Senate debates

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Matters of Public Importance

COVID-19: Aged Care

4:24 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today 15 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate the following letter was received from Senator Bilyk:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The Morrison Government's failure to act in response to the Aged Care Royal Commission's Interim Report entitled 'Neglect' and the warnings from COVID-19 outbreaks in the Northern hemisphere, at Dorothy Henderson Lodge, at Newmarch House, resulting in the tragic and unnecessary deaths of 335 Australians in aged care.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

4:25 pm

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

I'm pleased to speak today on my MPI. We've seen the disastrous outcomes of an aged-care system in crisis. Sadly, so far COVID-19 has taken the lives of 335 Australians in aged care—loving fathers and mothers, grand mothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles and dear friends who should have had more time with their families.

We have to remember that the current government has been in power for seven years. It's a third-term Liberal-National government. The world has known about COVID-19 since the beginning of the year, with reports emerging very early this year of outbreaks in aged-care facilities in Europe with high death tolls. We were warned. The signs were there. Yet the Morrison government failed to act. The aged-care royal commission has confirmed Mr Morrison had no workable plan to protect vulnerable older Australians in nursing homes from COVID-19. Then, when the government did say they had a plan, what did they do? They just renamed the CDNA. All spin, no substance, no responsibility on that side. We're seeing now the tragic impact of this failure. I have to say that Mr Morrison's attempts to deflect blame are an affront to older Australians and their loved ones. What hubris made the government think that these scenarios that have occurred around the world could not or would not happen here?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my Tasmanian colleague Ms Julie Collins, the member for Franklin and the shadow minister for ageing, for her tireless work in holding the government to account for these abysmal failures. Ms Collins has continued to highlight the government's failure to act not just during the current crisis but through the crisis in aged care over the last seven years.

Whenever the government cops criticism on aged care, what do they do? They commission a report and then they ignore the report's recommendations. In all the reports into aged care gathering dust, there are a total of 150 recommendations which the government has failed to act on. Aged care was already in crisis before the pandemic struck, and the government's failures leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak have exacerbated the problem. This is what the aged care royal commissioners said:

Had the Australian Government acted upon previous reviews of aged care, the persistent problems in aged care would have been known much earlier and the suffering of many people could have been avoided.

I suspect that everyone else in this place, like me, has had numerous calls to their offices from constituents who cannot get the support they need; calls from people who are waiting to receive home care packages months or years after they've been approved for them; calls from people concerned about the health of their loved ones in residential aged care because they're being chemically restrained; calls from someone whose husband, wife, mother or father has had a fall or who has soiled themselves and has gone for hours unattended.

Despite aged care clients at home or in residential care struggling to get the care they deserve, many providers are operating at a financial loss. I know our aged-care workers and the providers they work for are doing the best with the resources they have, but they are working in an underfunded, under-resourced sector that has been neglected by this government for the past seven years. If aged care was already in crisis before the pandemic, and those opposite failed to plan for the pandemic, how can aged-care providers possibly be expected to manage the additional costs and logistical challenges presented by COVID-19?

The simple answer is that they can't, and hundreds of residents are suffering and dying because of it. Labor is pursuing this issue because we owe it to residents of Australian aged-care facilities and their families to demand the answers they seek. My heart goes out to the families who have lost members in residential aged-care facilities, and I would like to pay my condolences to all those who have lost loved ones due to this pandemic. Not getting consistent news about their loved ones in a timely manner and not being able to hold them and say a proper goodbye has just added another layer of pain and grief to an already deeply painful experience. I once again reiterate the condolences I offered during the debate on the urgency motion yesterday as well as today to the families for their tragic loss. (Time expired)

4:30 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always wonderful to hear from Senator Bilyk, because she is genuinely one of the big hearts of this place—and I mean that quite sincerely. But when it comes to this subject, I'm afraid she's operating with her heart only and not with her head, because the facts just don't support the arguments she has made to the chamber this afternoon.

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

Take a look at the budget papers!

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take that interjection from Senator Bilyk. She says, 'Take a look at the budget papers.' Well, do you know what? I would love to take this chamber to the spending that has gone on under this government in the aged-care space. The Leader of the Opposition said in the other place today—and members of this chamber have been repeating the misleading comment—that we have been cutting funding to aged care in the time we've been in government. They say it over and over again, as though to repeat a lie often enough makes it true. But it simply doesn't work that way. And if you don't believe me, if you want to say, 'Okay, well, she's partisan; she's part of the coalition; she's got a vested interest here'—don't listen to me; that's okay. Listen to a group that is, let's face it, no friend of the coalition: the ABC.

