ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
TUESDAY, 18 AUGUST 2020
SUBJECTS: Aged care crisis; aged care during the coronavirus pandemic; Parliament sitting; Victorian coronavirus outbreak; Scott Morrison avoiding scrutiny; Hekmatullah; virtual Parliament.
GERARD HAYES, HEALTH SERVICES UNION SECRETARY: Thanks, everybody for coming today. This is such an important occasion for us to have the Leader of the Opposition here, Anthony Albanese. We’ve got Sanu, an aged care worker from Uniting in the Hawkesbury. Anthony just had the opportunity now to speak with a range of our aged care members to hear of the crisis firsthand. And when I say the crisis, I’m not just referring to COVID-19. I’m referring to the crisis that has been here for the last ten to 15 years. The crisis that the current Government talks about but doesn’t do anything about. We are so saddened at this point in time that our members have to turn up to work, have to turn up to several jobs. The ability to have paid pandemic leave, those sorts of things, just isn’t an option for many people. We’re also seeing at this point in time, the heartache that our members have to undertake when they’re caring for people who are struggling. And then they’re worried about taking things home to their family. And that’s another concern for them. And also, for the people that they’re caring for, are their friends. And their friends are under stress every day. Their friends are in situations where they may not survive every day. And so, it’s with that we’re saying that we don’t need to wait for the outcome of a Royal Commission to see what we are seeing in real-time. It’s exemplified in real-time. Let’s do something about this now. Let’s get the resourcing right. Let’s get the funding right. And let’s get the outcome right for aged care residents, their families, the workers, our members and their communities. I’ll hand over to Anthony or Sanu.
SANU, HEALTH SERVICES UNION MEMBER & AGED CARE WORKER: Hi everybody. I have been working in the aged care sector for seven years. I have seen that there has been always less staff in our sector that is causing mental health issues to all the staff. We are working with the most vulnerable people. And then we are having mental health issues because of the overpressure at work. And then we are underpaid. We are working in $19 per hour, $21 per hour, which is, I think, it’s underpaid. Third thing is that we don’t have good education to support our job. Fourth thing is that the Government is giving a lot of money to aged care facilities, but we don’t know where that money is going. So, we want to know where that money is going. We have been going through a lot of mental health issues. The staff are going through a lot of mental health issues, because there is less staffing. And then we are working for less money, our wages are much less. So, it is causing a lot of mental health issues to staff. In this COVID outbreak, I have seen that many women, especially if they have their little baby in their house, and they have to work with a COVID person, this is causing a lot of pressure to us. And we want good management for all these things from our facility where we work and from the Government and from the Opposition as well. Thank you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Sanu. And it’s been great this morning to hear from frontline workers. Frontline workers who choose not because of the money, that’s for sure, to look after elderly Australians in their later years. Australians who have helped build this country. Australians, many of whom are being forced to say goodbye to their loved ones over FaceTime. Australians who are having their hands held by workers such as those who I’ve met with this morning as they pass. The fact is that these frontline workers are doing an incredible job. And they’re deserving of our respect and our thanks. And I thank Gerard and the HSU for inviting us here today to talk firsthand about some of the issues that are confronting the aged care sector. And we know that these issues are not because of COVID. There were issues that were there beforehand which have been highlighted by COVID. Issues like a lack of adequate numbers of staff. Staff stop being forced to choose between being in two places at once with two people needing care with simply not the adequate staff to look after them. Issues such as underpayment. We heard from Sanu, people being paid $19 an hour for doing this vital work. People who have skills, who have training, who are in the job in part because of their compassionate nature. Because they want to make a difference to people’s lives at the end of their life. And they should be treated far better than they are being now.
But the COVID outbreak has exposed other issues. Paid pandemic leave must be available to all who need it. The fact is, due to the nature of the industry, a range of these workers work not in one facility but in multiple facilities, in casualised employment. They need the security to know that staying home when they should stay home will not mean that their families don’t have food on the table, will not mean that they can’t pay their mortgage or their rent. That’s an essential component which is missing at the moment. We also need to know that there’s national coordination, as was called for at the Royal Commission last week. It’s extraordinary that even after Newmarch and after other events, we did not see a national response. And the Federal Government has clear responsibility for aged care. Richard Colbeck has been a failure in every portfolio he has ever held. There’s some irony between him now being in charge of sport and in charge of aged care.
