Thursday, 13 February 2020
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians (Senator Colbeck) to questions without notice asked by Senators Keneally and O’Neill today relating to home care packages.
We know that whenever the Liberals are in government their track record of looking after older Australians and those most vulnerable is terrible. What we've had since 2013 are four failed aged-care ministers. That's the record we have. Today, the question was asked of the minister: can the minister confirm that over the past two years almost 30,000 Australians have died while waiting for their approved home-care package? That's a serious question, and all we hear from the minister are excuses about the royal commission and, 'We called the royal commission.' Well, the reason they had to call a royal commission was their own failings. They have been in government now for seven years and what have they done consecutively? The Prime Minister himself, when he was Treasurer, cut $1.2 billion out of aged care. These are the real facts. And they wonder why we have over 100,000 older Australians who have been assessed still needing home-care packages from level 1 through to the highest levels.
What we have seen is a government that has put everything on hold because it's called a royal commission into its own failings. What the minister won't come into the chamber and tell us is why there are 16 reports still sitting on his desk that have been handed over from one failed minister to another. The minister tried to bring the Tune report into his answer as some sort of: 'Oh, here we are. We're doing something.' Well, there were 38 recommendations in the Tune report and how many recommendations have been implemented? He can't tell us. Very few. Have all those recommendations of the Carnell-Paterson report the minister referred to been implemented? No, they have not.
Older Australians have been assessed as needing home-care packages to enable them to stay at home, because after all that's what older Australians want to do. That's what I would want to do. The government has failed, and then the minister says, 'We've invested in 10,000 more packages.' That was because the figure was well in excess of 110,000, so they had to. That was when the interim report from the royal commission was brought down, and they thought, 'Oh, we'd better do something.' The reality is that this Prime Minister promised that he would do more for older Australians and he has absolutely failed.
As I said, they have used the aged-care sector over the last six or seven years as an ATM: 'We'll just take that money out of there. We'll just take the money out of aged care.' Then they called a royal commission into their own failings. There is no excuse for stalling on making real reforms into this sector and investing, because there's been report after report after report. I've sat on numerous inquiries. We already know. If you actually have any compassion, any understanding of what's happening out in the community in aged care and to older Australians, you would be able to write the royal commission's findings. It's not going to be a surprise, because you've been told; the sector's been telling you.
One of the most serious reflections that has come about because of the government's failings involves aged-care workers. There are some fantastic workers in the aged-care sector—some dedicated workers. The majority of them are. So it's a poor reflection when they get abused in the street because they happen to go into a supermarket with their aged-care uniform on. They're all being painted with the same brush when we hear report after report about older Australians in residential homes who aren't being properly nourished. That reflects on those workers, and they don't deserve that. They do not deserve that. We will stand up for those workers and we will continue to hold this failing, shonky government to account, because older Australians deserve so much better than this. And there are no more excuses. Time is up. We need action and we need it now. (Time expired)
Improving aged care for all senior Australians continues to be one of the government's key priorities. That's why one of the first acts of Scott Morrison as Prime Minister was to call the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. That's why the government is delivering record investment across the aged-care system: $13.3 billion in 2013 growing to $21.4 billion in 2019 and then to an estimated $25.4 billion in 2023. That's an increase of over $5 billion of extra support for older Australians over the upcoming forward estimates.
The government is also committed to giving senior Australians support to live in their own homes for longer. Since the 2018-19 budget, the government has invested in providing 44,000 new home-care packages at a cost of $2.7 billion. Home-care packages have increased from 60,000 under Labor in 2013 to almost 160,000—
Senator Polley interjecting—
Well, that's an increase of 150 per cent, Senator Polley. And over the same period there was a total increase in funding of 250 per cent due to growth in high-level packages.
