations with lots of political spin. You can't have a Labor announcement without lots of political spin, can you, Senator Macdonald?

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Of course, there was myriad fine print that the stakeholders started to understand only after the election. This report was comprehensive and it looked at and recommended a total overhaul of the system. It referred to the structural changes that were going to be needed to meet the needs of our ageing population into the future, and it talked about an ageing population—a significant increase in the number of older people. It talked about the increasing incidence of age related disability and disease, especially dementia. It looked into the rising expectations about the type and flexibility of care that was being received. It looked at community concerns about variability in the quality of care. It looked at the relative decline in the number of informal carers and, most importantly, it looked at the need for significantly more nurses and personal care workers with enhanced skills, such was the breadth of this report. As I said, in the end, all those opposite did was cherry-pick this report and, may I say, not very successfully.

What was clear from their much-lauded Living Longer Living Better package was that everyone except full-paying pensioners would pay more for their care. At the time, we did not oppose this package but, in the end, what we are seeing is that, today, we are now paying the price of this policy and the failure of those opposite to take the necessary reform that they should have taken when they were given this opportunity. Of course, whilst we saw that packages were increased, nevertheless, it came at a price. We saw fees capped. We saw fees increased. Also, there was means testing for the cost of residential care.

Senator Polley also asserted that we failed to look at retirement living. I would remind Senator Polley that retirement villages are actually under the auspices of state governments. They're not under the auspices of the federal government. If I recall my consultation with the sector at the time, I believe that there's actually been work done on this at the federal-state level and there is no appetite for retirement villages to be regulated by the Commonwealth.

I came, and have come, to this area with experience. At age 23, I was the founding board director of an aged-care facility in Wollongong. As I said, I was the shadow minister before the 2013 election. During my time as shadow minister, there were about 2,400 aged-care facilities in Australia at that time and I visited almost a third of those aged-care facilities. There is an overwhelming number of very, very good aged care-facilities in this country. Often you would walk into an aged-care facility and externally it may not be the most luxurious place, but what is vitally important in any aged-care facility is the level of care. It is the attention to the care needs of our older Australians that makes that place a very good aged-care facility.

My father also had dementia and, unfortunately, lost his battle with dementia. My mother is in an aged-care facility at the moment. In any discussion about aged care and aged-care reform, one has to take into account the changing cultural diversity of Australia. One of the things that has always been very dear to my heart is to ensure the care of our older Australians from culturally diverse backgrounds, especially those who get dementia. Often older Australians lose whatever English language they had and revert not just to their language of origin but, in many cases, to their dialect of origin, and that creates complications.

Why have I gone through this? I have gone through this because, going back to the 2013 election when those opposite say that they undertook massive reform of the aged-care sector, we, at that time, understood the important work that the Productivity Commission had undertaken and our 2013 election policy took into account the Productivity Commission report and its implementation. That meant the system needed a major overhaul, not just tinkering.

I have to commend Minister Wyatt for the work he has done. He is certainly moving in this direction. There is, of course, more work to be done. But what is really important is the political will. It's all very well for those opposite to come in here and bleat about the need for reform, but any reform in this area needs to have strong bipartisan support, because you need political will to undertake this reform. We cannot have those opposite saying that they want reform but then, all of a sudden, when you do put forward propositions—which at times may be difficult—doing what they usually do, and that is politicise and scaremonger in relation to these issues, as they have done in the past.

Let me look at some of the issues. As has been said, annual funding will increase to record levels—by $5 billion over the forward estimates—from $18.6 billion in 2017-18 to $23.6 billion in 2021-22. We are providing record aged-care funding of almost $20 billion this year. Aged-care spending has increased by an average of more than six per cent each year. That is, on average, $1 billion of extra support for our older Australians each year. We are also adding an additional 13,500 residential aged-care places and 775 short-term restorative places. Since the last budget we are delivering 20,000 new high-level home care packages to support our older Australians to remain at home, and by 2021-22 over 74,000 high-level home care places will be available. That is an increase of 86 per cent on 2017-18. Also important is our investment in the mental health services of our older Australians in the community and in residential aged care to improve mental health services, especially for our older Australians who are aged 75 years and over, and provide new mental health services in residential aged-care facilities.

