Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Statements by Senators

Aged Care

1:49 pm

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

I can't count the number of times that I've spoken in this place about the Abbott-Turnbull-and-now-Morrison governments' pathetic record on ageing and aged care. They have broken every single promise they've ever made to older Australians, and I will keep coming into this chamber, time after time, to remind them that they gave commitments to older Australians. We had the current Prime Minister making a commitment that older Australians were going to be a priority. Well, if the way that this portfolio has been managed is a priority for this Prime Minister, heaven help anyone that wasn't on the priority list; that's all I can say.

We're coming to the end of the parliamentary year. Christmas is just around the corner, and the government is still in chaos, still divided as ever and still failing to address the home care package waitlist crisis. And that's what it is in this country: it's a crisis. It's important. The severity of the home care waitlist crisis isn't lost among the Liberals' chaos and division. Under their government's watch there are now more than 121,000 people on the home care waiting list, including 96,000 of those people—that's 96,000 older Australians—who are looking for the high care that they need at level 4. Many of these people are also living with dementia. How can the Prime Minister say that older Australians are a priority when around 56,000 of those older Australians are waiting with no home care package at all? They're not getting a level 1 or 2 package, which is what they try and tell us at estimates. The average wait time, according to the government's own data, for a level 3 or 4 package is still more than 12 months, and we know that some older Australians have been waiting more than two years for care. These numbers are worse than shocking; they are appalling, and this government should be ashamed.

My biggest concern right now is that the government like to pretend that they're doing things in this space when in fact they're not. They overpromise and underdeliver. They like to cherry-pick the figures to paint a rosy picture. But one thing is for sure: they have failed to curb the growing waitlist, full stop. They've failed. Their half-baked solutions have been completely inadequate, not coming even close to what is needed.

Now, we know that the government is not really a government of transparency. We know the minister deliberately sat on the last two rounds of data on the home care package waitlist. We also know that the next round of data is due in the next couple of weeks. Well, what I don't want to see is the form of this government, which is that those figures will be released on Christmas Eve so that they can try to cover up how extensive this waitlist has become.

We know that they haven't been able to address this, and I know their mantra at the moment is, 'We've got a royal commission in place.' We do, in fact, have a royal commission in place. We won't go back over how that came about; it was another thought bubble of the Prime Minister without any consultation. I did try to ask questions. In fact, I asked when the Prime Minister was briefed by the department on the need to have a royal commission—but I couldn't get any answers—because the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care said only two weeks before it was announced that there was no need for a royal commission. I will say yet again, as I have said countless times in this chamber, that you do not need to wait till the royal commission hands down its findings in 2020 to address the issues that are confronting older people in this country today. We all know what the issues are.

The waitlist for home care packages has blown out. I believe there are probably closer to 130,000 Australians now, but that'll be confirmed when they finally release the most recent data. As I said, we cannot afford to wait for this data to be released on the eve of Christmas. There is, quite frankly, no excuse for continuing to delay this data. Australians have a right to know how incompetent this government is. Older Australians deserve transparency and honesty. They deserve better—so much better.

As the list grows longer and longer, fresh stories emerge daily of older Australians waiting for home care. I've spoken a number of times about a 94-year-old gentleman who has been waiting for an extended period of time for care. I want to relay some tragic circumstances that are surrounding older Australians, to paint a human picture of the dire situation that so many older Australians are finding themselves in. These are stories of what the situation for older Australians has been. This is only over the last five days, to my office. I know my colleagues around the country have similar stories. An elderly woman with dementia was assessed as needing a level 4 home care package. Level 4 is the highest package that you can get for care in your own home. In September last year she was assessed for that level 4 package. She still hasn't been assigned an interim level 2 home care package. She is still over 12 months away from receiving that level 4 home care package she needs. That's unacceptable in Australia. That should be unacceptable to all on that side of the chamber.

Another woman is impaired from a stroke and has been assessed as needing a level 3 package. That was all the way back in March last year. She agreed to receive an interim level 2 package, which never happened. She is still one to three months away from receiving her level 3 home care package. She's currently not receiving any home care at all. Her daughter is her full-time carer. This lady happens to be very lucky that she has got a daughter who can help her with that home care.

Finally, a woman in her late 80s was assessed as needing a level 4 home care package, as a high priority, in August 2016. You heard right: August 2016. She has been assessed and is still waiting. That's over two years. I can't believe that this government has been so neglectful, so out of touch, and so uninterested in addressing this issue. She is finally due to be assessed and assigned her package within the next month, but it took 800 days. Her husband is a full-time carer for her. Of course, he would be in his 80s as well, and I only hope that his health hasn't suffered because of the extra responsibility he has had for his wife.

We know that the Turnbull government and the Morrison government have had their difficulties in this area. But after Mr Turnbull was removed as Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister—the Prime Minister who referred to his own government as 'muppets'—has had this responsibility. This government is too interested in its own dysfunction and internal battles to address the fundamental issues that are confronting older Australians.

When we talk about home care packages, that's just one element. But we know from their own figures that there are 121,000 vulnerable older Australians who are being neglected by this government. We know that puts added responsibility and pressure onto state hospitals—which they have also cut—because older people are either having to go into acute hospital care or they're ending up in residential care long before they should. The whole idea of having home care packages was to help older Australians to age well in their own home. This government has been irresponsible. They have failed in their duty of care. They're obviously not up to the job. They've had three or four ministers in this area of responsibility, and each and every one of them has failed. The Prime Minister has failed already on delivering what he said would be a priority of his government. What I say is, bring on the election, because a Shorten Labor government will give older Australians the care and respect they deserve. (Time expired)

1:59 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday I made some comments about the Greens political party and the heterophobia and misogyny that is endemic within it. I would put the Senate on notice that since that time—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Cameron, a point of order?

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

This language from the senator is not becoming, and he should withdraw it.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It wasn't directed at a particular senator. I therefore don't consider it to be unparliamentary. The time for senators' statements has expired.

Debate adjourned.