Senate debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018


Aged Care

7:25 pm

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

In the five years of this government we have seen its failure to deal with the aged-care reform that was handed to them by Labor. We did the heavy lifting when we were in government, with the Living Longer Living Better reforms, but the government has been unable to properly roll out or implement that strategy. In fact, when those opposite called the royal commission into aged care it was a blatant admission of their failures on aged care. They've neglected and mismanaged the portfolio and have slashed money from it. As a result, older Australians and their families are suffering. They're really being hurt.

Last Friday, the government released the latest data on the home care package waiting list. Lo and behold, the numbers have blown out again. There's a surprise! There are now more than 126,000 vulnerable Australians waiting for home care. This is a disgrace. Since the first release of the data last year, the waiting list for home care has grown from 88,000 older Australians to more than 126,000. The Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, has already admitted that the government needs to consider other interventions to reduce the waiting list, but clearly it isn't doing enough. The government has form when it comes to dishonesty about the waiting list. It has cherrypicked figures to paint a rosy picture, and with this latest round of data has masked the full extent of the crisis by removing the total waiting-list numbers. Can anyone tell us why it has omitted this? Can anyone trust this incompetent and out-of-touch government to fix the crisis in aged care when it won't even be honest with older Australians?

More than 100,000 older Australians will spend Christmas waiting for care that they've been approved for. People waiting for level 3 and 4 packages still have to wait 12 months or more. The waiting time for those needing a level 2 package is 12 months, and it's a three- to six-month wait for a level 1 package. What are the government doing about this? What are they waiting for? That's the question. What are they really waiting for? How many older Australians do they need to join the waiting list before they take adequate action? Are they going to sit and wait for two years for the recommendations of the royal commission before they do anything? Is that what's going to happen? Quite frankly, that is not an option. People are really hurting.

As the list grows longer and longer, fresh stories emerge daily of older Australians waiting for care. My office and my colleagues in the House of Representatives and the Senate are receiving calls every week from people who are at their wits end. I have heard some absolute horror stories. For example, an elderly constituent in his 90s, from a working-class area, where you work hard all of your life to make ends meet, contacted my colleague's office after trying to access a package for his wife. She was placed on the waiting list for a level 4 package back in 2014. Fast-forward to January 2017: the constituent's wife passed away without a package. This is a disgrace. It's not acceptable and shouldn't be happening in our nation. How much assistance do people get? Zilch from this government; they get zero—absolutely nothing. An 86-year-old woman on a level 2 package since the start of 2017 has dementia and is unable to care for herself. Her health care is steadily increasing. She lives with her son, who has serious caregiver stress as he struggles to manage her care, his job, caring for his own family and the battle to get home care for his mother. Then there are the heartbreaking side-effects of dementia. The family is coping with her inability to speak properly, her loss of language and her confusion. This has a huge physical, emotional and financial impact on the whole family. Their lives have been turned upside down. These are the stories we hear day in, day out. This government is so neglectful. It has been so dishonest. The Prime Minister said, when he took the reins after stabbing Mr Turnbull in the back, that he was going to make older Australians and aged care a priority. This is what this government calls a priority—126,000 vulnerable Australians waiting for home care? I'd like to see somebody who does take this seriously. I'm calling on the government to take action. That action is needed now. (Time expired)