HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 14 FEBRUARY 2022
Two words sum up the challenge of aged care: neglect and respect. Neglect is the title of the interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which found widespread failures in the aged-care system under the Morrison government. Respect is what aged-care workers have not seen from this government. This government is constantly attacking workers, and never more so than when it comes to aged-care workers. I commend the member for Corangamite for bringing on this critical motion at this vital time.
Here in Canberra Nicole Butler was reported in the Canberra Times as having been unable to visit her mother, a resident at Warrigal Stirling, for nearly a month because of the COVID outbreak.
Sometimes she's not showered, or she's hasn't been changed on a regular basis. And so when I'm in there I have to do those things. I have to take care of her because the staff are run off their feet.
That story is common in many aged-care centres across Australia. This isn't a crisis that has suddenly snuck up on us. It was even in the pre-COVID era. Alex Reid's mother, Nancy, worked alongside Edward 'Weary' Dunlop to care for returned soldiers after World War II. Alex said that he had to supply incontinence pads because there weren't enough available in the aged-care centre and when he looked at her oxygen he realised that it hadn't been connected properly. He, as a trained scuba-diving instructor, was then asked to do training for the aged-care staff in that centre. He was happy to do it, but he shouldn't have had to. That training should have been there.
In the recent omicron wave all residential aged-care facilities in Canberra have registered COVID cases and there have been six deaths reported. The ACT Health team and Canberra Health Services have responded remarkably well to those pressures, but they have been dealing with a situation that has been made worse by the neglect of the Morrison government, by the failure of the vaccine rollout and by the failure of the booster rollout. We know that there are 80,000 residents awaiting their booster and that, if more had been boostered, we might not have seen more than 400 COVID aged care deaths in January.
Lack of access to rapid antigen tests impacted aged care because it made it so much more difficult for visitors to check their COVID status before they visited. Workers in the aged-care sector have described it as a ‘war zone’. What did the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services do? He went to the cricket for three days. This minister follows in the footsteps of Bronwyn Bishop, who had to step down as aged care minister in 2002 over the kerosene baths scandal. So while the member opposite pretends that aged care has been an issue the coalition has always stood for, in the end he admits that John Howard said that he didn't want to put any more money into the sector. That is the attitude of the Liberals when it comes to aged care.
We need to clear the home-care package waiting list. Over recent years, tens of thousands of people have died while waiting for a home-care package. We need better workforce conditions, better wages for staff and better training for staff in the aged-care sector. The Productivity Commission found that the average wait for a home-care package was 28 months. The government's marginal increase in the number of packages fell massively short of what was required. We have aged-care staff who are living in poverty because the wages they are receiving are less than what they might receive for stacking shelves in retail, worthy as that job is. We have reports of physical abuse, neglect and malnutrition being rampant throughout the aged-care sector. We have, as a result of the omicron wave, an impact on the sector which is worse than they have ever seen before.
This is a sector in crisis, and it needs more than short-term, stop-gap, attempted solutions from the Morrison government. Yes, it is important to call on the Australian Defence Force to do what it can to assist, but let's not pretend that that is a sustainable, ongoing solution to the systemic problems in aged care. They must be fixed, and the only way they will be fixed is under an Albanese Labor government.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.