Mr RAMSEY (Grey–Government Whip) (17:11): I rise to speak on the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill 2018 and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018. Aged care is not always perfect, but it is our job here to make it as near to perfect as possible: for our grandparents, for our parents and even, might I say, eventually, hopefully, for ourselves. They, that being our parents and our grandparents-and hopefully us, by the time we get there-deserve our respect. They’ve earned it. They’ve built the world in which we live.
Aged care, though, will be an ongoing challenge for governments for virtually as long as governments exist. The intergenerational reviews have clearly mapped out the ageing of the Australian population and the demands that will be placed on the taxpayers’ dollars going forward. Regardless of that demand and just how difficult it is for us to meet as a nation, we do have to meet it; we are obligated to do so. It is one of the reasons, of course-and I won’t get onto this, but the Prime Minister has been saying it quite clearly-why we need to have a strong economy: we need to ensure that we can care for our aged sector, for those who have built this nation, in an appropriate manner. Regardless of how we do that, we need to make sure that good quality infrastructure exists where it is needed and, more importantly, that within that good quality infrastructure there is good quality care: the love, the consideration, the respect and the first-class medical and hotel services that our aged sector deserve.
Events in the recent past have turbocharged change in the aged-care sector, most notably in my home state of South Australia with the tragedy, the debacle and the disgrace that surrounded the Oakden nursing home, which was a state government owned and operated facility. It was engulfed in scandal when it was found that the facility was guilty of institutionalised abuse. In fact, residents were, at times, not fed for what was deemed to be poor behaviour. That is beyond belief. It is appalling. Mercifully, that place is now shut. Unfortunately, I think we can be fairly sure that the behaviour that was so bad at the Oakden facility is not confined to just that one facility in Australia. There will be echoes of Oakden found elsewhere.
Before I go on I want to put in a plug for aged-care workers, particularly those in my electorate of Grey. I have visited many nursing homes and facilities over the years, and I can’t remember a facility where I was not impressed by the strong dedication of the staff and by their care for the residents. When I spoke to the residents, they seemed to almost unanimously speak about what a wonderful place they lived in. The infrastructure is generally good. Often it is excellent, and I’m very pleased to have been to a number of facilities to mark the fact that the Commonwealth has made considerable contributions to enhancing and expanding those facilities. So often it’s excellent. Sometimes, though, it is tired and in need of rejuvenation, undoubtedly. But I’ve found that even in these facilities, pretty much without exception, the staff have had that same loving, caring, respectful dedication to their job. But can I guarantee that every staff member and every facility is doing exactly that? Of course I can’t. In fact, if there is one bad apple in the barrel, that’s one too many. So I’m hopefully going to find in this royal commission that the facilities in my electorate largely live up to the plug that I’ve given them. I’ll be somewhat surprised if they don’t.
When I do receive complaints to my office from families that are not happy with facilities, I obviously go to every degree to try and find out exactly what has happened, where fault might lie and what is being done to make sure that those issues are assessed. Sometimes there are two sides to the story, as all of us that come to this place would know. We have to be careful when we’re making allegations, particularly any public allegations, that we know what we’re talking about. But I work through those situations when they are brought to my attention. I have one that I’m working on at the moment.
To come to this bill, the government’s aim is to ensure the system is the best that it can be. The bill repeals the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency Act 2013 and the transitional provisions related to that act. The bill amends the Aged Care Act 1997 in order to establish the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and the commissioner to have a one-stop shop, as it were, to ramp up and give more power to this organisation so we can root out any transgressions that are in the system. Hopefully they will not be many. I’m pretty confident there won’t be many. But I’m fully aware there were 5,000 submissions to the scoping study.
The aim, simply, is to do better than we have ever done before to make the system the best it has ever been. I’m very hopeful that this commission and commissioner will help bring about whatever change is needed to bring about that outcome. I congratulate the minister. He is a very fine gentleman and I think he’s doing a very good job. One of the fundamental changes that he’s made to the system is to alter the reporting and registration system for home care packages so that for the first time a national government actually knows what the real demand is for home care packages.
It is interesting that when I hear the criticisms from across the chamber, the member for Braddon most recently, they know full well that when they were in government they didn’t know either what the real demand was for home care packages. It’s taken courage for the minister to bring that forward and put it on the table, because now he’s getting criticism for not immediately filling that backlog. He’s had the strength. He knew what was coming. Our mate Ken’s been around the system for a while. He knew very well that this was an understated and unrecognised demand in the system. He’s had the gumption to get up and put it on the table and then to go to cabinet and get some extra finance to do something about it-$1.6 billion in the last budget. That’s $1.6 billion for 14,000 new home care packages, which will take us to 74,000 by 2022. That’s an outstanding result. Well done to him.
