BILLS; Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill 2018, Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018; Second Reading

October 15, 2018

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (12:22): I quote:

In May last year I was asked to come to the nursing home to clean him. My husband was on the verandah outside. He was naked from the waist down, covered in his own faecal matter and in full view of other residents. He had been in that state for three hours.

That's a statement from Mrs Heather Mansell Brown, a very passionate advocate for aged-care reform. After several issues with regard to the substandard treatment that had been offered to her husband, Mrs Mansell Brown decided to take action over what she describes as 'systemic' problems facing aged care. I've chosen this extract not because any of us are proud of the current state of aged care but because I think it succinctly puts into perspective the dire situation currently faced by many elderly in our community.

It's stories like this that have moved me to raise my voice when it comes to the most vulnerable in our community, and this is what I intend to do today. Situations like this—the situation experienced by Mrs Mansell Brown—regrettably are not unique and are by no means one-off in the aged-care sector at the moment. I think we've all been moved by regular media stories concerning aged care and, in particular, the most recent investigative reporting conducted by ABC Four Corners into aged care, and I congratulate them for bringing this very much to the community's attention in the way they did. We've seen and heard about the Oakden facility in South Australia and, more recently, we've read about the Seaforth facility in Sydney's northern beaches. It certainly highlights the inappropriate care outcomes which have been afforded to elderly Australians today. For these reasons, I will be supporting the amendment. Should the amendment not proceed, we will support the bill because we see at least an effort going some way to addressing the integrity of the aged-care system.

In essence, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill 2018 establishes the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which will commence on 1 January 2019. The bill will give effect to one of the recommendations of the Carnell-Paterson report, which recommended bringing together the functions of the Aged Care Quality Agency and the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner. The new commission will be tasked with the most daunting of tasks—that is, to restore amongst aged-care consumers confidence in the delivery of aged-care services. Particularly I say that that's a daunting task given the current level of public concern. The new aged-care commission will provide a single point of contact for aged-care consumers and providers of aged care in relation to the quality of care and regulation. It will also be responsible for the accreditation, assessment and monitoring of aged-care services and Commonwealth funded aged-care providers, and for complaints handling. These aged-care services will include all facets of aged care: the aged-care service itself, residential home care, flexible care, Commonwealth home supported care and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program. The new commission will be led by a statutorily appointed commissioner who will be termed the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner. He or she will be advised by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Advisory Council. The terms will be up to five years. Hopefully that actually gives a measure of some certainty in terms of the regulatory aspects applying to aged care.

The second part of this cognate debate refers to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018, which provides for the administrative matters associated with the transfer of functions and operations from the existing authorities to the new commission. It also provides for the continuation of appointments of those engaged on the Aged Care Quality Advisory Council. They are essentially welcome aspects of this bill. They are matters that we would certainly support, but I have to say that we do so with some degree of caution.

The government has shown no willingness to work with this side of the House to undertake a bipartisan approach to aged care. These bills reinforce that this government, quite frankly, for some time now has had a very misplaced sense of priorities. To see this, one only has to look at the recent budget handed down by the government. The government have not put the best interests of older Australians front and centre, as they claim to do. In fact, they have done the exact opposite. This government sought to play a hoax on the Australian people, pretending to allocate more funds to aged care but in reality putting not one extra dollar into aged care—not one extra dollar throughout the budget or its processes. I remind the House that it was actually this Prime Minister who, as Treasurer, robbed the aged-care system of vital funding. In just his first term as Treasurer, this Prime Minister ripped almost $2 billion from aged care. That's $2 billion that ordinarily would have been targeted at care for older Australians.

They would like us all to think that they've changed, that they've taken a new approach. I wonder how they can do that, particularly when they were the government who put, front and centre, as their signature policy, not aged care but an $80 billion tax cut to the big end of town, to big business. That included, despite what's occurred in the banking royal commission, what would have been $17 billion of tax breaks for the big four banks. That's where they set their priorities.

Bear in mind that when we're talking about aged care we are talking about some of the most vulnerable in our community—people who require our help and people who, for most of us, are our loved ones. We want the best for older Australians. We think, when they have worked all their lives, paid their taxes and been good, model Australian citizens, they should know that they will be treated with care and dignity in their most senior years. But please keep this in mind: on top of the Abbott-Turnbull government's previous cuts to aged care, robbing billions over the last five years, we had the embarrassment that occurred in this current budget where Minister Wyatt, who I think is universally respected in this place, tried to sell the proposition that there was more money going into home care packages. Not even he seemed to realise that there was not one extra dollar going into aged care. What they did was take money out of residential aged care and put it into home care packages. It was the exact same figure. Not only was this a Treasury hoax played on the Australian public; regrettably, it was a hoax played on their own minister, who tried to argue that there was priority being given to home care packages, but didn't understand, regrettably, where the money came from. The money wasn't coming away from the banks or big business; the money was coming away from residential packages.

I think the Health Services Union—I must declare a little interest in this organisation, given that my brother is the general secretary of the Health Services Union—summed up the government's persistent attacks on aged care when they made a submission to the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport. This is what they said:

What is undisputed among providers, unions, consumer advocacy groups and residents is that cuts to aged care funding by consecutive federal governments are having a significant and adverse impact upon the provision of quality care to older Australians.

I think that's pretty right, particularly when you think that only recently Southern Cross Care in New South Wales and the ACT cut over 6,000 staffing hours from its rosters because of the government cuts to funding. With no reduction in residents, this means hundreds of older Australians have less care, less clinical support, and less support services such as kitchen and/or cleaning services due to the government stripping residential aged-care support in its current budget.

As we speak in the House today, this is happening all across aged care. Staff are increasingly working in unsafe workplaces, doing increasingly demanding work and increasingly spending longer time at work. Many of them are getting less pay than people who are working in our fast-food outlets. Can you imagine? People are looking after older Australians—changing their nappies, regrettably, and doing all that work, trying to show dignity and care—and many of them are getting paid less than the people who work at McDonald's! What sort of situation is that, using smoke and mirrors to move around a budget situation that robs money from some of the most deserving and vulnerable people in our communities? Putting politics aside, I think those of us in this place, with the privilege to be here and represent our communities—I think we've got to be a little bit more mature than that; we've got to understand the way we set our priorities. We simply can't fund the big end of town by attacking the most vulnerable. That's not what a smart government does, and it's not what a caring government does.

As I say, despite all the rhetoric in the lead-up to the last budget, with the government promising to put an extraordinary amount of new money into aged care—it simply did not occur. Those opposite like to tug at the heartstrings of the nation when they talk about aged care, but, when the rubber hits the road, they don't want to provide the funding. They've provided funding for just over 14,000 new home care packages over four years in this budget. Quite frankly, that's nothing but a cruel hoax, when you think of the number of people lining up at the moment for supported home packages. The government, quite frankly, needs to apologise for overpromising and underdelivering when it comes to its treatment of older Australians. The government now has a proven track record of underinvesting in aged care. The Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments have created the aged-care crisis. They have gone out of their way to ignore that crisis and they've failed to bring down a budget that does anything to fix the crisis.

While we support the government's recent announcement of a royal commission into the abuse and cover-ups in the aged-care sector, we should not forget the damage to aged care that has occurred under this coalition government. The government cannot wait for the royal commission to finish before it starts trying to fix the problems that it has created in the aged-care system. Those opposite should stop looking after friends and big business and pay attention to the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. (Time expired)