Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Bill 2020

4 February 2021

I rise to speak in support of the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and Other Measures) Bill 2020. It must be noted that whilst this bill is welcome, the government has taken far too long to bring this legislation before the parliament. This bill seeks to implement the recommendations for a serious incident response scheme, made by the Australian Law Reform Commission three years ago. The 2017 Carnell-Paterson review, following the terrible abuses at the Oakden aged-care facility in South Australia, also made recommendations for a fit-for-purpose serious incident response scheme.

Oakden was a tragic and disgraceful blight on the aged-care sector in South Australia, and a sad and reprehensible chapter in the state's history. Shocking abuses have occurred and do occur in aged-care homes throughout Australia. Abuse of the elderly, whether a deliberate act or just through gross negligence, is a stain on our society and we must do what we can now to stop it. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety interim report, titled Neglect, underscored how serious the problem is. It is a scathing interim report. The inquiry found the system had failed to care for our older and often very vulnerable citizens. The commissioners wrote:

It does not deliver uniformly safe and quality care for older people. It is unkind and uncaring towards them. In too many instances, it simply neglects them.

The system is very much broken and is in need of a major overhaul.

Since 2018 the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has uncovered widespread elder abuse and mistreatment. We learnt that an estimated 50 sexual assaults occur each week across Australia's aged-care sector—50 sexual assaults a week!—affecting around 13 to 18 per cent of residents. That is sickening and very much a national shame. The abuse is perpetrated by care workers as well as other residents. This bill ensures providers will have to report incidents of abuse and aggression between care residents, including where the resident who commits the incident has a cognitive or mental impairment. This type of abuse is currently exempted.

A broader range of incidents will now be reported under the provisions, including unreasonable use of force, unlawful or inappropriate sexual contact, psychological or emotional abuse, unexpected death, stealing or financial coercion by a staff member, neglect, inappropriate physical or chemical restraint and unexplained absence of care. This bill will improve oversight and transparency in addition to expanding the powers of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

I note recently circulated amendments from Senator Patrick that deal with the publication of staffing ratios and the implementation of CCTV cameras in aged-care settings. The amendments on sheet 1186 that deal with staffing ratio disclosures mirror similar amendments moved by me previously in this place and a bill introduced in the other place by my colleague the member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie. Ms Sharkie introduced a private member's bill calling for transparency on staffing ratios back in August 2018 and again in July 2019. A government led committee that reviewed the bill even recommended that that legislation be passed, but the government still hasn't acted. So we will support that amendment.

However, we will not be supporting at this time the amendments on sheet 1191 that seek to implement a mandatory CCTV requirement in aged-care facilities. Implementing a mandatory CCTV requirement in aged-care homes will not fix the underlying and systemic issues facing the sector—the chronic understaffing and the deskilling of staff in aged-care settings. Installing CCTV cameras simply avoids the problems that lead to abuse. What is needed are dedicated carers who have been given the proper training for their care role and who are supported by sufficient numbers of colleagues. We need mandatory minimum training requirements. We need legally enforceable staffing ratios with the appropriate skill mix and to make it mandatory to have a registered nurse on each shift.

The aged-care royal commission will issue its final report by 26 February. Once it does, we expect the government to introduce legislation that acts decisively on all of its recommendations. No more excuses.

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