BILLS; Aged Care (Single Quality Framework) Reform Bill 2018; Second Reading

June 20, 2018

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (16:47): Mr Deputy Speaker:

You had to watch residents being abused by staff and know that even if it was reported, nothing would be done because they couldn't do without the staff member. People were lying in wet beds for hours on end because there were not enough staff to change them.

That's an extract from a recent survey, conduct by the Health Services Union's New South Wales branch, entitled 'Your Story'. I've chosen to utilise this extract to open the debate on this bill not because I'm proud of the current state of the aged-care sector but because I believe it succinctly puts into perspective the dire situation faced by many elderly Australians around the country today. It's stories like this that lead me to raise a voice for vulnerable Australians in what this House is doing this afternoon, although I do note the absence of many who want to contribute on the other side.

The Aged Care (Single Quality Framework) Reform Bill before us essentially makes a single set of aged-care quality standards that will apply to all aged-care providers under the Aged Care Act. As a consequence, the bill also varies the functions of the chief executive officer of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency to reference the Aged Care Quality Standards. The implementation of the Aged Care Quality Standards will replace the separate existing standards applicable to residential, home care and flexible care services.

Situations like the one I recounted earlier are not unique. Media stories we hear on a regular basis, such as that of the Oakden facility in South Australia, highlight the inappropriate care outcomes facing many elderly Australians. It is for this reason that we will be supporting the passage of this bill today. We welcome the uniformity of a single set of aged-care standards and the shift towards quality outcomes for consumers rather than providers. However, we do so with some caution. We're not going to allow the community to be fooled into thinking that this government has a genuine care about elderly Australians because, if they did genuinely care about elderly Australians, you wouldn't have had to wait for two years after the 2015-16 budget for these measures to be introduced. In addition, the government has shown no willingness to work with our side of the House. It is not seeking to have a bipartisan position. At no stage has the government consulted the shadow minister prior to even introducing the legislation before us now. It shows that they are not determined to have a bipartisan approach adopted when it comes to aged care.

This bill reinforces that this government has misplaced priorities; you only have to take a look at the most recent budget handed down by the government. The government has not put the best interests of older Australians front and centre. It has, in fact, done the opposite. It has been said by many speakers before me that this government really has played a hoax on older Australians, pretending to allocate more funding to aged care when, in reality, as the government knows, not one single extra dollar was put into aged care. What they did in the budget was merge two line items—one for aged-care facilities and one for home care—and say, 'This is the injection of new funds.' I felt very sorry for the minister. Whether they told him or not before budget day, I'm not quite sure. He is a minister who has a good reputation among all of us. Trying to sell an approach that he wouldn't have known about then was completely wrong. Not one extra cent went into aged care.

On top of this, keep in mind the Abbott-Turnbull government's previous cuts to aged care that robbed the industry of billions of dollars. We've had an MPI debate only today that largely centred around the Prime Minister's view about aged-care workers and what sort of tax entitlements they would be entitled to compared to what tax benefits a millionaire would get. I think it was particularly offensive—and I saw many of those opposite put their heads down when he said it—that he said that maybe they could aspire get a better job. Resulting out of his comments in that regard, my brother—who is, by the way, the general secretary of the Health Services Union—wrote: 'In Mr Turnbull's world, your worth is measured by your earning power, not the difference you make to people's lives. The aged-care workers I know are deeply caring and empathetic people who are driven not by money but the desire to make older people's lives better. Of course, thanks to Mr Turnbull and his government's savage cuts to aged-care funding, this job is so ridiculously underpaid and getting harder every day.' Whilst my brother might be a trade union official, I think he probably echoes the view of many workers in the healthcare industry, who we come to rely on but we all know are hopelessly underpaid at the moment.

