14 November 2019

Taking Note of Answers - Liberal Government's Failure on Aged Care

I also rise to take note of answers to questions to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck, from myself and Senators Keneally and O'Neill. I want to start by responding to my fellow Senator Smith. Today I did not walk in here brazenly at all; I walked in here concerned. I walked in here horrified by the findings of that report—

Senator Dean Smith: And embarrassed!

Senator MARIELLE SMITH: No, not embarrassed. Through you, Madam Deputy President: I didn't walk in here brazenly. I walked in here concerned on behalf of millions of Australians who are also deeply concerned by the findings of the interim report. I acknowledge that the minister showed some concern for the findings of the report. But we need more than concern. We need more than empathy. He is the minister responsible. We need action. He holds the keys to take that action. He holds the keys to a response, and that's what we're asking for. Please continue to show your concern, as we will, but that's not what we're seeking here. We're seeking a response. We're seeking action on an aged-care system that, as this report shows us, is fundamentally broken. There is not one part of Australia's aged-care system that isn't impacted by crisis. While Labor is of course prepared to work constructively with the Morrison Liberal government to progress long-term reform challenges, there are three things that the royal commission says the government must urgently address now to fix Australia's broken aged-care system: (1) ensure older Australians are getting care at home when they need it most; (2) end the overreliance on chemical restraints in aged care; and (3) stop the unacceptable number of young people entering residential aged care.

You can come in here and say we're making political points. You can talk about the election and the past. But the fact is: we're not in government; you are, and your minister is responsible. He can fix this. We'll work with him, we'll work with you and we'll share our concern, but he can fix it. That's what we're asking. We're asking for answers. We're asking for action. We're asking for a time line. We're asking for better, on behalf of millions and millions and millions of Australians who share all of our concerns. That's what we're asking for.

We cannot and must not wait until the final report in November 2020. There are 120,000 older Australians waiting for aged care at home, with wait times now more than two years for the highest levels of care. In one year, 16,000 people died waiting for their approved package. There are another 14,000 Australians who have had to enter residential aged care because they could no longer stay at home waiting for care that wasn't there. It's too many people. We know others have been forced to enter the hospital system and emergency departments.

On top of the home care packages waiting list crisis, not a week goes by without another disturbing account emerging about the mistreatment or neglect of our older Australians in residential care. We know that there are not enough aged-care workers and that the ones who are there aren't paid enough. Australia is far from having the workforce that is required to care for our ageing population.

But, like so many other policy failures in this place, none of this had to happen. It wasn't inevitable. It's the product of inaction and cuts by this government. The failures start at the top. The responsibility for action lies at the top, with the minister and this government.

There is a blueprint in front of you which shows you a path through this. It shows you what you can do now. It shows you what you must urgently do now to fix and address this crisis. It's there in front of you, clear as day. Act on it. You can act on it. The minister can act on it. The Prime Minister can act on it. The government can act on it. Don't focus on us. Focus on the policy levers in front of you that you can use to fix this crisis. The Prime Minister and his government must do better to ensure older Australians get the quality aged-care services that they deserve now. Older Australians and their loved ones cannot afford to wait any longer.

The Prime Minister called for the establishment of the royal commission. We welcomed it. It was the right thing to do and a good thing to do. But now the interim report is here. It has recommendations. You know what to do. Do it. Take action now for the older Australians depending on you.