Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (19:03): Deputy Speaker Claydon, I, like many others, add my congratulations to your elevation to that position. The address-in-reply by Governor-General David Hurley is good reading. It was good to listen to, and I listened to it intently. I’d like to thank him for that contribution. It’s obviously a document prepared on government advice on what the government intends to do over the election period.
It seemed to me as though they were very keen to fix a myriad of problems. But I’m not all that confident that they’ve got all the solutions on actually how to deliver on those problems, because many of them are deep seated and are not easy to fix. We should not suppose that governments have a magic wand. Largely, they resort to one wand: extra money; more money. But you cannot assume that money is the only solution. There are a number of areas that I’ll come to in a moment where, in the past, money doesn’t seem to have been the solution. It comes at a cost to the rest of the economy, and I think there are deeper reforms that need to be made in many cases.
If we take aged care, for instance, and that features quite strongly in the Governor-General’s address, obviously the government are passionate about aged care, and I believe the coalition are passionate about aged care. Certainly, I am. I am very passionate about the challenge of rural delivery of aged care, which comes at a higher cost, it must be said. During our time in government we increased the regional and remote area allowance for residential aged care. I don’t think we’ve increased it enough, I don’t think we’ve met that divide yet, but certainly we put extra money towards it, and I hope that the government will continue to address this area.
I have a number of regional nursing homes on my patch that are really struggling to make the sums work. In fact, where we have major statewide institutions delivering in regional facilities, their metropolitan operations are propping up the country facilities at the moment. It’s largely a problem with the supply of the workforce, but also with the supply of the materials needed to provide aged care. Construction costs are higher; food costs are higher. All of those things are built into it.
We increased the subsidies in designated areas for registered nurses in Modified Monash Model 4 and above. It all helps, but we still have shortages. This is a very interesting number: when we took government in 2013, we took the number of homecare packages from less than 60,000 to more than 200,000. We more than tripled the number, and yet there is still a demand for more homecare packages. In overall terms, when we came to government in 2013, the budget for aged care was $13.3 billion. In 2022, it’s $29.8 billion—well more than double. It comes back to my point that the government cannot just think, because they are in government, that money is a magic wand. Clearly, despite the fact we more than doubled the input into aged care over our nine years in government, it hasn’t fixed all the problems. We had a royal commission that told us it hasn’t fixed all the problems. I believe there is a case for reform as well as finance.
As for promising higher pay for the aged-care sector, the government are committed to providing higher wages. This is a good thing. I certainly won’t argue about that. They’re allocating more hours per customer, but it will come at a cost. It will come out of the budget somewhere, and somewhere down the track the Treasurer, I’m sure, will explain how that is going to be paid for.
One of the areas that I am concerned about is the government’s commitment to put a registered nurse on every shift in every residential facility. That’s what the Governor-General’s speech says. I wonder whether the government is aware how many small facilities there are around Australia, particularly in rural Australia, where we have 10 and 12 beds in a nursing-home facility. In the seat of Grey, I would have to admit that a number of these were operated by the state government and came about when we used to build hostels in proximity to hospitals. They came under common management, by the good judgement of the community at the time. And then a Labor government—you could have guessed that, I suppose—took over all of those hospitals and their facilities and got rid of their hospital boards, and so it inherited this small aged-care system in places. Perhaps the new government intends to make the state governments fund those registered nurses on every shift. But I can tell you, in the small facilities, it will be an enormous extra cost to their operating systems at the moment. If the government is going to insist on this outcome, I insist that the government finds the money to pay these registered nurses and then explains where it’s going to find the registered nurses from. There has been talk of importing registered nurses. Once again, I think that might be one of those things that are easier to say than to do, but I look forward to the government’s work in that area.