While all this is going on and while they're not putting one extra dollar into aged care, they are absolutely committed to giving big business a $80 billion tax cut—and to big banks. We all know the view that they have taken for the last couple of years on a royal commission into banking. As the royal commission starts to roll out its findings, the government know what's happening in the financial sector, but the big banks are still going to get a $17 billion tax cut—and yet we cannot find enough money to put in to cater for elderly Australians. I think that says much about their misplaced priorities. Thinking about trickle-down economics, all that is wonderful, but I am sure people who represent the Liberal and National Party side have elderly Australians in their electorates too. I am sure they have people in their communities whose relatives care about getting the best care they can, whether it is in residential care or in-home care or from flexible care services. We too share that. I think those opposite should be more committed to the people who have contributed so much of their lives for the betterment of our country, have paid their taxes and have been ideal model Australians in their older years. They are going to be subject to this cruel hoax of being told that the government is investing more in health care only to find out there's not a dollar more going in.

I will quote again from the Health Services Union, which summed up the ramifications of the government's persistent attack on the healthcare sector. The union 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.

That's not something this parliament should be proud of. We should be doing better. It is now clear that in the build-up to the last budget there was a bit of fanfare. There wasn't much in that budget that wasn't leaked out in advance. Maybe that's a modern political tactic—I'm not sure. But there was plenty that went out about aged care. The government promised much and delivered little. They over promised and underdelivered. That's not the way to actually satisfy a healthcare sector. It's not the way to satisfy those who are prepared to invest in a healthcare sector. I think those businesses do it very tough too. The ones I know, particularly in my community, are there and, it's true, they have a profit motive. But they are there to deliver services as best they can to elderly Australians.

At a doorstop a few days before the Treasurer brought down his budget, the health minister said:

It's going to be a very good budget for health and aged care in particular.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. So, whether or not he knew—I'm sure, as a senior cabinet minister, he would have known what the provision was—the reality is that it was not there. The government decided to fan up speculation about it and failed to deliver. You could put that down to political spin or whatever. Maybe it's just contemporary politics—I don't know. But to do that at the expense of elderly Australians, people who probably are the most vulnerable in our communities, I think is just thoroughly reprehensible.

The funding of 14,000 new home care packages over four years is a cruel hoax, quite frankly. I can only think of my own electorate. Mine is not a rich electorate. It's very multicultural and is one we are very proud of. I know how significant aged care is in my electorate. I attended the opening of the AVACS aged-care centre only a few weeks ago—AVACS being the Australian Vietnamese Aged Care Services. We are seeing what is occurring even in multicultural communities. I know the strain that the aged-care sector is under. I know the providers are seriously working hard to deliver for residents and cater for people in care, but we can do better by ensuring that the appropriate resources and finance go in to ensure they can deliver better services to their clients and residents. The Turnbull government's poor implementation of its own home care reforms and funding cuts to the aged-care budget are hurting older Australians.

The government's response to older Australians is an insult. It does nothing to address the aged-care crisis, which has effectively been created under their watch. The government has a proven track record of cutting funding and underinvesting in aged care. The Turnbull government has created an aged-care crisis. It has ignored the very crisis it created. And now it has brought down a budget which fails to address, in even a small way, the nature of that crisis.

This government has not shown much compassion for older Australians. We have a government that expects Australians to work longer—to work until they are 70 years of age. We have a government that has taken away the energy supplement for over two million Australians, of whom 400,000 are aged pensioners. Despite what then Prime Minister Abbott had to say about there being no cuts to pensions, we have seen a continual erosion of the dollar value of the pension and of what people can live on in their older age.

I would strongly suggest that we all have a responsibility to ensure quality aged-care services are available to all Australians of senior years, to ensure that there is a real and positive change in this sector. If you cannot spend enough time and resources to look after elderly Australians—Australians who have contributed so much to this country—then I think it is not only a reflection that we have failed; it is a reflection on all of us that we have failed to address appropriate priorities whilst having the honour of representing our communities in parliament.

I call on this government to reverse its continued attacks on the aged-care sector. This government should stop taking care of its friends at the big end of town and, for once, ensure that care and resourcing is directed to the most vulnerable Australians, and, in this instance, I would suggest, the most vulnerable of all are elderly Australians.