Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Bills - Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 2) Bill 2021 - Second Reading

October 21, 2021

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (13:11): I too would like to make a contribution to this debate on the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 2) Bill 2021. I would just note that this bill is the second response to the royal commission's recommendations. Those of us who were in the parliament will recall the way that the minister treated call after call from Labor for a royal commission into aged care. The minister of the day actually said that that would effectively be elder abuse. Since then a litany of issues have been explored and evidence given—some hair-raising stuff for anyone who might care to put their loved ones into aged care.

There are 151 electorates represented in this chamber. Every one of us has a concern about looking after aged care. We all have a concern about looking after the vulnerable. Yet, of the 148 recommendations made by the royal commission, just a little over half were actually addressed by this government. The royal commission cost $200 million—not an insignificant amount—and the government, who were dragged kicking and screaming to have a royal commission and then wanted to try to take credit for it, are only partially dealing with the recommendations of that royal commission. I would have thought that the alarm bells would have been ringing once the commission delivered their interim report, with the one-word title of Neglect. But, with respect, the royal commission had a bit of a head start on this. After the government, under then Treasurer Morrison, took up to $2 billion out of the system, there have been 21 reports into aged care, all of which have been ignored.

But, getting back to the fact that what we in this place are supposed to be doing here is looking after our people and that in all of our electorates—and I don't think that mine is different to anyone else's—there is an ageing population, this should be front and centre to what we are doing here as elected members of this place in looking after the vulnerable in our community. But I want to be balanced and say that Labor will support the passage of this bill. Any improvement to aged care will always get our support. But this is, once again, a missed opportunity. Looking at the way that the government have gone about proposing this bill, I don't know whether they're trying to convince Australians that they really don't care about aged care.

I understand that they really care about some of the aged-care providers. I understand that, particularly when you can give them $3.2 billion without strings attached to it and particularly when we've heard evidence—not from the Labor Party but in the royal commission—of some of the excesses that are occurring in aged care. Healthcare workers gave evidence of the fact that some of them were given one set of gloves per shift to look after people in aged care. So apart from looking after multiple clients they were given one set of gloves, that's for doing everything from getting people to be suited for their food and such to addressing other issues—which you can well imagine, Deputy Speaker, for people that are in aged care, particularly those, unfortunately, suffering with incontinence and other issues. But that wasn't evidence from the Labor Party about putting on one pair of gloves per shift, that was sworn evidence from workers to the royal commission.

The royal commission found that one in five people in aged care were suffering from substandard care. They're things that should have rung alarm bells for everybody here. It's not a matter of trying to point the finger and playing catch-up on all this. We have a responsibility, as those who are privileged enough to serve in this place, to look after the vulnerable and there can't be many more vulnerable than those who are requiring aged care.

As I said, we will certainly support many of the recommendations made. Some sensible amendments are made relating to residential aged-care funding. There are others in terms of the screening of aged-care workers and also governing persons employed in approved providers. Other sensible amendments include a code of practice allowing the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to make and enforce a code of conduct, extensions to the way reports are made in terms of incidents and critical reporting of in-home care, governance approvals for providers, information sharing between Commonwealth bodies and disability and veteran sectors in relation to non-compliance, misuse of refundable accommodation and deposit bonds. They're good things. There are also amendments relating to the independent health-care pricing authority. Labor will be supporting any decent, well thought out improvement to aged care—that's what we do.

While we're not opposing the passage of the bill in that respect, the fact that the government has fobbed off, delayed or outrightly rejected almost half the recommendations of the 148 made by the royal commission is a missed opportunity to do something of decency for the people that we purport to represent. This bill is no different, with its alterations from the original royal commission recommendations.

I want to deal with some of the evidence that we should be taking into account in the formation of the legislation. As I said, this royal commission cost taxpayers $200 million. It unearthed evidence of abuse, neglect, poor hygiene practices, ongoing workplace issues, labour shortages, poor wages, overworked carers and malnutrition. These are things that we have a responsibility to look at.

The royal commission found that the workforce was undervalued, understaffed, under-resourced and the workforce needed critical reform in the aged-care sector. It recommended better wages to ensure that workers are properly valued and to attract and retain new employees to the sector—and that is something the government has not only not responded to but completely ignored.

Fortunately my mother is not in aged care—she lives with us—but, if she were, I'm not sure that I would want her being looked after by someone whose only interest in the job was making a bare minimum, where maybe they couldn't get a job at McDonald's at the time, so 'I'll work in aged care.'

If you compare the wages of both, there's probably less care needed and less responsibility required to work in fast food than to look after someone in aged care. Yet the aged-care workers I've met, while, sure, they don't get paid much, actually care about people. This is what the royal commission found when it took its evidence—that, yes, they did care about people, that they were undervalued and that they were certainly underpaid. They weren't valued for what they're required to do. It's little wonder there's such a turnover in staff. Then, with the advent of COVID, we discovered that, to make a living, these people are working at more than one aged-care facility. They'll do shifts at some and half-shifts at others. We found out that we have a system that is dependent on people moving from one facility to another. It's not like you have carers whose fulltime responsibility is caring for people in one facility. As I said, this bill is a missed opportunity to address those issues.

The royal commission made comments and recommendations about staffing levels, but there has been no effort by the government to address the issue of staffing levels at all. If anything, our staffing structures don't even meet a three-star level of aged care. The royal commission took it upon itself to recommend investment in professional development and career paths for workers in that industry. Again, you won't find anything in this bill about any of that. It's just being left to those who run private aged-care facilities—the ones who are receiving the government's no-strings-attached $3.2 billion. So we're going to have hope, and probably pray a little, that they are going to do the right thing and look after people, rather than simply profit from this. There are no strings attached to that.

We have not valued the aged-care workers and home-care workers, who have been on the front line of this pandemic for the last 18 months. We have not shown them any care or treated them decently for what they have been through. We have a situation where not all of our aged-care workers are fully vaccinated yet. The Leader of the Opposition referred to aged-care facilities in his electorate and how a worker, in working in multiple facilities, brought COVID into aged-care facilities in his electorate and five people subsequently died. Surely we can do better than this. We can't be so penny-pinching in trying to cut back on everything, as the government was previously when it took $2 billion out of aged care and then had to face the ignominy of 21 reports. They could have avoided a royal commission if they had picked up some of the recommendations from those reports—the royal commissioners actually had a bit of a head start in looking at the issues in the sector—but none of that occurred. Those on the other side shouldn't think they can leave here, patting themselves on the back and saying: 'Haven't we done well. We've looked after aged care.'

We will always support anything that you opposite do to improve the sector, to improve the standard of aged care. But, if you're really serious about aged care, you've got to think about the people who are on the front line of aged care: the workers. I have a bit of an interest in this. My little brother happens to run one of the biggest unions in this space. He has a very clear view on this: if we are going to put our most vulnerable—those that we love—in the hands of others, shouldn't we value the ones we entrust them to for what they're going to do for us? That's a reflection on us.

This is, regrettably, a missed opportunity. I think the government should have done a lot better. As a matter of fact, I think there should have been more people in this chamber listening to these debates if they cared about aged care. In that respect, Deputy Speaker, I call your attention to the state of the house.