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Aged Care

Speech given in the Senate on 28 July 2022.

This is not my first speech, but I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about aged care. There are few policy areas that are as heartbreaking as aged care. We've all seen the stories of older Australians suffering in our nation's aged-care facilities. Over the past few years there have been many reports of people being neglected, receiving inadequate care and inadequate nutrition, and in some cases left to die in the very places charged with caring for them.

The people of the ACT speak to me frequently about their concerns for aged care and their hopes for creating a high standard of care for older Australians. The 148 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety are the road map for creating this high standard. That's why my community has asked that I do all I can to ensure the recommendations are implemented as quickly as possible—so that we can build an aged-care system that puts people and their wellbeing and safety first.

It is great to see that this is the first bill that we're being charged to consider, and I'm glad to play my part in seeing it become law. While this bill is for transitional arrangements, the changes are urgent and desperately needed. However, this bill should not be beyond a measure of some simple scrutiny. While I thank the minister, her staff and her department for engaging early and providing high-level briefings, a single day to get across the detail contained within these 147 pages is not enough. We cannot properly do our work here in the house of review if we are not given the time to view the details, consult with our communities and reach out to experts. I hope the time lines placed on this bill are an exception and not the rule, and, where fast time frames are needed, I would encourage the government to do us the courtesy of releasing an exposure draft. However, I do recognise how important it is to past this bill and the reforms within it and to put in place codes of conducts and clear up the governance arrangements of aged-care providers.

I will not slow down this bill's consideration, but I do want to briefly touch on a few points. I've heard concerns about how the Independent Health and Aged Care Pricing Authority will work. After the bill is passed, the pricing authority will have the dual responsibility for setting the prices for healthcare services delivered in public hospitals and for services delivered in the aged-care system. However, unlike for healthcare services, when the pricing authority determines a price for delivering services in aged care, it will not be binding. They will only be able to advise the minister on pricing matters. Stakeholders have raised with me that they feel uncomfortable that the government could potentially veto the prices determined by the pricing authority.

I would encourage the government to provide assurances to the sector that this won't be the case and that the prices set will cover the actual costs of delivering aged-care services.

Secondly, I would like to touch on the workforce. All of our systems of care are built on people. There is a hefty task ahead in creating both the funding model and the care workforce needed to ensure older Australians receive the highest standard of care they so desperately need. I'm pleased to see the government is moving ahead quickly with new laws that will require a registered nurse on site at every aged-care facility 24/7. But I'm concerned about our nation's ability to find the workforce and attract workers to the aged-care sector. I've seen in the news just this morning that hundreds of aged-care providers are likely to seek exemptions from the 24/7 requirement as they predict difficulties in being able to fill the shifts.

I've recently spoken with the Australian College of Nursing, who reminded me that the nursing workforce across the country is burnt out. The ANMF echoed the sentiment. Across back-to-back disasters, from Black Summer to the recent floods to the multiyear global pandemic, nurses have been on our frontline, there to care for us in our times of need. It's my understanding that some nurses haven't been able to take their annual leave for over a year and a half. The most recent modelling I could find shows a projected shortfall of 85,000 nurses by 2025 and 123,000 by 2030. Nurses are leaving the workforce, limiting the pool of talent we have to supply the aged-care sector. But, more importantly, why would nurses leave any role to work in the aged-care sector, which is notoriously poorly paid? We need to ensure there is at least parity for nurses working in aged care with their colleagues in other parts of our health system. I know many work in aged care for the love of it, but we should not rely on this grace to ensure the sector is appropriately staffed.

These reforms are a great first step. However, I would encourage all of us to remain vigilant and to keep inquiring over this term of parliament on the state of our aged-care system.