Senator Seselja interjecting

Senator Seselja's right. On most topics and at most opportunities the ABC takes every opportunity it gets to criticise the coalition. Yet one article—which was, granted, from November 2018—was a Fact Check: 'Did the government cut $1.2 billion from aged-care funding?' Well, there's a big old red X here, and the word 'misleading'—it just isn't true. Today they've doubled down on that and said, 'No, no, no: it's not $1.2 billion; it's $1.7 billion.' Well, I can tell you, if we didn't cut $1.2 billion in 2018, we certainly didn't cut $1.7 billion in 2020.

They are operating in a fantasy land where numbers can be plucked from the air and cast about with no correlation to reality whatsoever. So, let's do something of a fact check, because we know what's being said by those opposite doesn't bear much correlation to fact; the very ABC tells us that. Let's go to some facts. Total aged-care spending under Labor was $13.3 billion per year when they left office. Compare that with this year: under the coalition, $22.6 billion. Now, that doesn't sound like a cut to me, but hey, let's make an adjustment. Time's passed; there's been inflation. Let's assume there's been inflation. It's still an enormous increase. And here is the kicker: in 2022-23 that figure continues to increase, rising to $25.44 billion a year. That's not a cut. That's nothing even close to a cut. So, I'd implore those opposite to either look at the numbers or reacquaint themselves with their fidelity to the facts, because they are a long way off in what they're presenting to the chamber.

How about this for another fact check? Every year, under the coalition, the number of home care packages has increased. The number of residential care places has increased. And, as I have mentioned, every year aged-care funding has increased. It's a record investment over the forward estimates. It has never been higher than this, and, when you add to that an additional $3 billion to go to an extra 50,000 additional packages since the 2018-2019 budget, things are nothing like what's being painted by those opposite. I'm loath to spend my precious time just labouring numbers, because sometimes people can glaze over when the numbers are just so big, but I'll finish with this important figure on the funding and resourcing front. As at March 2020, 151,958 people had access to a home care package. That was an increase of 36 per cent on the year before—36 per cent better than we did the year before. Don't compare us against Labor's terrible underperformance; compare us to how we performed last year, because every year—every day, every week, every month—we are trying to do this better.

That is because we recognise something that is quite serious in the future of this country: we have an ageing population. We owe it to our parents, our grandparents and, if we're blessed enough to still have them, our great-grandparents to give them the very best life possible in their later years. As their care needs increase and as health complications increase, we know that many families often need help. Of course it's always better when people can be in their homes or be cared for by their loved ones, but the demand on aged care has never been higher, because of the combination of an ageing population and changes in the way that families are structured. Oftentimes, we don't have our elders living together with a broader extended family in the way that people might have done in the past, meaning there is a need for more of this kind of help. But, for all of the difficulties that come with providing a high level of service to a group of people in our community that have high needs, 98.5 per cent of senior Australians who are waiting for a package at their assessed level have been offered support by the Commonwealth, as at 31 March this year. It's not perfection, sure. Are there still problems from time to time and hiccups that have real-life consequences for individuals and their families? Sure. But all of those numbers tell us an important story, taken together, and that is that this coalition government has a commitment to aged care and a commitment to its continual improvement, and that we are prepared to back that ambition with the resources that are necessary. So I'm loath to allow those opposite to continue this narrative of crisis, when there are so many glimmers that should encourage us when it comes to the aged-care sector.

There is plenty we can also do to take encouragement from the way Australia is performing during this COVID-19 outbreak, as compared to other nations facing similar challenges. While every person lost is a blow and every family's grief matters, sometimes the statistics that are cited by those opposite are in fact a measure of—when taken as a whole—relatively good management of a difficult situation. I'll explain it this way. When those opposite cite figures that suggest a relatively high proportion of the number of people who pass away with COVID-19 come from the residential aged-care sector, that doesn't tell us that residential aged-care homes are doing particularly terribly. In fact, by international comparisons, they are doing really very well, and I'm sure that some of my colleagues will take you through those statistics in their addresses to the chamber shortly. What it tells us, though, is that our ability to keep COVID-19 deaths low in the broader community has really been very successful. So when you consider the relatively low number of deaths in our broader community, it makes the number of people who have passed in aged care seem disproportionately high, when, in fact, it should be a measure not of failure in the aged-care sector—though we acknowledge that every life matters—but rather as a measure of success in the broader community.

