BILLS (Federation Chamber): Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022 - Consideration in Detail

21 June 2021

We've had a very wide range of issues and questions raised for the minister today, and I thank him for being present and doing his best to answer those questions. I want to focus on aged care. If we are honest, the way the Morrison government has responded to aged care is entirely symptomatic of its whole eight years of government: it only seems to act when it has it's back to a wall; it only acts to fix political problems and then, all too often, its response is too little too late. After eight years of neglect the Morrison government had to call a royal commission—effectively into its own handling of aged care. After the incredibly hard work of the royal commission—months of work, in fact—and 148 recommendations it's clear to everyone that the government's response falls short of solving a number of key issues within the sector and fails to deliver enduring improvements and reforms for the long term.

The government claims that it has accepted or accepted in principle 126 of the royal commissions 148 recommendations. But even when they say they've fully accepted a recommendation it doesn't actually mean they're going to implement it in full. When you look at the details in their response, times are pushed back, sometimes by years, and key sections of recommendations are often excluded. Sometimes they say they have accepted a recommendation, and their response doesn't even pretend to match it. That's a weird definition of 'accept'.

Let's look at the key areas of concern—firstly, staffing levels and minutes of care. In recommendation 86 the minimum staff time standard for residential care sets out two phases of mandatory minimum care minutes in residential aged care. The first phase mandates a minimum of 200 total care minutes per resident per day, but not until July 2022. The second phase increases this to 215 total care minutes by July 2024. The second phase also includes an all-important requirement to have a registered nurse on site 24/7. So why is the government only implementing the first phase or stage of this recommendation? Why have they ignored the second phase and the crucial step of having a registered nurse on site 24/7? Can the minister explain how the government has accepted this recommendation when only actually doing half of it? Secondly, we know that nothing will change without reform to the workforce, yet there was nothing in the budget to improve wages for overstretched, undervalued aged-care workers.

To the Minister for Health and Aged Care: while answering a question at question time on Thursday, 13 May, in response to a question about whether the government have a plan to increase aged-care workers' wages, the minister said: 'There is in relation to this $3.2 billion which goes to the $10 a day uplift fee that will flow through to our staff. This is absolutely directly about wages; $3.2 billion which goes to the ability to provide additional support to our personal care workers and for our nurses. That's how they're paid. That's how they're paid. They aren't paid directly by government; they're paid by people who employ them. And that is providing support to employers to support the employed.'

How will this money actually increase the wages of workers? How will the minister ensure that it does flow through to staff? Is there actually a plan or no plan to increase workers' wages? What measure is there to ensure that providers use this money for wages? Is there any mechanism to enforce this? The royal commission clearly stated that the wages of aged-care workers were too low. It's clear that we won't be able to attract the workers needed to fill demand until this issue is resolved. What is the government doing to raise aged-care workers' wages so they're fairly and justly recognised for the hard work that they do?

Finally, on vaccinations, we're almost four months into the government's vaccine rollout strategy and still less than three per cent of Australians have been fully vaccinated. The latest advice from ATAGI and the impact on the AstraZeneca rollout will be yet a further brake on this desperately slow, desperately behind vaccine rollout strategy. This is particularly an issue for aged-care workers. Can the minister confirm that only 11 per cent of the aged-are workforce are fully vaccinated and what is their plan to ensure that this critical workforce will have their vaccinations without them having to go on their own to that GP?