Oct 15, 2018

Private Members’ Business – Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:10): I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and pay my respect to their elders past and present. We can learn a lot from the oldest continuous civilisation on the planet. We are privileged to inhabit this continent of Australia. Indigenous Australians honour their elders, and so many of the different ethnic communities in my electorate honour their elders. So many cultures around the world have their elderly stay with the younger family; it’s seen to be a responsibility that they have. I think when we look at the Australian aged-care system, which has developed very differently, we have a culture in this country where people go through it, perhaps in steps, and end up in aged-care facilities. We should bear that in mind and we should ensure that respect is at the centre of the way we treat those people who’ve helped build this nation, who’ve helped raise families and who’ve helped make a difference. That’s why I support the government’s decision to finally agree with Labor’s call for a royal commission into the aged-care sector.

We didn’t need to watch Four Corners to know that this aged-care system is facing a crisis. The truth has been around for some time. Over recent years there has been increasing media attention of the problem. We’ve heard disturbing reports about frail aged Australians being mistreated in facilities meant to be dedicated to their wellbeing. This is a many-layered problem and a problem we must not ignore. It’s about inadequate resourcing. It’s about pay levels for aged-care workers. It’s about ensuring that aged-care facilities meet required standards and taking action when they do not. It is about that culture of respect.

Safeguarding the dignity of older Australians is a fundamental responsibility of this parliament. About 1.3 million Australians are supporting residential home and community aged care, including home support packages and services such as social support and meal delivery. That figure includes 240,000 who call an aged-care facility home. These people are our parents or grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters or, indeed, friends. That’s why Australians need to be secure in the knowledge that, as we all grow old, when we reach a point where we need assistance to look after ourselves there will be a society that pledges to look after them.

Funding is critical. It does matter. That’s why the government’s changes to funding, which they called a cap to the Aged Care Funding Instrument, needs to be called out for what it is. It was due to grow by $3 billion. Instead, as a result of the now Prime Minister’s first budget, it is due to grow by $1.8 billion. That’s a 1.2 billion cut. That cut was not put into other areas of aged care; it was simply put back into consolidated revenue. Then, that was followed up with another $500 million cut, meaning that $1.7 billion has been ripped out of the system by this ATM government—an ATM government that is not putting dollars back in; an ATM government that just takes deposits, but not withdrawals that are then used for the benefit of elderly Australians. I hope that the royal commission will act as a reminder to all governments that, whilst spending matters, people matter too and we need to make a real difference with this royal commission. It is good that government is having a royal commission, not for political purposes but to make a difference. I think it can certainly do this.

In the remaining time, I want to say that the issue of people from non-English-speaking backgrounds particularly has to be addressed. Elderly people from these backgrounds lose their English in many cases and go back to their first language, and they need specific support arising out of this. We need, too, as the Prime Minister has said, a culture of respect for older Australians. That’s something the parliament should unite on.