Matters of Urgency - Aged Care

25 August 2020

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (18:39): I rise to speak in support of this motion; however, the point needs to be made that the aged-care crisis we're facing hasn't just been seven years in the making. Whilst the systemic issues facing the aged-care sector have been compounded under the coalition government, the well-known issues plaguing the sector find their genesis in the Aged Care Act itself, which was enacted 23 years ago under the Howard government. The alarm bells, raised particularly by the nursing community, were ringing loudly even then but were ignored by the government of the day. The chronic underfunding, underskilling and underpayment of staff, with no mandatory minimum staffing requirements, no minimum training qualifications and no financial transparency as to how $21 billion paid to the sector has been spent, has been allowed to occur under successive Liberal and Labor governments. For example, the incentive to deskill the staffing mix in residential aged care was identified way back in 2011 by the Productivity Commission in its report Caring for older Australians. This was whilst Labor was in government. The Productivity Commission reported then:

… under current arrangements, providers in seeking to minimise costs have an incentive … to employ a high proportion of lower qualified (and therefore less expensive) care workers. A high proportion of lower qualified workers means that nurses working in aged care facilities can experience excessive workloads where they spend a large proportion of their time on administrative tasks (as they are effectively managers) rather than on caring. This, in turn, can drive nurses away from aged care …

Nothing has changed since 2011. There have been successive reports, reviews and inquiries into the broken aged-care sector, and still nothing substantive has changed. Vague terms in the act around residential aged care maintaining an 'adequate number of appropriately skilled staff' to ensure the needs of care recipients are met have resulted in nursing staff numbers, skills and the level of experience and expertise being systematically reduced. Personal care workers are run off their feet carrying on the role of nurses, and the care for residents has suffered very much. The Aged Care Act, as it currently sits, is not fit for purpose. It never was, and urgent amendments need to be legislated.

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