In Whyalla, I have a specific issue. Last year, Kindred Living, a community operated and owned facility, were forced to close one of their three nursing homes, Annie Lockwood, primarily because they couldn’t staff it. Some of the costs of its operation are due to its layout at the time it was built, the 1970s. Things are done differently now. It was built for low-care delivery. Kindred Living were forced to close it. They were overwhelmed by the responsibility of running the two remaining facilities and sought someone to come in from outside and take over. I and many others absolutely welcomed the fact that Helping Hand, the Catholic based organisation, came in. They have taken on a 12-month contract, with a view to making that a permanent position in Whyalla and keeping the two other facilities open. We’re short of beds in Whyalla as a result of the closure of that one facility. But that’s been a good outcome. The previous government provided some millions of dollars to them to bring that facility up to standard. I’m very grateful for that. Now they are in the position of having to make a decision about whether they should continue. We’re well aware that we need at least $20 million worth of investment—probably more. We need to build a new wing on the Yeltana facility. We need to get rid of the shared rooms; we certainly need to get rid of the shared bathrooms. In this post-COVID world, the idea of shared bathrooms in aged-care facilities is pretty much last week’s newsletter.
During the election campaign I was very pleased to obtain a commitment from the previous government to provide $10 million to Helping Hand to bring about this capital investment and to secure their long-term management of the Whyalla facilities. I’m fully aware that the current government did not match that commitment, so I can’t say they’re breaking any promises, but I have spoken to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler. This is incredibly urgent. There is a round of designated funding for capital works in November. I have no idea whether that will go ahead or not under the new government. But we can’t wait that long. So I’m asking the minister to step in and make the same commitment we did during the campaign, to make sure that we secure Helping Hand, long term, to operate first-class services for the people of Whyalla. Without them, we have no management, and without management we have no aged-care capacity in Whyalla, full stop—a community of around 22,000 people. I bring that to the attention of the House, and I will continue to bring it to the attention of the Minister for Health and Aged Care.
In the Governor-General’s speech, he reaffirmed the government’s commitment to implementing the Uluru statement. If the government wants support for changes to the Constitution—and I think they should be required—I think the public will require that it tell them what those changes to the Constitution will do in practical terms. I don’t think the public will vote for a pig in a poke; I don’t think they will vote for something that they do not understand. If a referendum question is put to me and I don’t understand the outcomes of the question, I won’t be voting for it either. So the government has a lot of work to do to tell us how the voice to parliament will work. How will it be delivered? How will the voice communicate its message to the parliament? I think this will be one of the most difficult issues, as I found when I consulted with Ken Wyatt’s committee and those people who were drawing it up. Very importantly, how will the people who provide the voice to parliament be elected or appointed? As someone that has a significantly large Indigenous population and a large footprint of South Australia in my electorate, we are far from reaching a cohesive position between the different Aboriginal nations that sit within my seat. Even within their communities, they do not always provide a cohesive voice. So finding a few individuals who are going to represent the disparate families and groupings around Australia—nation groupings, if you like—I think is going to be one of the great challenges. I think it’s one of the questions that the government needs to answer before it puts forward its proposal to change the Constitution.
Finally, what requirement does the parliament have to actually respond to that voice? In fact, I think the government also needs to explain what about the current system is failing when, in this parliament, 11 members of the 227 are Indigenous. That’s 4.8 per cent of the current parliament. The Indigenous population of Australia makes up 3.2 per cent. I think the government should also explain why that is a failing. In fact, I think we should be dancing in the streets, quite frankly. We have reached this point of over-representation in the current parliament, across all parties. Aboriginal people are well represented within this parliament. They won’t all agree, but then it must be said that the rest of us don’t all agree a lot of the time. Not all the middle-aged white males in this place agree on issues of substance all the time—or any other grouping that you care to pick out. The fact that 11 of the current parliament are Indigenous is something that should be celebrated. It has occurred under our existing Constitution, so the need for the change in the Constitution at all is a case that I think the government will have to make.