There are plenty of measures you can look at to satisfy yourself that we are doing rather well, broadly speaking, when compared to other countries. Australia's death rate per million people in aged care is surprisingly low given the tone of the debate in this place over the last two days. Indeed, our figures for the broader community are remarkably low, too. We've got a lot to be proud of. We've got a lot to grieve during this difficult time. But we are doing everything that's necessary to give aged-care residents the dignity they deserve. (Time expired)

4:40 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to this motion on aged care and on the unimplemented recommendations from a number of reports over the years. Both the government and aged-care providers had in fact ample opportunities and warnings about the devastating impact of COVID-19 and the impact it could particularly have on residential aged-care facilities. As we have discussed in here before, there were examples from Spain, Canada and the United States. Despite these warnings, the government failed to put in place adequate preventive measures to stop the entry and spread of COVID-19 in aged-care facilities. They failed to learn from the examples here in Australia. They failed to show the leadership and action that was needed.

I would like to touch on, for example, one facility that we've heard about in the media, which is in Pinjarra Hills in Brisbane, which demonstrated that COVID-19 spreading through facilities is not inevitable. In July, a staff member from this facility in Pinjarra Hills tested positive for COVID-19. After identifying that they had been at a number of high-risk sites, the staff member sought to test immediately. But the facility managed to squash a potential fatal outbreak through their strong primary and secondary preventive measures. Bolton Clarke, the provider that runs this facility, started preparing facilities for potential outbreaks back in February and March this year. They created the enhanced resident protection measures manual, which included 31 different measures focused on preventing the entry and spread of COVID-19 in aged-care facilities. They implemented screening for staff and visitors back in March. They organised low-risk transport for staff who were previously relying on high-risk transportation. Critically, they put in place practices around cohorting staff and residents early on. Staff were cohorted into specific wings within each facility to prevent mixing of staff and residents across the sites. They also implemented surge staffing, where in high-transmission sites staff surged by 130 per cent on pre-pandemic levels. Where staff surging was not available, staff were required to wear full PPE when they moved outside their home wing within the facility. The combination of these preventive measures and preparedness allowed Pinjarra Hills to avoid a deadly outbreak of COVID-19. The infection was brought under control quickly and no other staff or residents tested positive for COVID-19.

As their CEO said on Radio National Breakfast:

There has been a focus in recent months on … preparation for outbreak once COVID comes into an aged-care service. From our perspective, that's not sufficient. By the time the service goes positive, it's too late. So we need to get upstream. We need to identify what are those factors. What's the chain of transmission?

Outbreak measures are too late. Older Australians shouldn't have to suffer because the government is focused on outbreak measures instead of preventive measures. It is just not fair. If one provider understood the risks and did their homework back in February and March, why weren't other providers stepping up? But, more importantly, why weren't the government driving that? Instead of doing self-assessment, why weren't they in there auditing them all and making sure they were prepared for an outbreak and not treating it as inevitable, which is what the minister in his answers to both questions in the COVID committee and repeated questions here in the Senate keeps saying?

They've acted as if it were inevitable. It's not inevitable! This evidence shows it's not inevitable. The measures that this provider put in place are not rocket science: screening and cohorting workers; wearing PPE—not providing additional PPE once you have an outbreak in a facility; and cleaning high-touch spots. Those things result in good infection and prevention controls.

It's time to ask who is bearing the brunt of these failures. Older Australians are suffering and dying alone due to these failures. It's time we changed our approach. Do not rely on, 'It's inevitable that this is going to happen.' It's not inevitable. There are things that we can do. Of course we need to act to prevent more outbreaks in Victoria, but we need to act now to stop outbreaks around this country. Get ahead of the game: put preventative measures in place. (Time expired)

4:45 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We are witnessing the appalling failure of this government to protect our most vulnerable in a pandemic. Older Australians in care and those who love them and care for them are reduced to living in fear. The Morrison government has clearly failed to act in response to the aged-care royal commission's interim report, tellingly titled Neglect, and the warnings from COVID-19 outbreaks in the northern hemisphere and at Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House, resulting in the tragic and unnecessary deaths of 335 Australians in aged care.

This country has agreed that older Australians in care have specific rights, and I note here just some of the rights set out in the Charter of Aged Care Rights:

1. safe and high quality care and services;

2. be treated with dignity and respect;

3. have my identity, culture and diversity valued and supported;

4. live without abuse and neglect;

5. be informed about my care and services in a way I understand; …

And that's not even the full list. How can we possibly have any faith or confidence in a government so negligent in its responsibilities and with so little respect for these rights? How does a system that unravels to the extent that an older Australian in aged care is found in a soiled bed, unfed, unwashed, with their wounds untended and with ants crawling on their body in any way—in any way!—reflect a respect for these basic, basic rights? How does leaving our vulnerable older Australians unable to communicate with family for days on end show respect for their rights? How does leaving them uninformed, afraid and isolated demonstrate any level of respect at all? How does knowingly letting aged-care facilities experience critical staff shortages because of a pandemic demonstrate respect for the rights of the residents?

