Responding to Questions - Early Childhood Educators Day

31 July 2023


I note we have an opportunity to take note of and discuss all topics raised in question time today. I intend to use this time to speak about the questions raised around aged care, but before I do so I want to respond to the contribution from Senator Chandler. We have before us in coming months a tremendous opportunity to unite our country, to walk together hand in hand towards a more united and more reconciled future. It's an opportunity that comes from a generous and simple offer: voice, treaty and truth. It's an opportunity that comes out of one of the most significant consultations ever held in Australian history. I have been deeply heartened by the sentiment in my local community and right across our state, in the city and in our regions, of South Australians who want to take that step forward together, hand in hand, towards a more united future. I'm excited and heartened by that opportunity before us. And the Uluru statement is not, of course, just about Voice; it's about truth and treaty as well.

In question time today we opened with questions on aged care. Our government's aged-care agenda is something I'm very happy to have an opportunity to talk to further this afternoon, because we make absolutely no apologies for that agenda and the ambitious nature of that agenda. We make no apologies because for over a decade our aged-care sector and aged-care system have been in crisis, letting residents down, letting their families down and letting aged-care workers down. The previous government oversaw an aged-care system which was described in a royal commission report by one word: 'neglect'. How could any government of good conscience respond to such a report with anything other than the utmost ambition?

Having nurses 24/7 in aged-care services will make a substantial difference to access to clinical care services and to quality of care. Of course, where there are reasonable issues that make that hard, exemptions will be available. But just because it might not be possible to meet that ambition in some services doesn't mean that you throw the entire ambition out. If we do that, then we are saying to the Australian people, we are saying to Australians in aged care and we are saying to everyone who loves them that we don't think the highest of ambition is important, and we don't think responding to neglect deserves the highest of ambition.

Later this week there is an important day for aged-care workers. It's our opportunity on Aged Care Employee Day to thank those workers for the contribution they make to our country and for the care they provide to some of our most vulnerable citizens. Throughout the pandemic, we heard lots of thanks for our most essential workers. But what we were told time after time is that those workers wanted us to show our thanks not just with words and sentiment but with action—action which valued them for the work they do and which valued them for the contributions they make. So, in addition to our ambitions in aged care, we have also, of course, funded a 15 per cent wage increase for aged-care workers, a wage increase which says to those workers: we see the work you do, we value the work you do and we understand that you have been doing it in the most trying of circumstances. Of course, the pandemic absolutely amplified all of that, but we are saying we value you and we thank you.

There is a lot of work which needs to be done in the aged-care sector to make it the location of choice in our health system for people who have prioritised caring and care for others in their careers and in the way they want to make a contribution to our community. I absolutely value those workers. In the lead-up to the election, I heard time after time from aged-care workers that they love their work and they love the sector they work in, but they didn't feel valued or they couldn't afford to stay in that sector and provide care to loved ones.

If that is our loved ones, and we know that people who want to be in the sector and provide care are walking away because they are not valued, that is a shameful thing. We have a high ambition in aged care—for aged-care workers and for the sector; 24/7 nurses is part of that, and I'm very proud of it.