Opposition senators interjecting—
That's not as a result of this government. To make that accusation is totally out of order. Can I say, unlike the Labor opposition, who are only interested in raising super to 12.5 per cent so their mates in the industry fund can collect more fees, we're committed to looking after all Australians, not just working Australians, but those Australians who stay at home and are retirees. For Labor to sit here and lecture us, after they were going to rip off retirees at the last election—they've got a hide. They have a hide!
Can I say, if you want to talk about how Labor will look after health, you've got to go no further than the Queensland state Labor government. What have we got there? Public health waiting lists blowing out by 57,000 people. Ambulance ramping at South-East Queensland hospitals is worsening, maternity ward closures are putting bush babies at risk, there are long waits for cataract, hip and knee operations—it goes on and on and on. Labor has no leg to stand on when it comes to aged care and health. Their record at the state government level is shocking. Their record of looking after retirees is shocking. Despite Labor's plans for an extra $387 billion in new taxes at the last election, there is no additional funding in costings for home-care places or any additional funding for aged-care quality, workforce or residential aged care. With Senator O'Neill it's a bit of a case of the pot calling the kettle black, I think.
In response to the royal commission's call for urgent action in October 2019, the government announced a funding package of $537 million. Of this package, $496 million is for an additional 10,000 home care packages for those with the highest needs, to reduce wait times and to connect people to care sooner. And that's one of the reasons—I touched on this the other night—why it's very important to encourage a parent to stay at home. Not only do they look after the children; they can also help to look after their parents, which will give the parents greater confidence in staying at home rather than having to move into an aged-care facility. The government should work with families to make that happen.
I just mentioned the money. It's an extra $496 million for an additional 10,000 home care packages and also another $25½ million to improve medication management, noting that this may also assist with reducing the use of chemical and physical restraints. There is another $10 million to increase support for dementia behaviour, management through advisory services and training for care workers. It goes on. Finally, the government is investing in another $4.7 million to help younger people to move from residential aged care to more-age-appropriate support. We've also set ambitious targets to stop, by the end of 2022, new younger people entering aged care.
Another plan by the government is to inject almost $50 million to assist residential aged-care providers in financial difficulty, especially those in regional, rural and remote areas and those affected by the bushfires. Grants from this new business improvement fund will be available to homes to help them become more financially viable, particularly through improvements to their business operations, by the end of February 2020. (Time expired)
In the context of this discussion, if there are any aged-care workers or people who are looking after people who are elderly, I just want to say Labor understands the pain that you are suffering at the hands of this federal government that has walked away from this sector and abrogated its responsibility. You can tell that from what we just heard from Senator Rennick and from the minister's answers today, which again are pitiful.
I wholeheartedly endorse the work of our aged-care workers. I wholeheartedly endorse the HSU, the union that supports them and looks after them in the work that they're endeavouring to do in a sector that is completely and totally underfunded by this government. Senator Polley put on the record the shameful failure of this government to respond to reports, and today we saw from the minister a disgraceful failure to acknowledge his own lies about what's been going on in this sector.
New South Wales has a Liberal government that includes Mr Hazzard, and there's plenty of stuff he says that I don't agree with, but he actually called this government and said that he has major concerns about the privatisation of the ACAT assessments that are vital to getting elderly people the help that they need in Australia. These are great Australians who have worked all their lives, who have paid their taxes, who have brought up their kids and who when they need a bit of help need an assessment. What does this government want to do? It wants to privatise who can go out and do those assessments. And they continue to deny it. I see Senator Rennick over there, shaking his head and saying, 'No, that's not the case,' but this is the document that says who will deliver this assessment service. I'm reading from the government's own website:
The new workforce will comprise a network of assessment organisations. These organisations will be selected through a national tender process.
Anyone who knows what a tender process is knows anybody can come and bid for the work. That includes what they've euphemistically called 'other interested stakeholders'.