It's time for the Prime Minister and his Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians to be honest. They knew about the potential for a disastrous withdrawal of staff because of coronavirus but they did not do enough to prepare for this. Evidence to the aged-care royal commission shows that Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House lost most of their workforces within hours or days of an outbreak, months before the Victorian outbreaks. Yet Mr Morrison said on 29 July, 'The events which have tragically occurred in Victorian aged-care homes could not have been anticipated or foreshadowed.'

But his government was repeatedly warned that it could happen. We are left shocked and questioning: why did Prime Minister Morrison and Minister Colbeck not have a proper plan to deal with the loss of workforce in aged-care homes? Why has this government grandly and publicly claimed that it has established a surge workforce for aged care when closer examination reveals that it has spent just half of the money it set aside for this workforce which was meant to assist aged-care homes impacted by coronavirus? This is completely unacceptable. The whole point of having a responsibility is to be ready when the worst happens: natural disasters, pandemics or catastrophic episodes where governments step up and lead.

What do we have? A government that squibs and shirks and puts out media releases and makes grand statements. But when we look at the substance of what they've done, it is too little and it is far, far too late. The minister for aged care seems to think that community transmission of the virus responsible for COVID-19 somehow relieves him of responsibility for his ministry. Yesterday in this chamber he said:

Unfortunately, in Victoria, where we have uncontrolled community spread, the virus has inevitably got into residential aged care. That is what happens.

'Unfortunately'? 'Inevitably'? I don't think so. I offer to finish that last sentence for Senator Colbeck. It goes like this: 'This is what happens when you don't have a plan, when either you aren't perceptive enough to look up the definition of the word "pandemic" or you don't have a grasp of the faith and responsibility that has been bestowed upon you by the Australian people.' That's how I would end that sentence.

What is unfolding across the aged-care system is extremely tragic and very sad, and my heartfelt condolences go out to all those who have lost loved ones. But the saddest thing is that this has always been preventable. The structural flaws in the aged-care sector were well known prior to this pandemic, and the government's response should have taken them into account. The sector abounds with committed, caring people who are working hard, stressed beyond belief and trying desperately to do their jobs with limited training, limited funds, too many residents to care for at one time, inadequate PPE and inadequate training. They are workers with no sick leave and no job security who are on ludicrously low wages for the level of skill and responsibility required—workers who themselves live in constant fear that it might be them who inadvertently bring the virus into their workplace or home to their families.

These workers and the residents they care for deserve better. They deserve reassurance that someone has got their back and that, if they can't go to work because they feel unwell, there is someone else who can step up and step in to wash and feed and tend to and care for the elderly residents in their workplace. They do not have that reassurance. Residents and their loved ones should be able to have the confidence to know that their rights will be respected, that they will receive quality care and that their voices will be heard and their dignity maintained. They do not have this confidence.

So we are left with the trauma and the wreckage of a system where everyone now lives in fear: the residents and their loved ones and the workers. At the recent aged-care royal commission three-day hearing, Peter Rozen QC concluded the hearing by saying:

… none of the problems that have been associated with the response of the aged care sector to COVID-19 was unforeseeable.

…   …   …

Tragically, not all that could be done was done.

He reiterated that the Morrison government didn't have a plan for aged care.

Pandemics and natural disasters by their very nature create terrible fear in the community. The government's job is to do all in its power to allay that fear by acting, by doing, by leading, by having a plan, by spending the money, by working co-operatively and by being ready to stand by the states, the aged-care workers, the families of residents and the residents themselves as they face this awful scourge. They don't allay fear by quibbling about states' responsibilities, by shirking responsibility, by not mobilising resources and training in a timely fashion, by turning a blind eye to the harsh reality of insecure work, by failing to address staff ratios and by asserting that disastrous outcomes are inevitable and unfortunate.

We're all frightened and we're all on the front line when it comes to fighting this pandemic, none more so than our aged-care community. This government's abrogation of its responsibility has left that community without the weapons that they need to adequately face this battle. It has left them vulnerable and afraid, and that is a disgrace—an utter disgrace. The woeful neglect of our elderly Australians demonstrated by this government time and time again should cause the minister for aged care, the Prime Minister and all members of the government to hang their heads in shame. Many, many Australians in aged care are fearful and distressed, while those who love them are frightened and feel powerless. Many others weep for their dead.

