SUNDAY, 3 NOVEMBER 2019
SUBJECTS: ‘Aged Care Act Now’ campaign, Aged Care Royal Commission Interim Report findings; complacency of the Government on real action; Veteran’s Discount Card; Prime Minister’s meeting with Chinese Premier; Prime Minister’s suggestion to ban protestors boycotting companies; facial recognition in schools; Hong Kong protests.
BRIAN MITCHELL, MEMBER FOR LYONS: Good morning. Well, we’re here in Evandale today in Tasmania. I’m Brian Mitchell, the Federal Labor Member for Lyons. And I’m joined by Anthony Albanese, the Federal Labor Leader, and Julie Collins, the Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors. Albo is here in Tasmania today to launch a very special action plan that we’re doing on aged care and also just to get out and about and see this wonderful market. You know, this is a weekly market every Sunday, and we are just getting in touch with local people. At my stall right behind me, we’ve got a petition today calling for immediate action on aged care following the damning findings of the Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care. And for more on that, I’ll shoot straight to Albo.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Brian. It’s good to be here in your electorate, here in Evandale, and also good to be joined by Julie Collins. This is my second visit to northern Tasmania since I took over the Labor Leadership after the election. And I intend to be a regular visitor to Tasmania, as I have been for many years. Today, we’ve had the opportunity to talk with people who are basically running small businesses, setting up themselves here at the markets, making amazing fresh produce that Tasmania is famous for. But we’ve also been talking to them about issues, issues which are front and centre at the moment. And one of those is, of course, aged care and the damning report of the Royal Commission that was released this week in the form of its Interim Report. It highlighted atrocious behaviour towards older Australians who deserve respect and simply aren’t getting the care that they need. We know that some 16,000 people died literally waiting to get the aged care that they were entitled to. And we know that the waiting list for aged care packages has reached some 120,000. The truth is that this Government has cut aged care funding. They slashed it while Scott Morrison was the Treasurer of Australia. And the consequences are there for all to see.
Today we are launching the ‘Aged Care Act Now’ campaign because it’s not good enough for the Government to be sitting on its hands while these cuts have been made, while even the money that was allocated hasn’t been spent. There’s money in the Budget for home care packages that has not actually been delivered to people who need it. So, this is an important campaign and we’ll be, with Labor candidates right around the country, collecting petitions to present to the Parliament when Parliament resumes. Now, Parliament is off for a couple of weeks. You’ve had this Interim Report. There is no excuse for Greg Hunt to have gone on the Insiders program this morning and to not have an answer, but to say that they would wait weeks for a response. The truth is that on Friday, the Government went missing and refused to answer questions, refused interviews on Friday morning or Thursday night after this Interim Report was released. This Government has to be held to account and we will hold it to account. We already concentrated for, we had a full day on aged care and other issues facing older Australians, and we think very strongly that people at the end of their lives deserve respect. Older Australians have paid tax and worked hard all their lives. What they’re asking for is a Government that treats them with the respect that they deserve.
JULIE COLLINS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGEING AND SENIORS: The ‘Aged Care Act Now’ campaign is about calling on the Government to do something immediately. The Government’s own Royal Commission recommendations told them action is urgent. Urgent. The Government has known for two years or more that the Aged Care Home Care Package waitlist has blown out from 88,000 to 120,000 older Australians. As Anthony has highlighted; in one year alone, 16,000 older Australians died while waiting for their home care package. For every week that the Government delays action, 300 older Australians die without their home care package. And for every week the Government delays action, over 200 older Australians are going into residential care when they wanted to stay at home and they cannot get their home care package.
It is simply not good enough for the Prime Minister and Minister Hunt to say, ‘Oh, wait, we will do something in a few weeks’. Older Australians sitting in that queue don’t have weeks. The Government must respond urgently. That’s what our campaign is about. We’ll have MPs and Senators around the country calling on the Government to act immediately. This is too important for the Government to kick it down the road for weeks to come. They have already had more than two years to respond. It is simply not good enough. The Government must act, and it must act now. Older Australians, their families and their loved ones deserve the respect and they need their care. The question for the Prime Minister and Minister Hunt today is; when will older Australians actually get the home care packages that they need? To say, ‘We might do something in a few weeks’ is not good enough.
ALBANESE: Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What sort of action needs to be taken immediately then?
ALBANESE: Well, what they need to do is to put increased funding so that they can deliver these home care packages. They also need to do something about the vast numbers of people who are under the age of 65 but are in aged care facilities. This is a crisis. So that’s the second recommendation. The third recommendation is that they need to act with regard to chemical restraints that are being used and abused by being implemented as essentially a calming technique for older Australians. We have these prescription drugs being used beyond the recommended doses, for periods beyond which are recommended also. And the Government needs to address this absolutely urgently. The stories of people essentially being drugged up, so in part, because some of these facilities don’t have adequate staff. It’s just extraordinary. It is a damning indictment of this Government. We are a wealthy country. We deserve better than to have older Australians not be able to get home care, to have young people in nursing homes who shouldn’t be there and to have people have drugs used on them in order to pacify them as a strategy rather than give them the care that they actually need.
JOURNALIST: Any particular reason you’re launching this campaign in northern Tasmania?
ALBANESE: Well, northern Tasmania obviously is an important place for Labor. We want to give the message very clearly that we have listened. We’re going to get out there and we’re going to hold the Government to account. Here in Tasmania there are particular issues with regard to aged care that have been raised in the Royal Commission. But this is a national crisis that this Government has presided over.
JOURNALIST: Are you saying that you want $2.5 billion spent immediately to end (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Look, what I’m saying is the Government needs to act immediately on the recommendations. This Government ripped billions out of aged care. It’s all there in the Budget papers in 2016, speaking about the cuts and the impact of it. So, this Government needs to act. There needs to be more funding. There needs also to be a strategy to deal with the abuse of chemicals. And there needs to be an issue dealt with, with regard to young people in nursing homes.
