24 February 2021

On Friday, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will hand its final report to the government. I want to acknowledge the work of the commission and all who provided evidence. While the Prime Minister could have simply acted on evidence that he has had on his desk for seven years, evidence of inadequate personal care, neglect, abuse and, sadly, even assault in aged-care homes, the royal commission has enabled older families and people to tell their stories.

 

It was harrowing and fundamentally awful to hear how badly Australia has failed our elderly, and their families and our aged-care work force as well. No-one should suffer the indignity that many have suffered in aged care. The royal commission detailed the shocking failures in individual aged-care homes and outlined the structural weaknesses in our system. To quote the commission itself: 'The aged-care system fails to meet the needs of its older, vulnerable, citizens. It does not deliver uniformly safe and quality care' and 'is unkind and uncaring towards them.' The commission heard evidence of maggots in open wounds; residents left to lie in urine for days because the provider has rationed incontinence pads; nurses and carers with impossible workloads, literally run off their feet, knowing that, if they have to stop to pick up a resident who has fallen, another resident will possibly not get their lunch. The commission said there was 'serious substandard care and unsafe practice' and an 'underpaid, undervalued and insufficiently trained workforce'—a system where it is possible that two brothers, banned from the poultry industry for 17 years after starving more than a million chickens, were given an aged-care licence, despite being bankrupt at the time and having no experience.

 

Many people want to shut their eyes against this mistreatment, and I guess in some ways that's understandable. But the royal commission has shown us that it doesn't have to be this way. When it hands down its report it will give the government a blueprint for how to actually fix aged care once and for all. We cannot let the opportunity slip by us. We have known for decade that the system is broken. The government must act and properly—not just a photo op and then nothing. We need proper, hard reform—reform, I'd argue, that only the Labor Party can do. I hope I'm wrong with that. I really hope that the government takes this report by the hands and does what is necessary.

 

The Labor Party knows how crucial this is. Our leader, the member for Grayndler, has pledged to stand up and fight for the workforce, for quality care and for a system we can be proud of. The question today is: do those who sit opposite have the same conviction?