What we actually need, if we are about building a cohesive society, is hope, a positive vision and positive action to ensure that we are indeed in a position to meet the economic and social challenges of the future.
Today, more than 16 years later, these factors remain just as important if we are to address the needs of our ageing population. I think some of the debate about the ageing of the population sees the demographic changes which will occur over coming decades as a problem. It is actually an opportunity. It is a challenge, but it’s an opportunity, if we get it right, to value the contribution of those who have helped to make Australia the great nation that it is today by providing respect to, but also learning from, those people who have real life experience. The fact is that inclusive and cohesive societies don’t discriminate against people on the basis of their age, nor on the basis of their gender, their sexuality, their race or their religion. A positive vision recognises the contribution that older Australians have made to our nation. It appreciates that the federal government must take positive action that directly improves the lives of these Australians who need care, either at home or in an aged-care facility. Most importantly, it inspires hope that all Australians will be afforded respect in their later years and can live with the dignity they deserve.
The Aged Care (Single Quality Framework) Reform Bill amends both the Aged Care Act 1997 and the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency Act 2013. In effect, these amendments will apply to aged-care providers under the Aged Care Act and make provision for a single set of Aged Care Quality Standards. This includes changing the function of the chief executive officer of the Aged Care Quality Agency to reference the Aged Care Quality Standards. Labor supports these changes, which will occur on 1 July 2019.
Importantly, the new standards focus on quality outcomes for older Australians living in aged-care facilities, and they reflect years of advocacy from the sector and other stakeholders. The truth is that Australia has seen shocking examples of elder abuse. Instances such as Oakden nursing home or Mitcham Residential Care Facility revealed appalling abuse of vulnerable aged-care residents. We must learn from examples such as these and always push for change so that abuse becomes a thing of the past.
During the time I was the shadow minister I had the opportunity to visit aged-care facilities right around the country, in regional areas like Rockhampton and in our cities, including all of the capital cities. What I saw was a workforce, particularly the dedicated aged-care nurses and aged-care assistants, who work with a commitment that one has to admire. They’re really helping people who need that support. But the truth is that, not just in aged-care facilities but unfortunately often even within families, elder abuse—essentially using the power imbalance that exists where an older Australian has health issues and is not able to physically or even intellectually defend themselves—is a tragedy that happens all too often.
This is about respect for our older Australians. It should be the case that quality outcomes for older Australians are part of the federal government’s policy agenda. We must invest in measures that ensure that older Australians can live with dignity in communities all around the nation, whether that be in our cities, our regional areas, or our rural communities. We simply can’t afford not to do so. The advancements in health and science mean that we now live longer. In 2012 people aged over 65 made up 14 per cent of our population, but by 2061 this figure will increase to 22 per cent. From 14 per cent in 2012 to 22 per cent just 50 years later is an extraordinary increase in the make-up of the population. Moreover, the proportion of Australians aged over 85 will also rise from just two per cent of the population in 2012 to five per cent in 2061.
Just this month I went to visit my mum’s grave at Rookwood Cemetery. She died in 2002 aged 65. She was spent, essentially, at the age of 65. She had spent an enormous amount of her last 35 years on the planet in hospital—particularly with rheumatoid arthritis, but the drugs to assist with that problem had created a range of other health issues for her. When she passed away, at age 65, that was in many ways a decision that she probably made—that she was done on this earth.
With today’s care, the generation of which I’m a part, let alone those younger generations, will not be in those circumstances in most cases. People have better access to health care. People do get that assistance. But with that comes the enormous responsibility that we have as a parliament to provide that leadership, to make sure that the investment is there and to make sure that the long-term planning is there to cater for what will be a vastly different make-up of the population than exists today, let alone existed 10, 20 or 30 years ago, when people were regarded as very senior when they got to 60 years of age. That requires a comprehensive plan, and it’s one of the reasons why I was very attracted to the portfolio of ageing and seniors, to deal with, importantly, not just aged care, which is what the portfolio was called for a long period of time. It requires planning in terms of not just health but also housing—it requires a whole-of-government approach. Adaptable housing is one of the things that we need to consider in terms of the changing make-up of the population if we’re going to allow for people to stay in their homes for longer, which, by and large, overwhelmingly, is what people want to do. We need to consider the nature of the way that communities are built, to make sure that people are in facilities where they’re not isolated and left alone. Those awful cases that happen from time to time, where someone has passed away and is not found for weeks, or, in some cases, even longer, are an indictment of our society. That should not happen.
We need a public policy response to these issues. These issues are not partisan. These are issues in which the parliament needs to engage and needs to engage constructively, in a way that commits us to the long-term thinking that long-term demographic change requires. The nature of our transport infrastructure needs to take into account the changing nature of the population. We have seen enormous advances in the way that infrastructure has developed—the fact that buses can lower themselves to make it easier for people to get on and off—but we still have huge issues of accessibility. Why are we still building train stations that don’t have lifts, that require stairs? Why is that occurring? We need to incorporate this thinking into the whole-of-government response and indeed whole of government, because it requires cooperation from federal, state and local government.
I think the problem that the government has at the moment in this area is that it’s taking retrograde action rather than proactive action. It waits for issues to be evident and then has a response. It has failed to provide the positive vision for older Australians that’s required. Indeed, billions of dollars have been cut from aged-care funding since the election of the coalition government in 2013, and it was very disappointing that the rhetoric of the government in the lead-up to this year’s budget was not matched by actual investment—very disappointing indeed. It claimed a $100 billion funding boost for the aged-care budget in the pre-budget leaks, but the truth is that there wasn’t new money in this budget—not a single dollar. It was more spin than substance. The government failed to match its rhetoric with reality.
At the same time, we know that the waiting list for home-care packages is now 105,000 people. Of these, 20,000 joined the list in the second half of 2017 alone. It is ridiculous, frankly, given the size of that waiting list, for the government to suggest that announcing funding for 14,000 new in-home aged-care packages over four years is a solution to this problem. We need to do much better than that.
A number of aged-care providers across the country are already doing everything they can to support older people, and I want to acknowledge the many aged-care workers who dedicate themselves to this. In my electorate of Grayndler, a number of aged-care providers have implemented policies that enable older Australians to live with the quality care that they need and to feel respected. I want to mention just a couple. The Marion, located in Leichhardt, has invested in safety through the Footloose Falls Prevention Expo, providing residents and staff with information and strategies to prevent dangerous falls, resulting in a 57 per cent decrease in fall-related injuries. The Montrose Aged Care Plus Centre, located in Balmain, is a specialist care home for men living with mental health challenges. The dedicated team at the centre won an award last year for its pioneering approach, which focuses on residents’ abilities rather than their limitations. That is a tremendous achievement and a great example of how we can ensure that older Australians are awarded the dignity and respect that they deserve.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.