JOURNALIST: The Government has officially launched the Veteran’s Discount Card. Do you have any concerns with that?
ALBANESE: Well, look, we’ll wait and see the rollout of how this occurs. Our veterans need support. And this is a way, essentially, of the private sector and people in the community being able to identify veterans in order to offer them discounts and offer them support. Our veterans deserve respect. We’ll watch as this is rolled out. I think it’s very important that the Government get it right. But, certainly there are many people in the community, particularly conscious of times like November 11 will be an important commemoration of the role that veterans make. Today at the markets, I met a widow of a veteran who has set up or is establishing a widows’ support group here in Tasmania. We need to do much better in supporting our veterans and supporting their families.
JOURNALIST: The scheme was announced last year. Why do you think it has taken so long to get off the ground?
ALBANESE: Well, this is a Government that’s complacent about everything. They’re good at announcements. They’re good at spin and marketing. Scott Morrison is the marketing guy. There’s no substance to back up a lot of what’s occurred. And one of the things that characterises this Government is announcements of inquiries, interim reports, reports. What we don’t have is often responses to those reports. That in part is why we’re pressuring the Government today with the ‘Aged Care Act Now’ campaign. They’ve got an Interim Report. Why wasn’t the response ready at the time that report was released?
JOURNALIST: Do you think a discount card is the best way to respect those who have served?
ALBANESE: I think that what we should do is listen to veterans and to their needs and give them the support that they’re identifying, and they asked for.
JOURNALIST: Should there be a smooth over of tensions with Beijing during the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Chinese Premier today?
ALBANESE: Well, the Prime Minister, of course, made some statements when he was in the United States about China with a loud hailer. They didn’t go down very well. China is an important trading partner for Australia. And Australia has a national interest and a good relationship with China. And I hope that the Prime Minister does meet with the Chinese leadership on the outskirts. But, it’s about time that the Prime Minister planned a visit to China as well. It would be a reasonable thing for him to do.
JOURNALIST: What would be your message to Beijing?
ALBANESE: That Australia has a national interest in good relations with China, that it’s an important economic relationship, but it’s also important in terms of people to people exchange. Tourism is very important. I was on a plane down here to Launceston this morning and there were many tourists on that plane. What that represents is jobs. Jobs here in Tasmania. Jobs in the tourism sector. As well as, of course, the importance of China as a destination for our exports.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister wants to draft new laws to ban protesters from boycotting companies. Would Labor be open to supporting that?
ALBANESE: This is the Prime Minister the day after the Aged Care Royal Commission Interim Report, looking to make provocative statements that are anti-democratic and that would be very difficult to implement anyway. This is a guy who speaks about the bubble. Well, if this wasn’t a thought bubble, I don’t know what is. The idea that you have a Prime Minister who has criticised businesses who’ve engaged in support on social issues such as marriage equality. He now suggests that somehow, it’s the role of Government to stop individuals campaigning about corporate behaviour. It is very difficult to see how that could happen. And I just see it as another virtue signal from a Prime Minister that needs to actually deal with the real challenges facing Australia. The problems in the economy, the problems in aged care, the problems in a whole range of areas. He needs to come up with some practical solutions. I saw this comment as reflecting the sort of comments that we’ve seen from right-wing leaders overseas. It is important that Australians understand that an important part of freedom of expression and any liberal, who is the Leader of a Liberal Party, seeking to expunge that, is in my view, very dangerous indeed. People have a right to protest. They should do that peacefully. They should do that in a way that actually gets support for their cause. And quite clearly, some of the people who have been demonstrating have alienated people. And it doesn’t get support for a cause to stop people, for example, being able to get to and from work, is not a sensible way for people to protest. But the fact is that in a democracy, people’s right to express their views, including to corporations, is a part of our democratic system.
JOURNALIST: So, Labor wouldn’t consider supporting it in any capacity?
ALBANESE: Well, there is no proposal. There is no proposal. There’s nothing. There’s just more shouting from a Prime Minister. And what I’d say is that the role of the Prime Minister is to seek to unite the country, not divide it. And this Prime Minister, more and more, is seeking to divide Australians. The fact is that people should protest in an orderly and peaceful manner when they do. And certainly, no one supports, or no one sensible with common sense supports the sort of activity whereby you had even police horses being assaulted in Victoria. That was not behaviour that is likely to produce more support for the cause that people say they were protesting over. And it’s right to call that out. But it’s not right to say that Australians should have their right to protest and have a view taken away.
JOURNALIST: Are you comfortable with the Federal Government providing a taxpayer-funded grant to a company that puts facial recognition into Australian schools?
ALBANESE: I just find it extraordinary that there’s a lot of kids in schools around Australia that are struggling with the basics. They’re struggling to get out of demountable classrooms. They’re struggling to have a central learning infrastructure. And for the Government, if it’s correct that the Government are funding this, I find that just quite extraordinary and quite contrary to what the needs of students are and the priorities of students. So many students and when I talk to parents around the country, what they talk about is the need for better funding for their schools, not for this sort of expenditure.
JOURNALIST: Tensions in Hong Kong have flared again overnight. Should Scott Morrison reaffirm support for peace in Hong Kong at his meeting with the Chinese Premier today?
ALBANESE: Well, of course, it is important that once again, people have a right to protest. I’m not sure how that fits with Scott Morrison’s comments last Friday, quite frankly. And that’s part of the difficulty when you go down the road that Prime Minister Morrison went on Friday. People in Hong Kong have a right to express their views. And that right should be respected. Those protests, again, should be peaceful and people should engage in an orderly way. But people have a right to peaceful protest and that should be respected. Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.