4:55 pm

Photo of Alex AnticAlex Antic (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government's priority is of course the safety of the public. Along with that goes the safety of aged-care residents and the quality of care that's provided to the same. The effects of this pandemic have been serious and they have been tragic. I think we all acknowledge that this crisis has been well managed by this government but the loss of life is tragic. So I'd like to commence by taking the opportunity to express my sympathy to the families and the loved ones of those who've tragically lost their lives in the past six months. It goes without saying, of course, that every death is a tragedy. But it goes deeper than that: many other Australians are doing it tough in isolation, they're struggling financially or they're just struggling with the realities of the world in which they now find themselves.

For these reasons it strikes me as being simply extraordinary that anyone, or any one group of people, would try to politicise a situation like this. Over the last week in particular, the attempts by the ALP to play politics with the memory of people's lives have been as staggering as they have been shameful. Drawing more deeply into the equation, you can understand why it is that those opposite would seek to behave in this way. We know that those opposite are hopelessly divided and devoid of a coherent agenda. While we on this side of the chamber seek to get on with the business of fighting the virus, delivering an economic lifeline to Australians, reopening the economy, building confidence and momentum in the economy and guaranteeing Australia's national security, those on the other side are busy fighting amongst themselves and failing to learn the lessons of elections past.

What do I mean by that? I'm glad you asked, Madam Acting Deputy President, because only this week we've seen two examples of that which I've outlined. The first was the news this week of the extraordinarily named Labor Environment Action Network, or LEAN as it's been called. I believe it's a campaign in Victoria that asks people to throw away their gas-powered household appliances. It doesn't strike me as being a very good policy for the elderly, in the middle of one of the coldest winters we've seen, from the side of politics that is claiming to be the friends of the elderly.

Then we've got Mark Butler, from my home state of South Australia, and Joel Fitzgibbon going toe to toe on Labor's energy policy. What does it show? It shows they're hopelessly divided and looking for a distraction.

Yesterday we heard allegations of leaking to the press—can you believe it, Madam Acting Deputy President?—by members of this chamber. It was reported on Sky News that Labor Senators O'Neill and Keneally had what was described as a 'tense altercation' on Monday at some point. I didn't hear it, but it was somewhere over your left shoulder, Madam Acting Deputy President, and it all related to Ms O'Neill's entitlements. She reportedly was accused of leaking stories about entitlements and visits to Tasmania when they met in the corridor outside this very chamber. Once again, those opposite are hopelessly divided and devoid of an agenda.

It's not surprising at all that those opposite are trying to run lines against the government, and it's not surprising at all that they're trying to distract from their own hopeless and divided opposition. But, to put a bit of a positive spin on this, Australia is, of course, facing an extraordinary health challenge, and it's unfortunate that, in circumstances where there are large clusters of transmission in the community, it is very, very hard to keep the virus out of aged-care facilities. We know that. That's a simple fact. Those opposite love to preach the politics of evidence based policy, but they like to choose the evidence based on their own agenda. So these are some real facts that will assist those opposite to understand the very real facet of what is actually happening here.

The Morrison government is committed to providing an unlimited amount of surge workforce in facilities that have had an outbreak. In fact, Commonwealth funded surge staff have been deployed across to Victorian aged-care services to date. ADF personnel are onsite in many residential facilities, with additional ADF clinical reserve staff available for deployment.

I think it's instructive to run a fact check. I know those opposite love a fact check. In fact, the one fact check they love the most is an ABC fact check. So I'm going to do one similar to that, except this one is going to be based in real facts, not partisan facts like we see on our national broadcaster. These are real facts. No country has been able to avoid an outbreak, as I said earlier, in residential care when there has been widespread community transmission of the virus. In fact, Australia's total death rate as a proportion of cases is 2.1 per cent. Once again, it's instructive to understand what that means in real terms. If we compare that to the United Kingdom's figures, they have a rate of 13.1 per cent. My maths has never been great, but that is significantly higher.

Senator Polley interjecting

I say this for the benefit of Senator Polley who seems to need it reiterated. In any event, it's also instructive to point out that 3.2 per cent in the United States is also higher than here. This is a non-ABC fact check; this is a real fact check.

Total aged-care spending under Labor when they left office was $13.3 billion compared to $22.6 billion this year under the coalition.

Senator Molan interjecting

Once again, Senator Molan, my maths is not outstanding, but it seems to me to be a largely superior sum and a largely inflated sum. But, also, that is going to rise to $25.4 billion in 2022-23. We will see an extra $1.2 billion of support. Only those opposite could call a $1 billion a year increase a cut—extraordinary stuff. By the way, this is the same party across the way here which planned for $387 billion in new taxes at the election but, notwithstanding that enormous tax grab, had no plan for additional funding for home care, aged care or mainstream residential care—extraordinary stuff. So, when it comes to policy, the ALP—those opposite—are hypocritical. When it comes to aged care, those opposite are hypocritical. Every year under the coalition government, these sectors have increased their funding.

