24 March 2021

 

 'Unacceptable', 'deeply concerning', 'weak', 'ineffective', 'besieged by neglect', 'unkind' and 'uncaring'—these are all words the aged care royal commission used to describe the aged-care system that is the sole purview of the government. These are not words that anyone with a loved one in aged care or in a nursing home wants to hear. The commissioners went on to say:

 

… it has felt like the government's main consideration was what was the minimum commitment it could get away with, rather than what should be done …

 

The aged-care royal commission report was an indictment not only of this government but of this nation.

 

The system has failed our elderly, failed their loved ones and failed the nurses and carers, who have been left with impossible workloads and literally run off their feet. The member for Hotham very eloquently described the untenable situation for workers in aged care and the impossible decisions they have to make. There can be two carers for up to 50 residents. They have to decide whether they leave a resident in a soiled bed in soiled clothing to attend someone who is in pain, has had a fall or is distressed because of their dementia. A lot of aged-care workers have been in this House over the last couple of weeks and they've told us that there's no longer any time for that tender touch or a loving chat. The commission said that the aged-care workforce is underpaid and undervalued. That is an understatement.

 

In my electorate a Blue Cross residential aged-care facility has announced recently that it is going to close. They have given the residents there until 25 April to find somewhere else to live. This is very distressing. The residents there have survived COVID, when many around them in that very facility died. They were locked up with other residents for months and months and now they have to move on apart. One family member rang us today and said that he's trying to find a new place for his mother and her friend, as they can't bear to be separated since they've all been through the COVID crisis. I suspect we will see more of this.

 

The government needs a plan for aged care. It needs a plan with the residents, not just the providers, at its heart, and it needs it now. As the wonderful Sarah Holland-Batt wrote:

 

Too often, Australia's aged-care sector fails to care for our elders with dignity and respect, and traduces their human rights. Too often, vulnerable older Australians experience appalling failures of care in their final years: physical and sexual assaults, dehydration and malnutrition, preventable injuries and deaths. Too often, the toothless regulator allows negligent providers to continue operating with impunity, and too often providers are driven by profit rather than care.

 

Not all of them, I grant you. There are many very good providers out there who give very good care, but there are many who don't.

 

Since the government was handed the report, we have hardly heard a peep from them on this seminal report. True to style, there was a crude press conference where journalists had no time to read the report and prepare questions. True to their style, there was an announcement and then nothing. This time they were hardly there for the photo-op at all, let alone the follow-up.

 

It's reminiscent of their handling of aged care during COVID, when we saw the Prime Minister stubbornly refuse to step up to the job when his minister bungled through the whole affair. The PM, disgracefully, tried to blame the states for that. During the COVID outbreak in nursing homes, where nearly 700 people died, the Prime Minister commented, 'When it rains, everyone gets wet.' He told us he didn't hold a hose, and we know he didn't have any empathy then. He told us what he thought about our aged-care people, and he proved it. We have certainly seen his lack of empathy in these last few weeks.

 

As Commissioner Briggs put it, the government must step up and embrace its responsibilities for aged care—no more shirking and no more empty promises or marketing doublespeak. Act now. Do the proper hard reform that the commission has demanded of you. A country can be defined by how it treats its vulnerable, and right now we are failing them. We can't wait any more. We need a government that genuinely cares about this issue and shows it through action.