Home Care Packages

27 October 2020

I rise to speak on the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 1) Bill.

While Labor will be supporting this amendment, this legislation does nothing to help more than 100,000 older Australians waiting for home-care packages, nor does it fix the systemic problems undermining our broken aged-care system and which the federal government is responsible for. Instead, this legislation tinkers at the edges. It is of some value, but ultimately it fails to deliver the home-care packages that will help to keep older Australians at home longer, keeping them connected to their communities and families.

This bill is designed to move the payment of the home-care subsidy to approved providers from an advance payment to an afterpayment. This will place home-care payment packages on the same model used for providers of the NDISa model that I'm regularly told places real pressure on providers' ability to do their work. Now, the issue that needs to be appreciated by this government and this House is that post-payment cycles can financially stretch service providers. This is particularly true for smaller service providers. Regional areas like my electorate of Corangamite are more likely to be covered by smaller providers and therefore will be harder hit.

This legislation is more noteworthy for what it excludes than what it includes. The amendment before the House does not implement the wholesale reform needed to protect the safety and dignity of older Australians. The neglect of the sector by this government was brought to light in the royal commission into aged care. The commission's interim findings have painted a bleak picture of many providers which put commercial profits before vulnerable people, and this callous behaviour is only made possible because we have a federal government that has not in its seven years of governing put in place the stringent guidelines needed. It was Labor that pushed for the royal commission and dragged the Morrison government, kicking and screaming, to act, despite the fact that they already knew there was serious misconduct in the aged-care system.

It must be said we owe a debt of gratitude to every loved one, provider and staff member who took the time to provide evidence on the failure of the sector to the royal commission. The first recommendation of the royal commission's interim report entitledNeglect,and what a shameful title, was for the Morrison government to fix the home-care package waiting list. When the interim report was released we had 100,000 Australians waiting on the list for a package. Today, 12 months later, we have 102,000 Australians still waiting on the list for a package and the government's response is to introduce 300 more home-care packages.

It's absolutely tragic that in the past three years more than 30,000 older Australians have died waiting for their approved home-care package. Over the past two years more than 32,000 older Australians have entered residential aged care prematurely. This is simply unacceptable. But, true to form, the Morrison government has made a stream of announcements without any real action. I know this because many of my constituents have raised their aged-care issues with me. They have experienced firsthand that the announcement never matches the delivery. Many talk to me about their anxiety when forced to place a loved one in an aged-care home. They know there are serious flaws in the system and fear their loved one will receive substandard care. I do understand the pain of losing a loved one in aged care during COVID. This happened to me. It is tragic. It is traumatic. It was awful not to be able to say goodbye. But it makes me even more determined to push for an overhaul of our aged-care system.

The coronavirus pandemic has only magnified the entrenched problems facing the aged-care sector. Almost 700 older Australians have lost their lives to COVID in residential care. Many of the workforce contracted the disease themselvesthe same workforce has fought every day to keep residents in aged care safe. Tragically too many vulnerable people have died in aged care, because the federal government and the providers they regulate failed to do their jobs. Every one of these deaths is a tragedy and every one of these deaths is a lesson.

We now know the federal government, and many providers, failed to put enough staff on in place. They also failed to manage the right workforce mix. Training has been insufficient under this government, so knowledge of infectious control was, and remains, far too rare. Insecurity of employment and a casualised workforce drove further infection spread to other workers and clients.

The royal commission was willing to put pen to paper on some of these lessons, specifically finding there was no COVID-19 plan for the aged-care sector. Officials have very plainly said that if the government had moved more quickly to establish better resourced aged-care response centres lives would have been saved. The Prime Minister has boasted about the number of announcements his government has made in aged care, but they've failed to deliver the policies and resources our aged-care sector needs to survive this pandemic. The federal government promised an effective surge workforce for Victoria but didn't deliver. They promised protective equipment for all aged-care workers but too many missed out for too long. And even when our most vulnerable are at risk, even when the pandemic took hold, even when the country demands answers, this government is all photo op and no follow-up.