One of the other issues raised in the Governor-General’s address is climate change and the government’s intention to legislate the 43 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030. Firstly, I do not like the inference that sits in the government’s claims that somehow the previous government was asleep at the wheel. It’s just not right. We’ve had a 23 per cent reduction on emissions since 2005. Not many other nations in the world can better that. There are a few. We beat our Kyoto 1 commitments and our Kyoto 2 commitments. We’re on track to exceed our Paris commitments by 2030, which was the 26 per cent, and, it might be said, well exceed them.
We have the biggest uptake of rooftop solar in the world. We’ve had construction levels on wind and solar up to, I think, four times as great as the next highest per capita nation in the world. So to somehow say the coalition were asleep at the wheel is just plain wrong.
I’m not opposed to a 43 per cent target. I think it’s a good idea. Let’s do it if it works. But I think we have to question how seriously many other nations in the world are taking their commitments in this area. I’m amazed at the chasm between the statements that were made in Glasgow last year and the actions since of the nations that made those statements. They’ve been opening up coal-fired power stations that have been in mothballs. They are building new coal-fired power stations around the world and new gas power stations and other things. It seems to me that many of these nations have made these statements knowing full well that the politicians of the day that make the statements will not be responsible for meeting the time line or the published emission line because they won’t be there when that time line is reached. That’s why I’m opposed to legislating 43 per cent. I’m not opposed to getting to 43 per cent.
I think we should all be aware that China is increasing its emissions each year by more than Australia’s total emissions. Each year it is increasing them. And yet we have a commitment from China that they are going to stabilise on a factor of units per GDP by 2030. But, of course, their economy is going to keep growing and so will their emissions keep growing under that scenario. That is about as clear as mud, quite frankly, and I don’t think the general public understand the implications of that.
My question about legislating the 43 per cent is: why would you legislate something that might clearly become the wrong target as we go along if we find that we’re losing our manufacturing industry out of Australia? This document here, the Governor-General’s speech, actually talks about jobs and skills and expanding our manufacturing base in Australia. I can guarantee you we will not expand our manufacturing base in Australia if our energy costs exceed those of our competitors at an increasing rate. If our competitors are not going to take notice of their commitments and the commitments of the rest of the world, that’s exactly what will happen. We can hope for a good outcome, and a good outcome will be if the new renewable energy sources are cheaper than the current fossil fuel sources. That will be a great outcome, and that’s when I will be applauding for the target, and we will go for it. Don’t hold back! But if we find that we’re losing our manufacturing industry and if we find that we’re losing our jobs, maybe we ought to have a rethink about where we are, and if it’s enshrined in legislation it becomes infinitely more difficult than if it were not. I’m looking forward to that debate in the coming days.
In closing, the other things in the Governor-General’s speech that drew my attention are the things that weren’t in it. I heard nothing, for instance, of the continued investment in our road and rail infrastructure in Australia. I have to say that the last number of years under the coalition government have been extraordinary in this area. We are cutting the costs for our industries and making them more competitive on a worldwide basis. I would have liked to hear what the new government will do about that, but it was silent. I come from a part of Australia where, sadly, we have one doctor in the area in which I live. That is one permanent doctor for 3,000 people. The complete failure of the system to deliver doctors into regional Australia is killing people. There’s not a word on that issue in there.
Agriculture: it’s said that Australia rides on the sheep’s back. It probably no longer does that, but I could tell you agriculture is a pretty big industry in Australia and it employs a lot of people. At the moment, our people are petrified that the government is not moving quickly enough to keep foot-and-mouth disease out of Australia. I listened to the minister’s remarks, and I’m assured by them, but the problem is that people are ringing my office all the time, saying, ‘I just walked in from Bali and no-one said boo.’ That’s our concern at the moment—not what the government has said it will do—but it needs to happen. But that’s an aside to the general issue that I was talking about—that this document is silent on agriculture.
I look forward to working with the government on the legislation to come, including legislation on most of the issues I have talked about, and I will be speaking to those when they come up.