[by video link] I rise to speak on the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 2) Bill 2021. Like the earlier speakers, I do so through the prism of having helped people in my electorate go through the aged-care maze but also having dealt more recently with my elderly father, with all of the complications that come with that.
This legislation is part of the second stage of the Morrison government response to the final recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. It implements eight measures. This inquiry has confirmed that our nation's aged-care system is broken. The first report of the royal commission was bluntly and accurately entitled Neglect, and barely anything has improved since. Of course, Labor supports action to fix the aged-care system. We're frustrated that it has taken the Morrison government as long as it has to get to this point. This is a crisis, and we are concerned that, yet again, the Morrison government will fall short when it comes to taking real action in a crisis.
Don't listen to the Prime Minister's words; judge his deeds. When the Black Summer bushfires almost turned the east coast of Australia to ash, what did the Prime Minister do? He bunked off to Hawaii. When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020, the Morrison government took too long to react. Labor called for wage subsidies, but the Prime Minister said it was dangerous and dragged his heels. Eventually he agreed to wage subsidies, but they should have started much earlier. Vaccines were eventually ordered, but not enough. He said we were at the front of the queue, but the queue snaked so far back around the block that he didn't realise we were actually last rather than about to enter the vaccination doorway. We see it again and again from the bloke who has been lolling around in The Lodge since he pushed Malcolm Turnbull down the stairs. Since August 2018 we've seen a lack of leadership when it comes to acting in a crisis, and we've certainly seen this in the aged-care sector since the coalition took office in 2013. The Morrison government has ignored key recommendations from the aged-care royal commission. Over half of the 148 recommendations are either being ignored or not implemented.
I knew there was a problem because my constituents have been telling me so. Here are a few emails I've received from my constituents about their aged-care experiences. One wrote:
My father is a tradesperson and ran a successful company for most of his working life. He started work after completing his national service and without a break he was still actively working part time at age 80. Surely he is entitled to live out the remainder of his life in the way that he chooses? Given the appropriate level of care then this should be possible. Sadly though this is not the case. As Dad's daughter I am his advocate. I am sure that he would not even be getting this level of support if I had not pursued this on his behalf.
Another constituent wrote:
Sadly, no one seems to have learnt a thing from the Royal Commission and the situation in the centre was too terrible and quite traumatic for my Mum.
I got to know some of the other residents while visiting my Mum, and they weren't as lucky as they had no one to stand up for them while they were being treated so dismally.
It would be great if there would be someone to stand up and make a change within the aged care community.
Yet another said:
Our families' only concern is our parents care, motivation and well-being to improve their quality of life.
My main concern is the staffing to provide the highest quality of care that all residents deserve. On many occasions there are no staff at ward D our parents nursing station. Minimum staffing requirements are absolutely essential because without staff, workers become tired and stressed and can't provide the best outcomes for residents. My mother walked out of the facility recently and was luckily picked up by a good samaritan and dropped at a local hospital where I was then contacted. The door alarm would have been activated but no staff were in the ward to hear the alarm.
Also the quality of food is of concern, one evening I stayed with my parents for dinner. They were given a hamburger which they didn't eat and their meal didn't appeal to me either. Variety of healthy, tasty and appealing food is essential. There should be food control random inspections.
I consider my parents are in one of the better residences compared to what I have seen but there are always improvements that can be made.
And, finally, one constituent set out some particular issues with the facility their loved one resides at:
1. Medication Incidents
There have been several incidents with medications. These have included:
wrong medications being dispensed
wrong medications being ingested
medications being missed completely
time critical medication not being dispensed in a timely manner after several requests by Dad to have his medication
2. Bed linen not changed
3. Personal medical equipment not cleaned
4. Urine poured down vanity sink
If Dad passes before Mum, there is no longer someone on-site to advocate on her behalf.
This constituent continued with some suggestions which are relevant to this debate today:
These may seem like small issues to some, but for people who have to live with these problems on a daily basis, it is simply not good enough.
Families are paying a lot of money for very average, and in some cases, below average care.
Minimum staffing numbers need to be set by governments. Care workers need to be more skilled. Care residents deserve to be heard and validated. Has anyone gone into Aged Care and actually spoken to the residents themselves? How about someone dignify them by asking THEM what needs to change?
I said that these comments are relevant, because older Australians, aged-care peak bodies, providers, workers and unions were not consulted in the drafting of this bill before the chamber. I know that seems unbelievable, but it is true. The Morrison government did not consult with any of those groups before this bill was drafted, despite the impacts it will have on older Australians residing in aged-care facilities. The providers, workers, unions and peak bodies—none of them were consulted yet all of them will be impacted.
Some of the changes in the bill include residential aged-care funding, workforce screening, provider governance, banning orders, and a code of conduct—not small changes at all! People involved in the sector would have had an opinion about these changes. Frontline workers may think that the measures in this bill are great although, equally, they may think that there are some practical concerns that the Morrison government has not taken into account appropriately. Their contribution may have improved this bill. At the very least, the aged-care sector deserves to have a say. Sadly, the Abbott-Truss, Turnbull-Truss, Turnbull-Joyce, Turnbull-McCormack, Morrison-McCormack and Morrison-Joyce governments never listen to the experts. They have had 21 expert reports that told them older people were suffering in aged care and they still can't fix the problem.
Not only did they not fix the problem, when the current Prime Minister was Treasurer, he cut funding to aged care. When he was just three months into the job as Treasurer he booked a $472 million saving to be 'redirected by the government to repair the budget and fund policy priorities'. So that was a decision of the then minister—the then Treasurer Morrison. This money was found by freezing the indexation of the aged-care funding instrument and by making it harder for providers to make claims under the subsidy.
The next year Minister Morrison raided the funding instrument again, finding a further $1.2 billion. The budget papers said that 'savings from this measure will be redirected by the government'. As far as aged care was concerned, the money vanished. As Rick Morton has detailed, according to one registered nurse with more than 30 years experience in aged care, the $1.7 billion that Minister Morrison broke off the funding instrument brought the sector to its knees. So this aged-care crisis is the current Prime Minister's aged-care crisis. Mr Morrison is responsible for the aged-care system and why it is currently a national disgrace.
The Morrison government's response to the royal commission fails to deliver enduring improvements or any lasting reforms. A skilled workforce in aged care is crucial—everybody knows that. The government have done nothing to improve wages for overworked and undervalued aged-care workers. The Morrison government are giving $3.2 billion to providers but with no strings attached. They won't be requiring that the taxpayer money goes to more care or to better food, things that would directly improve the lives of people in aged care. What could possibly go wrong?
The Morrison government have failed to clear the home-care package waitlist of 100,000. They have failed to implement the commission's recommendation that a nurse be on duty 24/7 in residential care. That's such an important, life-saving recommendation and yet the Morrison government just blithely ignore it. The royal commission recommended a mandatory amount of care minutes for each resident in care. The Morrison government's version of implementing this recommendation allows cleaning and admin to be included as care minutes. They failed to roll out vaccinations for the aged-care workforce in an ordered and timely manner, and still don't know accurately how many aged-care workers have been vaccinated. The Morrison government just can't be trusted to fix the aged-care system, and older Australians deserve better.
Older Australians built this country. They deserve better than a system that is unsafe, undignified and chaotic. Labor believes that aged-care workers should be paid more; we know that will flow into better conditions for the people who they care for. This would also help to recruit more staff—another issue confronting the sector, especially while international borders are closed. Older Australians and their families should not have to choose between unsafe care or no care. Sadly, the Morrison government cannot be trusted to fix aged care. Only an Albanese Labor government will reverse the neglect and make sure that everyone's loved ones are safer.