Senate debates

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Aged Care

3:01 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Sport and Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services (Senator Colbeck) to questions without notice asked by Senators Sterle and Pratt today relating to aged care.

This morning as I was leaving home and listening to the news, as many of us do, I was shocked to yet again hear new allegations of extreme neglect in aged-care facilities in our country. New allegations have come to light concerning severe neglect of elderly Australians in the Regis Nedlands aged-care facility in Perth.

Despite how many times we have heard these things occurring on this government's watch, it was still appalling and shocking to hear. Two days before Christmas last year on a 40-degree day, Lea received a call from her 86-year-old father's aged-care home, Regis Nedlands in Perth, telling her he was in an ambulance going to the hospital. Her father Brian was:

… slumped over in the bed, and his back was exposed. I could see his back was really terribly burnt, his whole back was burned. And he was not speaking to us. He was semi in and out of consciousness.

Brian, a double amputee, had been left out on the rooftop terrace for two hours. Nobody knew where he was for two hours. Tragically, he died on 20 January this year.

There were further allegations concerning the Regis Nedlands facility. In the days before Brian Hunter's death, six nursing students were sent to Regis Nedlands for their first clinical placement where they witnessed abuse, widespread neglect, rough handling and sexually inappropriate behaviour.

One of the abused residents was 94-year-old Mr Lee. The report details that one of the students:

… found Mr Lee (who is always in a wheelchair) on the floor near the entrance of his room completely unclothed and sitting in his faeces with [a carer] standing over him. I asked [the carer], did he fall? and [the carer] replied with 'no'.

The student later witnessed the carer dragging Mr Lee to the bathroom.

It is terribly sad and shocking that we continue to hear stories like those emanating from aged-care facilities around the country. They are only two of the stories that have emerged this week alone. For years now we have been bringing to the attention of the Senate exactly these sorts of stories and we have been getting exactly the same kinds of answers to our questions that we saw from Senator Colbeck today. We get the fake concern. We get the: 'This shouldn't be happening to anyone.' We get the: 'I'm as appalled as anyone.' There's just one fact that Senator Colbeck and his predecessors continue to omit from their explanations—that is, they have every power required to actually do something about this and fix this system so that we don't keep seeing and hearing these types of stories.

You would think, listening to Senator Colbeck—whether it be today, the last time we asked him questions or last year when we repeatedly brought these kinds of stories to the chamber's attention—that he is just some innocent bystander as appalled as the rest of us by what is going on.

Senator Polley interjecting

You're right, Senator Polley. He is probably the one person in this chamber, the one person in this government, who can actually do something about it. The clue is in Senator Colbeck's title: Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services. Senator Colbeck has had every opportunity to do something about this and he has repeatedly been warned about the huge systemic problems in our aged-care services due partly to this government's lack of funding and even more so to the funding cuts this government has imposed, particularly those imposed while the now Prime Minister was the Treasurer of this country. I'm getting pretty sick and tired of hearing Senator Colbeck and other members of this government empathise and express concern and say, 'None of us want to see this,' when actually they could be doing something to fix it.

We do have a royal commission underway, and tomorrow, I understand, the government will be receiving the final report of that royal commission. But several months ago the government received from the royal commission an interim report, titled Neglectin case there was any doubt about what is going on in our aged-care system—and still, despite that royal commission report, we continue to hear these stories. The fact is that the government just don't care about what's going on in our aged-care facilities. They just don't care that elderly Australians are being neglected and treated like this when they deserve all of our support in their twilight years. The government have had every chance to fix it and they just keep ignoring it. (Time expired)

3:06 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Watt for bringing this issue to our notice. The allegations are absolutely abhorrent, and Senator Watt is quite correct that we shouldn't hear allegations of neglect in our aged-care system. Indeed, our government is working to improve the system. It is difficult. We have a large and extensive aged-care industry in Australia. We do have systems in place to ensure that we review and monitor the quality of care in our residential aged-care facilities across Australia.

The specific issue that Senator Watt is talking about is still under investigation. It is ongoing, so I will let that investigation proceed without further comment on the specifics. But I do want to remind the chamber that our government is committed to looking after our aged citizens. Every year under our government our home-care packages have increased, our residential aged-care places are up and we are providing more funding for our aged-care system. We are delivering record investment across the aged-care system over the forward estimates. We've increased it from what it was under Labor. It is estimated that funding for aged care will grow to more than $27 billion by 2023-24—that is, on average, $1.5 billion of extra support for older Australians each year over the forward estimates.

We as a government are committed to making improvements to the aged care of all senior Australians, and it continues to be one of our priority areas. That is why the Prime Minister called the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and it is why we are acting on it. As Commissioner Briggs stated as part of the final hearings of the commission:

I have, however, detected over the last year, counsel, a growing determination among officials and in the Government to fix the problems of the aged care system and to pursue a genuine reform agenda.