Work continues to progress under the leadership of the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council—the ACWIC—which was formed in May last year under this coalition government. Additionally, this government continues to improve vocational educational training with the Aged Services Industry Reference Committee by designing new VET qualifications for aged-care workers. And then there is the Serious Incident Response Scheme. The Australian government is investing $23 million to introduce this scheme for residential aged care from 1 July 2021.

There are so many different funding schemes here that I could talk to you about. I won't have time. But we are conducting a fact check, and I love facts. I know those opposite love facts as well, so I'm going to continue to roll through them. These are achievements of this coalition government since the calling of the royal commission: this government has invested $3 billion since the 2018-19 budget into home care packages, released 14,275 new residential care places—including 13,500 residential places and 773 short-term restorative care places—and invested $21.9 million for My Aged Care operating costs. The list goes on. I could continue, and I will continue. In fact, this government has established $17.1 million in the Specialist Dementia Care Program and $21 million in 13 research projects that will focus on risk reduction, prevention and tracking of dementia. Dementia is Australia's second leading cause of death.

This is not information that fits the narrative being run by those opposite; in fact, this is information that shows very clearly that those opposite are simply attempting to distract the Australian people from their own disunity and lack of a policy agenda. The Morrison government in the meantime, as is evidenced by this fact check, is getting on with the job of protecting Australians and protecting the aged.

5:05 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to thank all of our frontline healthcare and aged-care workers. The Newmarch House review, undertaken by Professor Gilbert, provides a clear example of the challenges faced by many aged-care facilities as they tried to contain the coronavirus outbreak. It also demonstrates the lack of planning and preparation, at all levels of government, for our healthcare system to face a pandemic. Simple things like casuals working across multiple facilities were missed as a key risk. Then there seems to have been a decision to block aged-care COVID patients from our hospitals, to set aside the intensive care unit beds, clearly, for younger, fitter Australians. It's time the state health systems told us why they discriminated against the aged. Our older Australians worked and paid their taxes for many decades, so why are they now treated as second-class citizens? Maybe the state and federal governments don't care about the aged as One Nation does.

The Morrison government have proven they are better at patching holes on the run than they are at forward planning and solutions. COVID-19 and the aged-care royal commission have proven this. We expect that all of our governments can and should work together, but they are all out for what they can get; that is quite clear. The result is that nobody is looking after our physical health, our mental health and our economic health. We have a state Premier in Queensland who has handed over running of the state to the Chief Health Officer. The Chief Health Officer has admitted that she has only one goal, which is to protect the physical health of Queenslanders. So our state is now being run into the ground, with no-one looking after economic health and mental health. That's abdication of a Premier; we're looking for a Premier in this state.

I remind the federal government of the low level of support provided to recipients of home-care packages. It's about time the minister and this government got their act together and respected older Australians. Both the Morrison government and the Queensland government need to step up and demonstrate leadership. They need to show us the data and the plan covering all aspects of managing our way out of this pandemic and the resulting recession and, in the process, ensuring the security of our aged Australians.

I'd like to continue by reiterating the comments of the President on Monday when he opened the Senate with a statement:

In the case of Tasmania the correspondence from the State Controller outlines consideration of exemption from the quarantine requirements on a case-by-case basis. This claimed discretion is particularly problematic on the grounds of differential treatment of members of the executive in the first instance and lack of transparency around the equality of treatment of senators in the second instance.

I echo those comments. I support the Senate President for saying that. What we've seen from state governments is a desire to control people, particularly in Queensland and Victoria. They hide the data—and the Prime Minister is guilty of this too. I wrote a letter to Premier Palaszczuk requesting the data on which she had built her plan for the state. In her reply she pointed to two sources. We checked both. There's no data justifying the plan she has put in place or the actions she has taken.

In comparison with Australia, in Taiwan they share their data with their people; they share their plans with the people. The leaders trust the people. They don't hide the data, and the people trust the leaders as a result. In the same time that in Australia we've had over 530 deaths from coronavirus, Taiwan has had seven. The figures get even more startling: they have a similar population to ours, 24 million versus our 25; they have a higher density population, so easier transmission of the disease; and they had earlier and closer exposure to the virus as a result of communist China being so near. What we've seen, though, is that by focusing on security and doing a good job Taiwan has isolated the sick and the vulnerable and allowed the rest of its people to go to work under conditions for which people take responsibility. That trust and that ability for people to be free to go about their work and leisure has resulted in Taiwan having an economy that has not hit a bump at all and that is thriving. What we need to do in Australia is start sharing data from the people with the people, not hide data from the people, and provide solid leaders that the people can trust.