One of the major concerns that's been raised by people who work in the sector is the problem with privatisation. Apart from the fact people just want to make money at the expense of the vulnerable, it introduces the possibility of serious conflicts of interest for healthcare companies who want to conduct these assessments as well as run the nursing homes that we're hearing aren't even providing decent food to elderly Australians. Such a disaster is going on in the aged-care sector after three terms of a Liberal-National Party government. Mr Hazzard knows what's going on and he knows he needs to call out Senator Colbeck. Senator Colbeck struggled when I asked him to tell the truth about what he reportedly said about the royal commission into aged-care quality. He was so wrong in what he said that he had to be corrected by the Hon. Gaetano Pagone QC, who is leading the royal commission into aged care. He said:
Public concern has been expressed about statements made by the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, that we had decided to support privatisation of the aged care assessment teams in our interim report.
This is what he said:
I take this opportunity to make clear that the interim report did not endorse the government's stated position but noted that we would monitor with interest the implementation which the government had announced.'
Instead of taking the opportunity here in the Parliament of Australia to tell the truth, the minister fumbled through his notes, looking for anything he could talk about, trying to tune in to the Tune report. He's tuned out from reality. That guy's got no idea about what's going on. The reality is he could not find the tab that said 'tell the truth'. He was looking for any bit of information other than telling the truth—that he has misrepresented the royal commissioner into aged-care quality. He is at odds with his colleagues in other states, who know that privatisation will not deliver good value for Australians and deliver ethical access to services for aged people. And given the opportunity in my third question for the minister to correct the record, he failed to do that, continuing to falsely accuse the aged-care commission of supporting the government's position to privatise. The government want to privatise. They are planning to rip off Australians even more than they are already doing. People in aged care who are vulnerable deserve so much better than this government. Do not give them the opportunity to govern again. This is a disgrace.
At the outset, could I just say I think the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians was absolutely crystal clear in his answers today and he was absolutely consistent with the media release which he put out on 14 January 2020, which was published on 15 January 2020, and is still on his website. You can read it. This is what he says:
The Government has consistently refuted claims that our intention is to privatise the assessment process for aged care. That assertion is incorrect.
And, as the minister clearly stated again today, consistent with the media release which he put out on 15 January, there is a discrepancy between the minister's stated position and how it has been reported in some circles. The minister was crystal clear in his response to that issue.
I'd like to take note of the comments made by Senator Polley, which were simply incorrect to say the government has cut funding to the aged-care sector. The fact is the amount of funding across the aged care system 2012 to 2013 was $13.3 billion. That has now grown. It hasn't been cut; it has actually grown to $21.4 billion in the 2019-20 budget year, up to an estimated $25.4 billion in 2022 to 2023. So the amount of funding for aged care has been increasing, not decreasing; not cuts, but increases. And, since the 2018-19 budget, the government has invested in providing 44,000 new home-care packages at a cost of $2.7 billion. When you drill down into the numbers, you actually see the reality. You see the truth of the situation, and it doesn't reflect well on those opposite, either with respect to their time in government or how they're misrepresenting the facts.
The fact is: under Labor in 2012 to 2013 there were 60,308 home-care packages, just over 60,000; under the coalition government in 2022 to 2023 that will increase to 158,000 places, a substantial increase. When you drill down even further into the figures, this is what you see: in 2012-13 the actual home care funding under Labor was $1.157 billion; in 2018-19, under the coalition government, it had increased, not decreased, to $2.469 billion, a substantial increase.
Why? Because, under the Leader of the Government in the Senate and under our Treasurer, we are managing fiscal policy in a prudent fashion. That enables us to provide for the most vulnerable in our society, and we can continue to provide for them. The 2019-20 home care funding estimate was $3.43 billion. There was an increase from $2.469 billion in 2018-19 to $3.43 billion in 2019-20. Then it is increasing again in 2020-21, up to $3.833 billion. More funds are being spent. More places are being provided.
