Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (11:52): Let me start off by thanking those who work in aged care. We’ve had a royal commission. It was necessary. But there is no doubt it’s a two-edged sword, and it has attacked the morale and confidence of those who work in aged care. As I move around my electorate, I drop in to aged-care facilities quite regularly and meet with these people. Sure—I fully accept that there have been some bad operators and some bad people operating in the system, but by and large we are overwhelmed by people of good intent, with a good heart, who give their absolute best to the care of our elderly. I think the fact that 99.1 per cent of residential aged-care workers nationally have been vaccinated is a pretty clear indication of how much they value their job and their clients. Thank you to each and every one of them, and I’m sorry if adverse publicity has detracted from your pride in your job. We need to do everything we can to reverse that.
Aged care is a fast-changing field. I first came onto a hospital board in the 1980s, in my small town of Kimba. A decision had been made in the past to amalgamate the hospital and aged-care hostel boards and so the aged-care hostel became the responsibility of that particular board. At that time, a lady came in—I think she was about 65 or 66 when she came in. She was a resident for almost 30 years, and she used to check out for a couple of weeks every year to go home to cook for the shearers, to help the boys out. Boy, things have changed when it comes to getting into aged care now! The point I make about that is that the facilities that we built 30 years ago are no longer, in many cases, appropriate for the clientele who are coming into aged care now. That’s a figure that I think is worth dwelling on. When we came to government in 2013 there were fewer than 60,000 home-care packages in Australia. There has been plenty of criticism of the government along the way: ‘Why don’t you have more home-care packages?’ We are now closing in on 200,000 packages. So, we can talk about why there were only 60,000 when we came to government, but it is changing. And of course those home-care packages are part of why people are coming into aged care now.
I think the expectancy of the time someone will live in residential care is around 13 months. That is because when they’re coming into residential care they are more needy of more care; they are further along the ageing process, if you like. And the home-care packages are a great thing; they are fantastic. They are good for the taxpayer, of course, but they are particularly good for the clients. If I live long enough to contemplate getting old, I certainly hope that I can do it in my own house, but there may come a time when I can’t. It’s also worth noting that funding in aged care is a remarkable figure. In real terms, federal funding for aged care has more than doubled since 2013, and that was before the $17 billion that was put in at the last budget. That’s an astonishing figure. Whether or not we’re getting full value for money is I guess a fair argument, when there’s been that kind of increase in funding. But there’s certainly been no lack of commitment from the federal government to divert resources into this sector.
In my electorate, we’ve been through a particularly difficult time in Whyalla in regard to residential care. All the residential care in Whyalla comes from an organisation called Kindred Living, which is a community based aged-care system. They also deliver a lot of the home-care packages. They have three facilities: Yeltana, Copperhouse Court and Annie Lockwood Court. They were recently forced to close Annie Lockwood. It’s been a really tough pill for the community. We’re short of beds in Whyalla now as a result. There was accommodation for a little over 50 there. That facility was closed because they could not get enough registered nurses to staff it safely. They just could not with clear mind keep it open, and neither could they continue to be licensed. So, the crunch has really come, with a shortage— (Quorum formed) Owing to the fairly childish and disruptive tactics of those opposite, I shall not be able to finish the story of Annie Lockwood and the particular difficulties facing the Whyalla community at the time, and I think that is a bit sad. But I shall move on, because of that lost time.
There are six sections to the second tranche of this legislation, addressing the recommendations of the royal commission. One of the major complaints I hear when I go to these aged-care facilities is the complexity and time taken in filling out the ACFI, or the Aged Care Funding Instrument. Last year, in April, we introduced a new assessment tool and, now that assessment tool has been embedded, this bill links that tool to the payment system. The general advice I’m getting back is that after the teething issues it will work better. It includes an extra $10 a day to the basic subsidy, which is costing the Australian taxpayers $3.2 billion over the next five years. There is another $3.9 billion to increase direct care to residents. That has been welcomed and should take the pressure off a number of organisations and allow them to have a longer-term planning phase, particularly when it comes to capital investments. I applaud those moves.
The second piece of legislation, or the second standard within it, sets up an assessment scheme which facilitates the screening of prospective workers and will eventually allow for the registration of approved workers. This will replace the police assessment. I think that is entirely appropriate. Obviously, we need to keep bad people, who don’t have the right attitudes, out of aged care. One of the things I often say is that, while we have 700,000 or so people in Australia on working age payments, aged care is not for everyone. I think you need a particular personality—you certainly need to be caring, loving and understanding. I don’t know that all of us are well adapted for that. It’s very important. I praised the aged-care workers when I started this contribution. To work in aged care, you need a vocational commitment. You need a commitment to people. You need a commitment to outcomes. You need to love people, as the fallback position. They are the kinds of people we want.
Tranche 3 takes the next obvious step of banning bad workers. Those who have offended in the past will have a black mark put against their name and they will be deregistered. I bring to the House’s attention a case that has been discussed here before. It’s to do with a home-care disability worker. I allow that this is disability and not aged care, but there is a correlation, which I will refer to later in this speech. It’s the story of Ann-Marie Smith in South Australia, whose in-home care worker completely neglected her. She has been found guilty of manslaughter. The DSP provider has been fined and banned. That is right and appropriate. It’s just sad that it’s in retrospect rather than in prospect. The banning of bad people is a given. That will be allowed for in this legislation.
This legislation also extends serious incident reporting to home care. That’s where Ann-Marie Smith was—in home care. Serious incident reporting was introduced in April for residential care; we are now extending it to home care, for obvious reasons. There are 200,000 people in Australia that are receiving home care at the moment. As a comparison, there are 335,000 in residential care. These are good and appropriate moves. This strengthens provider governance, ensuring primary obligations are to the customer, to transparency and to accountability—a superior culture, if you like—and it involves providers making an annual statement.
Tranche 6 is about information sharing, and that comes back to the case I referred to previously, that of Ann-Marie Smith. Those organisations who are working in aged care, in veterans care and in disability care will share their information, because we certainly don’t want disreputable, deregistered workers moving from one sphere of caregiving to another. We want them right out of the system, thank you very much. That’s what this legislation will allow for, and it is right and appropriate.
Tranche 7 allows for greater prudential supervision. It is no secret that aged care can be expensive. Firstly, it’s expensive, full stop, but, secondly, it’s expensive to the individual, particularly those with assets. People put up consumer bonds or resident bonds when they move into these residential places, and it’s absolutely right that they should know the bonds are being managed correctly and, when they leave, either by their own good judgement or by the will of the Lord, the bonds are able to be retained or returned to the family. This will also ensure that the bonds can be returned to them if they choose to shift residence. These rules will make sure there is greater supervision, and it will also tip off the department in an earlier fashion when an organisation is heading for trouble. Every warning sign we can have in this area has to be an advantage.
To come back to my final points: as we approach the time when we’re reopening Australian borders—I talked about that pool of unemployed people in Australia and how, maybe, they’re not so adaptable to aged care—I think we’ve got to seriously look at bringing a great number of aged-care workers into Australia. If we’re going to look after our aged properly, we need to make sure we’ve got the staff available, so we don’t see any more closures of places like Annie Lockwood across the nation simply because they can’t find the staff.