A key theme of the royal commission has been the repeated testimony of families that have been kept in the dark when it comes to important issues in the lives of their loved ones in aged care. Aged-care facilities receive about 75 per cent of their income from the taxpayer. Despite the heavy reliance on the public purse there is worryingly little reporting of how the money is spent. Families of our loved ones in care need transparency and accountability. When considering reform it's crucial that transparency and accountability of the aged-care sector are at the top of the list. Sunlight is a powerful tool in making sure organisations are behaving in line with community expectations. But this government has a strong track record of shielding dodgy aged-care providers from accountability. Such actions by this government are a disservice to those aged-care providers, like those in my electorate of Corangamite, who are doing their absolute best to put quality care at the forefront of everything they do.

The interim report from the royal commission does make note of the lack of fundamental transparency across the sector. It should be noted the report was handed to the government 12 months ago, but with little consequence. However, the debate we're having today is not about the gross neglect of Australians receiving aged care. Instead, more than a year after the royal commission first reported some of the most horrendous stories imaginable, this government has prioritised the timing of invoicing. Is this the crucial step we need to take for our aged-care system? The house is burning to the ground, and this government is talking about what colour hats the firefighters should be wearing!

We know this government has not turned its attention to the vital issue of workplace planning and management. The nurses and carers in the aged-care sector do deserve our sincere gratitude. This is especially true in 2020, but it has always been true. The royal commission's comments on working in aged care were nothing short of harrowingin the words of the commission:

Workloads are heavy. Pay and conditions are poor, signalling that working in aged care is not a valued occupation. Innovation is stymied. Education and training are patchy and there is no defined career path for staff. Leadership is lacking.

The commission report went on to say:

Major change is necessary to deliver the certainty and working environment that staff need to deliver great quality care.

The conditions of the workforce described here cut to the very heart of the sector. The sector is nothing without the workers, the carers, who dedicate themselves to looking after our most vulnerable. We must show aged-care workers our appreciation. We need them now more than ever, and, on behalf of my constituents of Corangamite, I say thank you.

To meet the ever-increasing demand for aged-care services and support, the workforce will need to be three times its current size by 2050. That's a threefold increase in three decades. In Anthony Albanese's vision speech on ageing, he said:

Part of the answer to this crisis must lie in our aged care workforce. Those we trust to care for our most vulnerable, our parents, our grandparents, eventually ourselves.

There are too few aged-care workers, and they are paid too little. They have begged the Government to do something.

He said, 'But it is LaborLaborwho is listening.' He went on:

Our aged care workers need proper pay and proper training.

The aged care workforce must also be able to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate care.

Staffing numbers, qualifications, skills mix and experience, all affect the ability of aged care workers to provide safe, quality care.

Under a Labor Government, solving this will be one of the priority tasks for Jobs and Skills Australia.

I believe in this vision outlined by our Labor leader and I am proud to support it.

This is a third-term government that wants applause for being dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge the existence of these most serious problems. Well, noseven years in, there are no accolades, no points, for identifying the catastrophe. So here is a checklist the Morrison government should not need. There should not be a disastrous overreliance on chemical restraints in our aged-care sector. There should not be aged-care workers who have to choose between meeting the medical needs of one patient over another because of inadequate resourcing. There should not be 50 sexual assaults in aged-care facilities every day. There should not be people living in aged-care facilities who are left in soiled continence pads. There should not be people living in an aged-care facility with ants crawling on their wounds. There should not be people living in aged care who are suffering from malnutrition. We should not have a residential aged-care system that fails one in five residents. This government is failing our mothers and our fathers, our grandparents and our aged-care workers, and eventually the government's failure will affect us all.

In closing, it is important to remind all in this House that government must be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. It's time the Morrison government fixed the aged-care sector or got out of the way for someone who can.