Mar 5, 2020

Bills – Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No. 1) Bill 2020 – Second Reading – Thursday, 5 March 2020

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (12:01): I’m pleased that so many members of the government have come to hear this address, because clearly they do not have an aged-care strategy, and clearly it’s once again up to Labor to lead from opposition on the issue.

Frankly, there is an aged-care crisis in this country. I rise to speak in support of the amendment moved by the member for Franklin pointing out the lack of a government strategy when it comes to ageing Australians and the aged-care sector. When I look at older Australians, I see the generation that built this nation. I see the generation that built our economy and shaped our modern society—the generation that did the hard yards. They have shown aspiration at its most fundamental—aspiration not just for themselves in a selfish, individualist way. They have shown aspiration for a better life for their children, for their grandchildren, for their neighbours, for their community and, indeed, for their country. In them I see what I hope we all see: the strength and the spirit of modern Australia. And you see it everywhere you go, because, for so many Australians, the later years are an incredible opportunity. We are living longer. When people hit their 70s they were once seen as being towards the end of their life. But in so many cases today, due to medical breakthroughs, better nutrition and a range of factors, what we’re finding is that people are living longer. What that represents is an incredible opportunity for those people to travel, to look after younger generations and to participate in society. Where would our civil institutions be without the contribution of older Australians? They’re the ones who are keeping the clubs going. They’re the ones who are there cooking on a Saturday anywhere in the country to raise two bucks from the snag sandwich to give to their local cricket club or netball club. They’re the ones who, of course, got ripped off by this government’s sports rorts scandal.

The fact is, though, that this situation also represents a challenge, because those older Australians are entitled to think that when they reach a stage in their life where they can no longer support themselves without assistance—whether in the home or in an aged-care facility—the contribution that they’ve made to this country will be paid back to them in the form of proper, adequate care which ensures that they have quality of life. And this is an issue not just for them, of course, but for their relatives. This is something that worries their kids and, indeed, their grandkids—that they’re able to have a fulfilling retirement up until that point, but that, after that point as well, their later years continue to be good years. But for their part, this government—now there for seven years, three terms, with three prime ministers—the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, has no strategy, no plan, to deal with the challenge and, indeed, to reap the benefits that are there also from an ageing population.

Current policy settings are simply inadequate. Australia’s lifestyle has long been the envy of the world, but when it comes to supporting our ageing population, we fall far short of that reputation. Old age, of course, isn’t synonymous with aged care, but for some older Australians it is necessary—but our aged-care system is broken. We need to look no further than the royal commission into aged care quality and safety where desperate families and exhausted under-resourced aged-care workers are telling their stories, and those stories, quite frankly, are horrific. The royal commission’s interim report described Australia’s aged-care system as ‘cruel and harmful’, ‘shocking’ and ‘All too often, they are unsafe and seemingly uncaring.’ They found that:

Many of the cases of deficiencies or outright failings in aged care were known to … the regulators before coming to public attention.

Just think about that. The regulators from the government knew that these problems were there but held on to that information without making it public, therefore, delaying the public response, which is demanding action from this government. We should not allow that to continue.

For too long, governments have turned a blind eye. There’s been a lack of reform and investment in aged care, in both home care and residential aged care. For those Australians who can and want to stay in their homes, a home care package provides the support that they need. But there’s more than 100,000 Australians on the waiting list for such a package.

Older Australians, waiting for their high-level package, are waiting almost three years to get the care that they’ve been approved for. Just think about this: they have an assessment and that assessment objectively determines that they need a level of care and they have to wait three years in order to get it. And in the last two years—and I think this is perhaps the most horrific figure from the interim report and from the other information that’s out there—30,000 Australians, who have been approved for home care, literally have died waiting to get that care. That’s 30,000 Australians in just two years. The median waiting time for older Australians going into residential aged care has grown by more than 100 days under this government. It was around about a month, now it’s five months, under this government over the last seven years.