As he knows, I know and you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Howarth, there is more to be done, because there is still this backlog that this new system has established. He’s done other things as well. Very recently he announced the $40 billion funding available for infrastructure grants for nursing homes, and certainly across my electorate there’s been quite a bit of interest in that. In fact, as has been stated in this place, we have, at this stage, record funding for aged care in Australia-record funding.
I know there is a criticism from the other side that keeps coming up: ‘You’ve cut; you’ve cut; you’ve cut.’ I don’t know what it is about mathematics which suggests a record is not more than we’ve ever had before. A record, by its very definition, means this is the most money that has ever gone into the system. It’s not less; it’s more. It’s because we are running a strong economy. As I said earlier, I’m not going to give you a long lecture on the economy, but the turnaround has been quite stark, I think, over the last three years or so. It’s really picking up a head of steam. It’s taking a while to get to my home state-we had a few other issues we had to deal with-but I think it’s even starting to filter through there. We’re looking forward to MYEFO when it comes around. Certainly the result that came out of last year’s budget, the $8 billion improvement, was very good. It gives the government the flexibility to do things about some of these long-term problems, and that’s what we’ve been doing.
Now we’re having the aged-care royal commission, which the Prime Minister announced last week, to shine the light in. Once again, this is a brave move and not unlike the minister’s move, because when a royal commission reports there is some kind of obligation, or at least a public expectation, that the government will act on that royal commission and not just ignore the incredible amount of work that a royal commission does in a certain area. I will be looking forward to that report. I’m hopeful that the task will not be as great as some might imagine, but it may well be. It may well be a huge impost on future governments. But, as I said at the beginning of this contribution, whatever it will be it will be, and we’re going to have to meet it. So, with this bill, the minister is putting the blowtorch, if you like, to aged care and making sure that the sector is actually delivering what it is being paid to do. It is being paid by the taxpayer and subsidised by the taxpayer to deliver first-class aged care. We have to make sure that it is doing that, and that’s what the new commissioner will do.
In closing, before I run out of time, I’ll return to a subject that I’ve touched on in this place before. Peterborough is a town of around about 2,000 people in my electorate. In it’s day, like a number of other communities, it had an aged-care hostel that had its own management. Like many other towns, including the one that I come from, we in our wisdom, in the eighties, amalgamated the hospital boards and the aged-care facility boards. It made sense because there are a lot of genuine cross-benefits and a lot of things that you can share. It worked very well until the previous state government in South Australia, which had 16 years at the helm and was thrown out last March, decided that we didn’t need hospital boards anymore, and all of us who were on those boards were made redundant. The previous state government inherited a whole swag of aged-care facilities and, as state governments don’t see them as their prime responsibility, over the years it didn’t reinvest in those facilities. In fact, their ownership arrangements now make it quite difficult for those particular facilities to access Commonwealth funds when it comes to infrastructure grants.
This is an ongoing issue in Peterborough, in Cummins and in a number of other communities that I could name. We are at the stage where we need serious reinvestment. I’ve asked the minister to look at this closely. We’ve got a new minister in South Australia. I’ve asked him to look at it as well to see if we can come up with a way-an ownership model or a way of making sure that the bid is adapted to fit the rules-to find some Commonwealth support for these small communities. I can tell you: a town of 1,000 or 1,200 people doesn’t need a 65-bed nursing home unit. In fact it would be empty most of the time and go broke very quickly. What we need is the right-sized unit that is attached to the local hospital to give mutual benefits and to make sure you make best use of your staff, with all the things that go with it.
But it is unfair not to make an effort to provide that aged care where you have the bones of the potential to do so. People who have lived in a community all their life, given their option, if they have to move out of their own home-and we’ll do everything to try to keep them in their own home-would prefer, of course, to stay in the community in which they have lived for all their life and where, hopefully, their family still lives, where they can be visited by their friends and visited by their family. It comes as a great shock to some when they have to move maybe hundreds of kilometres to access the kind of care they need.
I understand that there will always be tight spots. There will always be times when we’re short of places at the right place for those particular consumers. But, where we can, we need to reinvest in these smaller units, and we need to find a way for them to survive. That’s something else that I regularly bend the ear of the minister on: the extra costs of operating these smaller units within country regions. We need once again, as we do with the overall challenge of aged care, to rise to that challenge and find a way for them to survive, to replenish, to renew and to provide a first-class service to those residents of the smaller communities as well. With those words, I will conclude, but I recommend the bill to this House.