5:10 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In this debate today the most important thing that we have to remember is that we are talking about some of the most vulnerable older Australians in this country. There have been 335 deaths in aged-care facilities in Victoria and in the last 24 hours there have been an additional 24 deaths, of which 21 have been linked to aged-care homes. These are the very stark figures.

We already know that the Morrison government don't like accountability, they don't like transparency and they're not capable of having a competent minister for aged care who actually understands the sector and is prepared to develop a plan with the sector to ensure that vulnerable older Australians are safe. After seven years of Liberal governments and four failed ministers, we've seen Mr Morrison call a royal commission into his own Liberal government's failings. The interim report has been brought down, and there might be warning bells, with 'Neglect' in the title, that there is a real crisis in the aged-care sector.

We have some fantastic staff and some very good homes, but we know they're under pressure. And what have we seen? We've seen nothing but evidence day after day, week after week, being provided to the royal commission demonstrating very clearly that the government has no plan. They were warned in March of the issues that the aged-care sector were confronting in ensuring that they were able to provide the care, had the skills, training of their staff and had adequate resourcing to ensure that their residents were going to be cared for and looked after. But what have we got? We've still got a situation where even one of the commissioners, Commissioner Pagone, has already acknowledged that this sector is not ready to deal with COVID-19.

Again, we've seen a display of government senators coming in, saying, 'Oh, this is just the Labor Party. All they're doing is trying to make political points.' Well, if that's what you call caring about older Australians—and Senator Antic mentioned people with dementia; well, I've not heard the minister for aged care or the Prime Minister talk about those people who are living with dementia and how they are particularly being cared for in aged-care homes. We know that dementia is the second leading cause of death in this country, but we haven't seen any real action.

We've had the minister come into this place day after day. We've seen Mr Morrison in the other place trying to deflect blame onto the Premier of Victoria and blame everyone else, because: 'I'm all spin, smoke and mirrors—nothing to do with me. All we do is fund it, but we're not going to take any responsibility.' Well, you might continue to talk that sort of nonsense, but I can assure you: the Australian people see through you all. They know, because it's their parents, their grandparents, their aunties, their uncles and their loved ones who have been dying because this government failed to take all the warnings, all the advice, given to them directly by the sector, the unions and this side of the chamber that they have failed. And instead of the minister acknowledging the mistakes and coming into this place with a real plan to restore the confidence of the sectors, the confidence of the workers and the confidence of the Australian people, we've seen nothing at all. And the people who are suffering most are those who are residing in residential care.

This virus has always been acknowledged as being very contagious and, yes, we do have to learn to live with it. But in doing so, you have to have a plan in place. You have to make sure you have in place the most stringent training, skills and preparedness for those people caring for older Australians. That's your role as a minister. That's your role as the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister made a commitment to the Australian people at election time that he was going to make older Australians his No. 1 priority. Well, if this is how he prioritises, if this is his government's performance, if this is his minister's commitment, then God help us. God help us if you are ranked further down the list of his priorities. It's actually a national disgrace— (Time expired)

5:15 pm

Photo of Jim MolanJim Molan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on aged care. I guess what we've seen over the last couple of days is a very clever mathematical game—a game which was aimed to catch people out and a game which was really a disgrace to those who suffered. We know who has suffered. I certainly extend my deepest sympathy, as I have done before in the Senate, only an hour or so ago. I acknowledge the incredible work those working in the aged-care sector have done for the people that they care for. They face extremely confronting circumstances and they face them every single day.

In a situation where we deny facts or even a reasonable explanation—Senator Polley makes the statement, 'We have seen nothing at all.' I would suggest that she's not looking. The facts are there to be seen and they are there for everyone who wants to look. When an increase becomes a cut, go for the big lie. We've seen this before. It's a magic approach. We've seen the way Labor considers that an increase to the ABC becomes a cut. It's just a denial of reality. The most important fact in what we're considering here today is that the total aged-care spending under Labor seven years ago was $13.3 billion, compared to $22.6 billion now. You've seen nothing at all, Labor? That's an increase by any stretch of the imagination, and it will continue to increase. It will increase to $25.4 billion in 2022-23. Only the Labor Party could call a billion-dollar-a-year increase a cut.

