Senate debates

Monday, 6 March 2023

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:33 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Treasurer (Senator Gallagher) to questions without notice asked by Senator Rice today relating to wages for aged-care workers.

It was very good to hear that the government has committed to funding the increase in wages for aged-care workers by 15 per cent, as the Fair Work Commission told them they needed to, in full, in the coming financial year. This 15 per cent increase in the coming financial year is the least the government needed to commit to. We were outraged at their attempts to spread it out over two years. I'm glad they have come to their senses and have committed to funding it over one year.

Aged-care workers are some of the most poorly paid workers in the country. They are generally women, and they are generally struggling incredibly with the cost of living. That 15 per cent increase is going to make it slightly more possible that they'll be able to pay the rent, to put food on the table and to pay for their own bills, whilst working incredibly hard caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Increasing the wages and conditions of aged-care workers is fundamental to increasing the quality of care for older Australians, whether they are in residential care or whether they are receiving home care. We know that when aged-care workers are paid better, when they've got better conditions and when they are not being rushed off their feet older Australians get better care. And that's what all Australians want to see. They want to know that older people who are in residential care and who are being cared for in home care are actually getting the care that they deserve, having worked so hard all of their lives and now being reliant on other people to help care for them. It's the least that we can do.

We also know that we're in a situation, now got this commitment for that 15 per cent increase, where aged-care providers are losing, on average, $28 per resident per day. And we know that the Health Services Union called for not just a 15 per cent increase but a 25 per cent increase to bring the wages of aged-care workers up to a reasonable level. Bringing them up to that level means more people will feel that they can afford to work in aged care. There are so many people. I know from the home-care workers who help care for my mum that there's a churn of workers. For a lot of them it's not because they don't like the work but because the wages they have been paid are so low that they can't afford to keep working in that work. They will keep their eyes open for anything that will pay them more money, and then they will go. With the churn of workers, people don't have the continuity of care and they don't get the care that they need, because there's a new worker coming in every month.

I heard Senator Gallagher say that the government needed to be fiscally responsible and that she was working very hard to try and find room in the budget so that we could pay the money that was needed to improve the conditions in aged care. The royal commission was very clear that in order to fund all of its recommendations—now two years ago—there was about an extra $10 billion per year needed. We heard Senator Gallagher wringing her hands and saying, 'We're doing our best to try and find where we can find money in the budget.'

There's an easy answer for the government. Here they are trying to find out how they can wring a little bit more out of the budget to try and support some of the lowest paid workers in the country to support older Australians. We know $10 billion per year is needed. There's an easy answer. The stage 3 tax cuts—the Morrison government's stage 3 tax cuts—are going to cost the budget bottom line $254 billion over the next 10 years. That's a quarter of a trillion dollars—on average, $25 billion per year. It's actually quite easy to find that extra $10 billion, and have change left over for all sorts of other things such as for investment in affordable housing and for increasing income support.

Abandon the stage 3 tax cuts. It's the obvious thing to do. Yes, the other side will scream and carry on like they have been doing about the minuscule changes that you're currently making to super tax concessions. But we know that the average Australian will thank you for it. Abandon the stage 3 tax cuts, under which billions of dollars will go to the ultrawealthy—to billionaires, to millionaires, to people who have already got so much—and instead invest that money where it's needed, which is in improving wages and conditions for low-paid workers and increasing— (Time expired.)

Question agreed to.