Finally, I would like to address what I consider to be the tawdry assertion, which I don't think reflects well on those opposite, trying to connect fatality rates of those on waiting lists with those waiting lists, as if the fact they're on the waiting list is actually causing the fatality. That's the premise. That's the insinuation, and it's a grubby insinuation coming from those opposite. It doesn't reflect well on them, for two reasons. First, they well know—or they should know better than I do as a relatively new senator in this place—that there are mechanisms for those people who are in danger and have urgent need to be escalated up the waiting list. I personally advocated for people in that situation to ensure they can get assistance sooner. Second, the data indicates that the rate of older people passing away is similar for people on the waiting list for a home care package to what it is for the general population in Australia. That's what the evidence suggests. That's the evidence. (Time expired)
This is a minister who appears to be genuinely befuddled when it comes to articulating his own party's policies. In fact, from what we've been listening to on this matter today, I wonder if he's making any decisions at all regarding caring for ageing Australians or whether his portfolio is actually managed by a group of rapidly privatising ideologues who simply push him out there to parp on while they run his portfolio and privatise everything in sight.
Just for the record in this chamber, let's note the following points. The aged-care minister has never been in the Liberals' cabinet. We've had four aged-care ministers since 2013. There's been a $1.5 billion cut to the aged-care workforce compact and supplement, a $110 million cut from the dementia supplement in residential aged care, a $500 million cut from the 2015 MYEFO, a $1.2 billion cut from the 2016 aged-care budget, funding cuts to the community visitors scheme, and seven years of inaction, cuts, chaos and crisis. In fact, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments have done such an appalling job of driving aged-care reform and have been so rubbish at it that they basically had to call a royal commission into it themselves.
Now they have a plan to privatise the ACAT assessment services. That is not supported by the aged-care sector, Liberal state governments or the royal commissioners. In fact, Minister Hazzard in New South Wales said the plan 'lacks logic'. One of their own says it lacks logic. Just two days prior to Christmas last year, the Morrison government put this up on its website:
New aged care assessment arrangements will provide streamlined consumer assessment for access to aged care services from April 2021.
… … …
The new workforce will comprise a network of assessment organisations. These organisations will be selected through a national tender process. The tender process will happen in 2020.
On 30 December, this aged-care minister claimed that the royal commission supported the privatisation of aged-care assessment services. It did not, and it's so perturbed by the outrageous statement that on 14 January 2020 the chair of the royal commission issued a statement in response to the minister's comments. Commissioner Pagone QC stated:
Public concern has been expressed about statements made by the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians that we had decided to support the privatisation of the Aged Care Assessment Teams in our Interim Report. I take this opportunity to make clear that the Interim Report did not endorse the Government’s stated position …
Commissioner Pagone also stated:
Our tasks as Commissioners are detailed in the terms of reference and we have not yet made recommendations about which sector or mechanism will best achieve an integration of Regional Assessment Services and the Aged Care Assessment Teams.
You might think that at this stage the minister would offer an apology to the royal commission or retract his false statement, but he didn't. You might think he'd go back and read the recommendations of the commissioner's interim report and think: 'Whoops! I'd better fix that.' But that would require him to have a view of his own on that—a mind of his own, a sense of the policy direction that he, as a minister of the Commonwealth, would like for aged care in our country and the ability to clearly articulate that vision. But no. So the ideologists push their obliging frontman out there again and mumble something evasive and unconvincing yet again. And that's what we witnessed once more today. It is very clear that the Morrison government is loose with the truth and does not want to tell the truth.
Labor have voiced our concerns over the Liberal government's plan. We've been very clear that we support the joining up of assessments—clearly, done by ACATs and regional assessment services—but we do not support the privatisation of the current ACATs around the country. Despite question after question, we are still being kept in the dark, as are all the Australians out there. We still don't know why, when the Morrison government knows there is so much wrong with the aged-care system, it is intent on progressing its only idea, which is to privatise aged-care assessment services. We will continue to hold this government to account for its mismanagement of aged-care services in Australia.
Question agreed to.