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Improving aged care services

I would like to start by praising our aged-care workers and thanking them for the work that they do in often very difficult circumstances. Due to recurrent cuts to investment in our aged-care system for too long, Australians in our aged-care system have been neglected and not treated with the care they deserve. As a society, we now need to decide how we want to treat our older Australians. I believe that, if implemented, the Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022 will play a role in ensuring older Australians are treated with dignity and respect and that they will get the care they need when they need it.

As we stand here today, the aged-care system is in crisis. It is a crisis that has been developing for many decades because of poor policy. Back in 2018, the ABC's Four Corners program shone a light on the neglect and abuse in our aged-care system. As a consequence, a Royal Commission was instigated. The Royal Commission's final report is sobering reading. There has been a systemic failure. Over the last few years, the crisis in our aged-care system has been further compounded by the pandemic and ongoing staff shortages. As Peter Rozen QC told the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety:

"… the aged care system we have in 2020 is not a system that is failing. It is the system operating as it was designed to operate."

That is to say, our aged-care system has evolved over time so that its primary purpose is profit. Older Australians are viewed as a commodity to be monetised, as opposed to respected citizens who deserve our care.

This Bill focuses on three key areas and implements recommendations 86 and 88 of the Royal Commission. It requires a registered nurse to be on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at every aged-care facility. It limits the amount of money that can be charged on administration for home-care packages and requires greater transparency through greater public reporting standards. It also requires the capping of fees by home-care providers. These changes will lead to greater fairness and transparency and help our older Australians receive better care.

Thousands of my constituents in Mackellar live in aged-care facilities, and I want to ensure that they are well cared for. As a doctor, I know that aged-care facilities house people who have high rates of health complexities and comorbidities—people who, at any time of day or night, may need the medical assistance of a registered nurse. A 24-hour, seven-days-a-week onsite registered nurse will not only give aged-care residents the care they require but also support an overrun health system by reducing the need for ambulances and hospital visits.

Improved aged-care services is a major issue for my community. Concern about aged-care services is something that I heard voiced repeatedly throughout the 2022 election campaign. One of those people I recently spoke to is an aged-care nurse who has worked across multiple aged-care facilities and has provided home assistance in the Mackellar electorate for the last six years. She recently wrote to me, stating:

"Even after the Royal Commission I still see people in appalling unhygienic and undesirable living conditions. Clients who are left unattended for long periods of time, even after pressing their call buttons for help and clients who are over-medicated as a way to manage."

Today I'm speaking on behalf of the thousands of Mackellar residents in aged care, on behalf of their families and on behalf of all the aged-care workers who care for and love their residents, and who want to see them live a life of dignity and respect—and also to help them in their last days. I'm also speaking on behalf of every Australian who believes that we can and should treat our older Australians better. I hear and understand the concerns that some aged-care providers have in relation to the lack of available registered nurses and the financial implications of mandating a 24/7 on-site registered nurse. We do have a skills shortage; we are in crisis. Just in the aged-care sector alone there is a deficit of 14,000 nurses. Fixing this skills gap will require the new government to increase wages and improve training opportunities for aged-care workers at an economy-wide level. I am satisfied, however, that the legislation provides sufficient support to assist with the transition. I do agree, however, with Senator Pocock's concerns outlined in the Senate report that there needs to be further rigour around exemptions. 

This Bill goes to the very heart of what it means to be a caring society. Of course, we all want to see our older Austraians living with dignity and respect, and enjoying their golden years. Let's bring care back into our aged care. I commend this Bill to the House.

You can view the speech here.