The royal commission heard stories of degradation, suffering, abuse, neglect and systemic failure. We heard that up to half of older Australians in residential aged care are malnourished. Think about what that means: they are literally starving in a wealthy country like ours. We heard that the major quality and safety issues are inadequate prevention and management of wounds, sometimes leading to septicaemia and death; and aged-care residents often sitting or lying in urine or faeces.

Part of the answer to this crisis must lie in giving support to our aged-care workforce, those we trust to care for our most vulnerable—our parents, our grandparents and eventually ourselves. Even the selfish individualists opposite, one would have thought, would have an incentive to actually improve the system that one day they may well rely upon. We all have a direct interest in ensuring this—a self-interest, if you like. So, if not motivated by anything else, like care of anyone else, I would have thought that maybe this could jolt them into action. But I see that government members have removed themselves from the speaking list on this legislation—

An opposition member: Nothing to say.

Mr ALBANESE: because they have nothing to say about the real issues confronting this nation. The fact is that there are too few aged-care workers, and they are paid too little. They’ve begged the government to do something. Labor is listening. 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. The day before I gave my fourth vision statement in Brisbane, on respecting and valuing older Australians, I visited the electorate of Oxley with its member and with the Shadow Treasurer. Milton, Jim and I had a terrific event with Vietnamese seniors in that community. One of the things that happens with multicultural communities is that often as people get older they lose their second language; they go back to the language of their birth. That’s why these are the sorts of issues that require support and respect. One of the things about these communities—including the Vietnamese community, but it is certainly not alone—is the way they respect and revere their elders. With the way that we’re handling the ageing of the population in this country, we’re not doing that. This government certainly is not doing that.

Issues like staffing numbers, qualifications, skills mix and experience all affect the ability of aged-care workers to provide safe quality care, and we should have a workforce strategy to make sure that those issues are dealt with. One of the things that we will do, as a priority task for Jobs and Skills Australia, which we will establish if we are successful at the next election, is task them with this particular sector of delivering.

In spite of all of the crisis that’s there, as outlined in the interim report, what was the response of this government? The response of the government was to try to privatise the one bit of the system that’s working: the aged-care assessment teams. It put them out for profit, because there’s a real profit to be made in that area. I mean, naturally, it fits with the market, going in and working out whether someone needs aged care and what level of care they need. It’s just extraordinary! It was due to the pressure of the community, the unions involved in the sector, the shadow minister—I must say—and the work that we, on this side of the House, had unashamedly done in putting a focus on the ageing of the population that the government last week had to back down on its recommendations to privatise ACAT. It must now act on the royal commission recommendations. We need something much better than this legislation that does nothing to change the fundamentals there.

As I announced in Brisbane, we in contrast will develop a positive ageing strategy, outlining a plan to help Australians in their final years of paid work to build the nest egg that will let them retire when and how they want. That’s one of the reasons we support increasing the superannuation guarantee to 12 per cent. It’s not about welfare; it’s about giving people a quality of life at the same time as providing the nation with the national asset that superannuation represents. We want to make sure that when Australians do retire they have access to quality health care. We want to make sure that they have a roof over their head. We want to make sure they have access to quality aged care when the need arises.

There are a whole lot of creative areas that you could look at. I encourage people to have a look at the ABC show Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. There are benefits from getting our very youngest people with our oldest people. They learn off each other and it lifts the health care. They had experts, nurses and doctors explain why the stimulation reduces heart disease and a whole range of health issues for those older Australians. This government is so complacent, obsessed with advertising and marketing and too busy downloading false documents, allegedly, from computers that it is not capable of actually addressing the big challenge.

Labor know that there is more we can and should be doing for older Australians. Our older years should be good years. We will continue to put forward constructive ideas to the government. If not supported, we will hold them to account. We will be presenting a positive vision for ageing to the nation in two years time, when the election is held.