As one of our previous speakers pointed out, Labor's claims have been disproven by an ABC fact check. It's your ABC. Thank God, I say, Labor is not in power. Their ABC, even if they couldn't take an ideological view on this, would have been propping them up and assisting them in every way, shape or form. Despite Labor's plans for $387 billion in new tax at the election, including a retiree tax, Labor provided no additional funding in their costings for home care places or any additional funding for aged-care workforce quality or mainstream residential aged care. No, they didn't. Labor has remained silent on any commitment to aged care since the election, providing no additional funding. We did.

Suddenly Labor cares. This really shows Labor's hypocrisy on aged care. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety interim report said, 'it is difficult not to be critical of successive governments' failures to fix the aged care system'. The longstanding problems in aged care are a failure of successive governments, but we have sought to address that failure. When Senator Polley says she's seen nothing at all, she ain't looking. It is a failure we have sought to address by calling a royal commission. We made many advances, but large, systemic changes do not occur overnight.

Many of us have gone through all the packages, all the issues and all the figures, but that will make no impression on the Labor Party at all. I just want to repeat a key fact which I spoke about in the Senate earlier today. That very important point is that during the COVID-19 pandemic no country has been able to avoid outbreaks in residential aged care, or deaths, when there has been widespread community transmission, as there has been in Premier Daniel Andrews's Victoria, and that has been a failure. I reject the assertion that Australia has a high death rate in residential aged care by international comparisons. Senator Polley says she has seen nothing. Senator Polley and the Labor Party have not been looking.

The alleged failure to act was in fact action after action after action. There was a plan, it was implemented and it was fact checked. The closed minds of the opposition and the Greens are on display.

5:20 pm

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

I spoke in the chamber on Monday on the need to look at aged care from the standpoint of the workers who are the care. Today I want to issue a call on behalf of all Australians for an historic reassessment of the funding and structures of aged care in this country. Firstly, we need to be clear about who is responsible for fixing aged care, whether the aged-care facility is publicly owned, owned by a for-profit company or owned by a not-for-profit, like Anglicare's Newmarch House.

Scott Morrison likes to pass the buck on a lot of things: on the bushfires, on the robodebt scandal, on sports rorts and now on aged care. But, if the care of our older Australians is to be reformed, the federal government—and only the federal government—is able to lead the process. We've heard a lot of talk about fact-checking, so let's do a bit of fact-checking. Scott Morrison and his hapless minister, Richard Colbeck, can start by listening to and learning from one of their own: Liberal senator and former aged-care minister Senator Fierravanti-Wells.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells was very clear that it was the same Liberal government, under the leadership of Tony Abbott, that utterly failed to act to fix the sector when it had the chance. That's a fact. The senator did an interview recently with The Sydney Morning Herald's David Crowe. It didn't get the attention it deserves, but this is the point. She said, pointedly, that Scott Morrison was one of the social services ministers responsible for aged care and that when this government squandered a chance for reform it failed to do it under his watch. That's a fact. I urge my colleagues from the Liberal and National parties to read the senator's submission to the aged-care royal commission. If they don't care to heed the voices from this side of the chamber then they should care to listen to their own.

Just in the last day, Victorian Liberal MP Russell Broadbent issued a call to Scott Morrison to increase funding for not-for-profit aged care. He said that handing over the care of older Australians to the private sector has been a disaster waiting to happen. Profit became more important than care. We know that since aged care was privatised in the 1990s people have built vast fortunes by taking billions in public money with little or no accountability in return. That is not news to anyone who has been paying attention. A recent story in The Age by investigative journalist Michael Bachelard exposed—not for the first time—the lavish lifestyles that have been built off the backs of vulnerable older Australians and the underpaid workers who take care of them. It is grotesque; aged care has become the worst kind of predatory capitalism. Companies in the sector, like Bupa, Opal, Allity, Japara, TriCare and others have had a range of different corporate structures. But what they often have in common is the payment of extremely low or no tax in Australia. They pay low pay and offer insecure work to their staff, and, most critically, all operate with little or extremely low transparency on where and how the billions they receive from taxpayers are actually spent on care.

I will give one example of privatised, for-profit care. Regis is the largest for-profit aged-care home chain listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. According to a 2018 report by the Tax Justice Network, the company is majority owned by two founders, Ian Roberts and Bryan Dorman. When Regis listed on the Stock Exchange, they instantly gained a $734 million fortune. So not only are these private aged-care operators taking up to 70 per cent of their revenue but, with little requirement to account for that money, they receive additional money from the public purse—from the taxpayer—through calculated franking dividends. But what do these incredibly wealthy owners of this profitable company do when a global pandemic hits? In the case of Regis, the Health Services Union wrote to them asking them to provide paid pandemic leave for staff who need to test and isolate due to illness. Of course, so far, like the vast majority of not-for-profit care agency operators, they've refused to pay anything.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time for the discussion has expired.