We are committed to pursuing that genuine reform agenda. We will continue to focus on the gaps in aged care and we will continue to have our Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission undertake spot audits. We will continue to have the commission review the performance of our aged-care residential facilities; where appropriate, to issue notices to impose sanctions; and, where appropriate, to actually revoke licences or the service's accreditation. We have those processes in place, and they must be allowed to be undertaken without interference to ensure integrity in the system, to ensure we don't have our system compromised by perception.

Our government will continue to provide senior Australians with the support they need, but the best support of all is the support that they can get in their own homes, and that is why we are committed to funding more home-care packages. Our home-care packages have increased by 224 per cent from just 56,000 under Labor. More Australians are getting more care in their homes now than they did under Labor, and we continue to be committed to home-care packages so that people can grow old with dignity, surrounded by their own family, in their own home, with the necessary care and support they need to make their final years as comfortable as possible. We will not turn our back on the challenges of the future and we will continue to review the royal commission's findings and implement reform where needed and where appropriate.

3:11 pm

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

Tomorrow, the federal government will be handed the final report by the royal commission into aged care in this country. It will be the 22nd report presented to this government in the last eight years, and this government will accept, quite frankly, no responsibility for the inept administration of the aged-care sector in this country. Over the last eight years, yes, there has been additional funding, but when Mr Morrison was Treasurer he used this sector as an ATM and gutted it by almost $2 billion. We know that the interim report into aged care was handed to this government over 12 months ago. What have we seen since then? Further neglect. You would have thought that the title of the interim report—Neglectmight have given the government a hint that they might have to do something sooner rather than later, but what they've just done is they've used the royal commission as an excuse not to take the courses of action that have been well documented and raised by, as I said, 21 inquiries and reports into the aged-care sector.

They have known that ACFI, the Aged Care Funding Instrument, has been broken for a considerable period of time and that it needs to be fixed. They also know that there are in excess of 100,000 older Australians still on the home-care waiting list waiting for the level of care that they have been assessed as needing. We know that almost 30,000 older Australians have died while waiting for the level of care that they should have been receiving in their own home. We know that almost half of residential aged-care Australians in this country are malnourished. Only today we had aged-care workers visiting Parliament House and talking to parliamentarians, including myself. We heard—not that I hadn't heard this time and time again—of the difficulties that these workers are faced with every day. They don't have enough time to provide the care that older Australians deserve. We heard about an older gentleman who fell and broke his ribs. He was left without adequate medical care for days. Broken ribs! He was having difficulty breathing. This was happening because there wasn't enough time and there weren't enough workers to give this gentleman the care that he needed. He died. That could have been prevented.

This minister comes into this chamber day after day when we're asking questions and he accepts no responsibility for the failings. The reason the royal commission was called in the first place is that this government and the previous Liberal governments over the last eight years have failed older Australians. Day in, day out they've failed older Australians and their families and they've failed workers in the aged-care sector. We know that there needs to be more money put into aged care, but it's got to be done properly. There has to be transparency. You can't be spending these billions and billions of dollars year in, year out without knowing if older Australians are getting the care, the dignity and the respect that they deserve in this country. We hear time and time again what a rich nation we are and that we respect our senior Australians. That's what the minister says, yet we're hearing case after case of neglect in this country.

Another story shared with me this morning concerns a woman who weighed 200 kilograms. Her residential aged-care home didn't have a lift to help the staff, so, when she collapsed and died in the hallway of that home, where all the other residents could see her, they had no equipment to take her the 20 metres to her own bed so they could prepare her, to ensure that this woman was shown dignity and respect. That is a disgrace! It's a national disgrace! It's unfair that Australian workers in the aged-care sector are put in this situation day after day. (Time expired)

3:16 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let me say from the outset that the Morrison government is committed to ensuring a high quality of aged care for all senior Australians. I reject the argument, particularly from Senator Watt, that Minister Colbeck is the only person who can fix the problems with the aged-care sector. The aged-care sector has thousands of employees. It is up to all of us to make sure that we carry out our fiduciary duties. To lay the blame solely at Minister Colbeck's feet is just typical Labor smearing. They haven't released a policy on what their so-called solutions are. They'd rather sit there and throw dirt day in, day out and attack the individual rather than addressing the crux of the matter.

It should be noted that the Morrison government has made improvements to aged care for all senior Australians. The reason the Prime Minister called a royal commission into aged care was so that we could actually find the right solutions. We were totally open and transparent about it. The Labor Party didn't call a royal commission into the aged-care sector. They're not interested in actually finding solutions. They're only interested in looking at the problems and then laying blame at Minister Colbeck's feet, rather than delivering real, substantial outcomes. It's worth noting that the coalition government is delivering record investment across the aged-care system. We invested over $21.3 billion in the year ending 2020, up from $13.3 billion in the last year Labor was in government, 2012-13. That's an increase of about 50 per cent in the seven years of the coalition government. It works out at about $1.5 billion every year in extra support for senior Australians.

