Labor will Improve the Quality of Aged Care

House of Representatives 21/06/2021

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (17:52): I rise to speak on the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021. It was Scott Morrison, the current Prime Minister, who cut aged care by $1.7 billion when he was Treasurer. And in this recent budget the government spent, spent and spent to paper over their political problems ahead of the upcoming election. They spent to cover their political tracks, not to invest in aged care or to enact fully the much-needed reforms and recommendations from the royal commission. This is an aged-care crisis which we see playing out before us. It’s a system that’s in crisis. It has been let down by years of coalition cuts and mismanagement.

We’ve seen again in recent weeks that, due to the embarrassingly low wages and number of hours on offer, workers are compelled to work in multiple care homes. In November last year, the Morrison government returned to a position of allowing workers to work in multiple homes. They made that decision after it was suspended for a period of time because of the pandemic. Once again, they were shirking their responsibilities and not thinking through the consequences. From the very early days of the pandemic last year, we saw the horrifying scenes in countries across the world. In many countries the elderly bore the brunt of the deadly virus. There were horrible pictures from Italy, Spain and other countries. In April last year, in Sydney—in our country—the Newmarch House outbreak took the lives of more than a dozen residents.

We saw this; we saw it play out before us and we can’t say that we weren’t warned. The government should have learnt from this, yet the coalition government dragged their feet in taking the steps necessary in the aged-care facilities, which are under their jurisdiction. They didn’t order enough PPE, they didn’t help aged-care facilities to prepare or give them practical advice on infection control. They didn’t mandate commonsense controls, like limits on workers working across multiple homes, and they didn’t put in mask mandates.

In my electorate of Wills, the St Basil’s aged-care facility saw 183 coronavirus cases and 44 deaths—44 deaths in one aged-care facility—and there were more than 650 aged-care deaths in total during Victoria’s second wave. Aged care is a federal responsibility—we know that. The majority of the deaths that occurred occurred in private aged-care centres, which are under the responsibility of the federal government. At the height of Victoria’s second wave there were 1,923 cases in private facilities; in the public aged-care facilities, the Victorian state government run facilities, there were six.

More than a year on, the federal government have botched the vaccine rollout, and aged-care residents are still at risk. How is this possible? It’s been more than three months since our vaccine rollout started, yet only 3.3 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated against this deadly virus. In the United States they are offering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to anyone over the age of 12. In the UK, I think some 59 per cent of UK citizens are fully vaccinated. And here we are struggling to get the vaccine to people who are in their 80s and their 90s. We’re still struggling to get the vaccine to people who work within aged care. We’re still struggling to get the vaccine to frontline workers in health care.

The minister responsible was forced to admit that he has no idea how many aged-care workers have been vaccinated. He couldn’t get that number. With all the power of the government departments under his control he couldn’t get that number. Well, it turns out that less than 10 per cent of employees have been fully vaccinated—and it was actually left to Victoria to do a five-day blitz to vaccinate healthcare workers. Yet the minister says that he’s comfortable about how the rollout is going. That is what he said in Senate estimates—he’s comfortable about how the rollout is going. Where there is no comfort for the families who are grieving, the minister is comfortable—because this government and its ministers won’t take responsibility. They won’t show leadership. They can’t demonstrate real leadership, when the country so desperately needs them to do so.

It’s is easy to be distracted by numbers and statistics, but it’s important that we remember that in each aged-care facility across this country there are people that we have a responsibility to look after. They are our friends, our mothers, our fathers and our grandparents. One of my constituents, Patrick, contacted my office just last week. His mother resides in a private aged-care facility regulated by the federal government. His mother has dementia and, despite her agreeing to receive the vaccine, on the actual day when they came to give her the vaccine she was confused and, in her confusion, declined the jab. She didn’t understand what she was being told. When Patrick found out, he was told that she would be given her first dose when vaccine administrators came back in a few weeks with the second dose. Yet on that day they didn’t even try to give her the first dose. Patrick is now having to go through this bureaucratic nightmare just to get his elderly mother vaccinated, and it’s been an uphill battle. The government’s advice to Patrick was that he try to get her to a GP or get a GP to come out to the facility or for her to go to one of the hubs at the Exhibition Centre to get the shot. Can you imagine an elderly woman with dementia trying to navigate the Exhibition Centre in Melbourne? Is that really the best we can do?

A future Labor government will actually deliver the care that is worthy of elderly Australians—the people who built this country; the people whose shoulders we stand on. We’ll do this by ensuring that every dollar spent in aged care goes towards employing a guaranteed minimum level of nurses, assistants and carers and towards daily needs like decent food, rather than lining the pockets of the more unscrupulous providers. We will also take the steps necessary to make sure that the aged-care sector is properly funded and is investing for the long term as our population ages.

Providing the best care possible to our elderly shouldn’t be controversial, yet it is. On this side of House we believe in properly funding our aged-care system. On this side of the House we believe in keeping our elderly Australians and most vulnerable people safe. On this side of the House we believe in investing in the long term to ensure all Australians know that they will be able to retire and grow old safely, comfortably and with dignity. Based on all the evidence that we have seen over the past 14 months, as we look past all the PR spin and bluster from the Morrison government and his ministers, I don’t think I can say the same for the coalition.