Of course, it is also necessary to police quality care in our aged-care system. We are also bringing forward $90 million this financial year to support quality in residential aged care and aged-care capital works in regional, rural and remote Australia. We are also examining options for a more stable, certain and efficient residential care funding tool to replace the current Aged Care Funding Instrument, which has been recognised by the independent Aged Care Financing Authority as no longer being contemporary—as being inefficient, too subjective and lacking the necessary stability in achieving outcomes. The development of the new funding tool is being led by the University of Wollongong—of which I am very proud; Wollongong having been where I was born and raised and where my electorate office is at the moment. The University of Wollongong will provide a report to the government by the end of this calendar year. Of course, any new tool that is adopted by the government will, of necessity, involve a better and more efficient way of allocating the funding pool. We are not considering any options that would reduce the funding pool.

I would now like to move to the specifics of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill, which contributes to our government's commitment to ensure that our older Australians in aged care will be better cared for. This bill gives effect to the government's announcement in the 2018-19 budget to establish the new commission from 1 January next year, as part of providing for better quality of care for consumers of aged-care services in Australia. At this point, I would like to pick up on a comment that Senator Bilyk made. She said that at the moment the current framework isn't working. I'd remind Senator Bilyk—perhaps she can think back to that time—that the current framework was part of the Rudd so-called health reforms. Remember those reforms that gave us 13 new agencies and a total blowout of bureaucrats? This was one of the agencies that was set up, which was lauded as part of this package that I spoke about before—the Living Longer Living Better package, which was supposed to ensure that this quality in our aged-care services would be maintained. Perhaps I can remind Senator Bilyk: it may not be working, but you set it up and so you do bear some responsibility for the issues that have arisen.

The introduction of this commission is also a direct response to the findings and recommendations of the review of the national aged-care regulatory process, which was undertaken by Kate Carnell and Ron Paterson. This commission will bring together the functions of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency and the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner, and further work will be undertaken next year to bring the aged-care regulatory functions of the Department of Health into the commission from 1 January 2020. I have to say at this point, this will rectify some of the major errors that were made by those opposite when they set up these huge bureaucracies. In the end, these bureaucracies were falling over each other and overlapping responsibilities and all we ended up getting were more bureaucrats rather than more effective and efficient services.

This reform is part of a two-year agenda to strengthen and enhance aged-care regulation to protect and ensure the quality of care provided to our older Australians. And of course our older Australians, our consumers in this space, are at the very heart of our reforms. The objectives of the commission are to protect and enhance the safety, health, wellbeing and quality of life of aged-care consumers; to promote confidence and trust in the provision of aged care; and to promote engagement with aged-care consumers about the quality of care and services.

The commissioner will take on the functions which are currently performed by the complaints commissioner and the chief executive officer of the quality agency, with specific functions also set out that relate to engaging with aged-care consumers in the developing and promotion of best practice models for the engagement of providers; and seeking and receiving clinical advice in relation to the functions of the commissioner, which is envisaged to occur through the engagement of a chief clinical adviser. An expert clinical panel will be established to support the role of the chief clinical advisor. The commissioner will be supported by advice from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Advisory Council. The council will be made up of members with significant expertise in the relevant fields, and they will be empowered to provide the commissioner and the government with advice concerning the functions of the commissioner.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018 provides for the administrative matters required to transfer the functions and operations of the existing bodies into the new commission. Importantly, this bill provides for the continuation of the appointment of the members of the existing council as members of the new Aged Care Quality and Safety Advisory Council, and will enable the new council to commence operations immediately. It will provide stability and experience in the advice being provided to the commission and to the government. This forms part of the broader aged-care reform agenda announced in 2018-19, which includes further reforms to improve aged-care regulation and to provide greater transparency of the quality in aged care, which will continue to be implemented in the coming months and years.

I conclude with comments in relation to the royal commission. I think the royal commission is important because it will afford people the opportunity to put forward their stories. As I said, the overwhelming majority of aged-care facilities maintain very high standards. We have very dedicated aged-care workers, very dedicated nurses and personal carers that work in this space, and I've had the privilege to meet many of them, particularly at the time when I was the shadow minister in this space. But regrettably, there are instances where standards have fallen—

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. It being 6 pm, the debate is interrupted.