We've also invested in additional home-care packages. We've announced a record $5.5 billion for an additional 83,000 home-care packages since the 2018-19 budget. So, in the last two years, we've added an additional 83,000 home-care packages. Overall, there are now almost 200,000 packages that have been fully funded, and that compares to just 60,000 when Labor were last in government. It's worth thinking about that. We have increased by 300 per cent the number of home-care packages available to senior Australians on top of the extra 50 per cent, or $7 billion, invested into aged-care homes. Importantly, around 99 per cent of senior Australians waiting for a package at their assessed level have also been offered support from the government, including an interim package of the Commonwealth Home Support Program. Of course, it should also be noted that they continue to have access to our world-class healthcare system, which has done a fantastic job in the last 12 months of supporting our seniors throughout the COVID crisis.

The Morrison coalition government believes in a strong aged-care sector with a high-quality and skilled workforce that will provide senior Australians with the care they rightly deserve and give all Australians confidence that our elderly are cared for with kindness, respect and dignity. The government, so far, has acted on its interim and COVID-19 reports and will carefully consider final recommendations when they are handed down later this month. Obviously, we will also take very seriously and seek to act upon the advice from the royal commission.

Making improvements to aged care is actually one of the Morrison government's key priorities. Commissioner Briggs of the royal commission stated as a final part of the hearings of the commission that she had detected a number of problems in the aged-care system and was determined to pursue a genuine reform agenda. I'll finalise this again. We, the Morrison government, are committed to providing senior Australians with the most high-quality aged-care services. (Time expired)

3:21 pm

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

My mum spent the last five months of her life in aged care in north-west Tasmania. She loved it. Once she moved in, she repeatedly said that she wished she had made the decision to move into care earlier. She loved the company; the activities; the clean, modern room; and the staff. As the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety looks deeply at issues in aged care and as more and more families and aged-care staff find their voices, describing the horror of witnessing their most vulnerable loved ones mistreated, neglected and abused, I realised my mum won the lottery, a lottery of increasingly lengthening odds.

During this royal commission, we've found a system unable to respond, terrified residents, traumatised families, overburdened staff and an appalling lack of resources needed to take care of our vulnerable older Australians—an aged-care system so riddled with flaws and a lack of appropriate support that it simply could not move fast enough to protect life. The aged-care system is the responsibility of this federal government, a responsibility of the Morrison government. A minister who sits in this chamber runs, hides—ducking and weaving—causing trauma and costing lives. We've heard so many voices and so many horrific stories of neglect. In the news today, a woman described the appalling neglect of her father, saying, 'They were treating my dad like an animal to be slaughtered—burnt, stepped on and left in bed to rot.' The degrading treatment, the lack of respect, the disregard for the most basic of human rights horrifies us all; it's a disgrace. Yet we have a government and a Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services who show no shame and no humility.

This government has abrogated its responsibility to older Australians and their families time and time again. Today the country is bracing itself for the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety due tomorrow. We've already seen its interim report titled: Neglect. That says it all. The report found aged-care residents literally starving, with maggots in their wounds, and workers and good providers in aged care 'succeeding despite the aged-care system'.

Aged care should not be some kind of lottery. It is outrageous that it's become so, and yet that is exactly what this government has turned it into. Making such a fundamental decision as moving into aged care should not be wrapped in terror that you will be subjected to neglect and abuse. Many older Australians are genuinely afraid and so are those who love them. Aged-care workers are exhausted and stretched to their absolute limit.

Older Australians built this country. They and the families who love them deserve so much better than the chaotic, unsafe system that has evolved under the Morrison government and this minister in this chamber. Here we have this minister constantly expressing concern with a furrowed brow and taking no responsibility for the wreckage that his government has wrought. Let us never ever forget that this crisis is the government's doing, a direct result of seven years of neglect—seven years of neglect. It is a government that has made savage cuts in aged care—and I heard Senator Polley talking about this earlier—like the $1.7 billion in funding that was cut in 2016-17 and 2017-18, on top of scrapping the pay rise that staff had secured back in 2014. The truth is this government only called the royal commission because it was shamed into it by the Four Corners media scandal. That's the only reason we've got a royal commission. If that Four Corners story had not been run we would not have had the royal commission that shone a light on all this neglect that we are seeing.

The Morrison government have had seven years to address this properly and to look after our older Australians. They've failed. There were 21 major reports into aged care during those seven years. They've received those reports during their seven years and they've failed to act on them. We continue to see the sheer gall of this government that won't face up to its responsibility. It shows no respect for our elderly Australians.

Question agreed to.