The fact is that this Government simply needs to do better. The fact that protective equipment is not available to all workers at these aged care facilities is quite shocking at this point in the pandemic. The fact is that this Government is good at announcements, but not good at delivery. The fact is that this Government is always there for the photo op, but never there for the follow up. The fact is that this Government, once they hear the sound of the camera shutter, they’re out of there. Not so much Nikon as nick-off. That’s what this Government does when it gets difficult to actually follow through. Well, they can’t duck responsibility. The Prime Minister had nothing to say for three days last week. Well, he’s on notice with a question without notice. Next Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, he will be accountable in the national Parliament. We need to have answers. Australians deserve answers. These workers who are putting themselves at risk in order to look after vulnerable elderly Australians deserve answers as well. And we can’t wait for the Royal Commission to get those answers. We need Government responses. We need appropriate resources. We need support for staff right now. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: How are you going to bring about these changes in Parliament next week? What are the specific answers? Or how is Labor going to ensure that these changes happen?
ALBANESE: Well, what we’ll do is continue to shine a light on these changes. There’s a reason why the Prime Minister doesn’t like Parliament sitting. Because he doesn’t like scrutiny and accountability. Parliament’s an opportunity for us to hold the Government to account. We’ll be doing that on a range of areas, but no area more important than aged care.
JOURNALIST: In Victoria, aged care has suffered quite substantially with this second outbreak. Four Corners last night mentioned the litany of failures from Victoria’s hotel quarantine. At what point are you going to be able to condemn Daniel Andrews for his failure to manage that?
ALBANESE: Obviously, there have been issues with quarantine in Victoria. And Daniel Andrews, himself, hasn’t been like Scott Morrison. He fronts up every day for prolonged media conferences that go for over an hour. But the Federal Government has responsibility for aged care. That is unequivocal that that is the case. And we also know that there’s a real distinction between what’s happening in aged care that are run by government facilities and those that are not. And there’s a need to examine why it is that that’s the case. To look at the issues that have been raised by these workers. And I say to the Prime Minister; the union here, I’m sure, would be very prepared to have Scott Morrison come in here, sit down and talk with workers on the front-line about their experience of what is happening in these facilities. Certainly, the Aged Care Royal Commission heard very, very clearly last week, and unequivocally, that this Government did not have a national plan for aged care. Did not have one. And that’s their responsibility.
JOURNALIST: Shouldn’t Daniel Andrews bear some of that responsibility for those failures, given that was the cause of the outbreak that has spread in Victoria?
ALBANESE: Be very clear that the Aged Care Royal Commission has heard that there was no plan for aged care from this Government, and it is very clear that it is the Federal Government that has responsibility for aged care. Daniel Andrews should be held to account and is being held to account. He’s had an open and transparent inquiry. One in which he’s appeared. Compare that with the actions of the Federal Government that banned its officials appearing before the Ruby Princess inquiry that was initiated by the Liberal Government here in New South Wales.
JOURNALIST: Just on some other issues. If the Sergeant Hekmatullah is released as part of the Afghan prisoner swap, does that represent a failure of diplomacy by the Australian Government?
ALBANESE: It is a complete failure of diplomacy. And frankly, the families of those who were murdered in cold blood by this terrorist action will be really hurting if it is the case that this terrorist is released. The fact is that the United States needs to understand that this is a major issue here in Australia, and this person should not be released. Full stop, exclamation mark.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Bill Shorten that it incumbent for Scott Morrison to say to Donald Trump that Australia is his ally, not his doormat?
ALBANESE: He didn’t say that. He didn’t say that. Well, I speak for myself. And what is clear is that the United States is Australia’s ally. We should be in a position to very strongly say that Australia expects this terrorist to not be released.
JOURNALIST: And just in regard to medical advice for Queensland, to Queensland Federal MPs and Senators saying they should isolate for two weeks after Canberra. Is that going to reduce the number of ALP Caucus members from Queensland to attend the next sitting hearing?
ALBANESE: Caucus members will be exercising their responsibilities according to their own circumstances as well. Some people, for example, from Victoria, simply aren’t able to self-isolate with their families for two weeks prior. A range are able to do so. If so, that’s why we have initiated the actions to make sure, along with the Speaker and the President of the Senate, that people will able to participate in Parliament through the use of virtual technology. Just like someone will be on the other end of this camera watching this. They don’t have to be there in order to participate. And that’s a good thing. So, I’m positive that Queenslanders will be able to participate, whether in person, or via video link. Just as other workplaces have adjusted right around the country, the Parliament has had to adjust as well. And that’s a good thing. I do note that the Leader of the House, Christian Porter, was still saying as much as last week, ‘Oh, the video link might not be available in the first week, it might only be available in the second week’. Quite frankly, that’s farcical. The idea that you could not, with weeks of notice, get up a video link. I’m very confident that it can be done. And I’m more confident in the Speaker and the President of the Senate than I am in Christian Porter’s capacity to actually allow for participation of Members and Senators. Thank you.