Aged care residents and workers deserve a fair go

Aged care residents and workers deserve a fair go Main Image

23 August 2021

I acknowledge the commitment of the member for Indi in bringing this motion on for discussion today. Today I want to speak about a fair go. Our Prime Minister said that he believes in a fair go, that those who have a go in this country will get a go, that if you put in you get to take out. So my question is: when is the Prime Minister going to give older Australians a fair go? When is this government going to accept that people in aged care have put in? They've worked hard, they've built this country and they have earned our respect. They deserve so much better than a system that has neglected them. It's about time the government gave them a fair go.

The royal commission into aged care made multiple recommendations, urging immediate action to improve the supply, diversity and affordability of aged care across rural and regional Australia. Our regional communities know how important it is to have local aged-care facilities, because regional people want to grow old with dignity, surrounded by their families, their friends and the environment and culture that was central to their younger years.

Unfortunately, the choices for many people in my electorate, including those in Jindabyne and Cooma, are limited. Communities in my electorate have older populations. They are people who have lived in places like Bombala and Batlow their entire lives, and they have no plans to leave. They want action so that they can access an aged-care system that allows them to stay connected to their communities.

We all know our aged-care system needs an overhaul. My mum worked in aged care for 15 years, and my nan spent her last years in an aged-care facility. I heard firsthand some of the difficulties my mum had trying to deal with regulations while making sure that residents were front and centre in her care. Mum talked about this part of her working life as having been a privilege. For my mum and for everyone else who works in aged care, caring for, connecting with and protecting those who contributed to our communities is far more than a job. But let's not forget that it is a job. Care work is hard work. It is physical work. It is emotional work. It's because of this work that our older loved ones can live the life they deserve.

This work is still undervalued by this government. Our aged-care workers have been on the frontline of this pandemic for over 20 months. Everyone can see our aged-care workers are having a go. Surely it's time for this government to give them a fair go. At the moment aged-care workers are some of the worst paid people in Australia's economy. Staff are overworked and under enormous pressure to provide quality care when they're exhausted, because there just isn't enough support. These workers are doing their very best in a system that is broken. There needs to be an increase in the hourly rate of aged-care workers not only because they deserve to be compensated for the difficult work they do but also because we need more of them.

We need to be encouraging more people to take up careers in aged care. It's an industry that's growing every year due to our ageing population, and a career in aged care is a really viable option for many people living in our regional communities. But how can you encourage someone to enter a career where they will likely be overworked and undervalued? This country deserves a better aged-care system—a system where services can employ more better paid and trained staff so that the overall standard of care increases. I strongly believe that we need staff-to-patient ratios, and these ratios need to be looked at based on the needs of residents. It baffles me that we can regulate ratios for childcare centres but that this government seems unable or unwilling to consider ratios for our other most vulnerable cohort. The royal commission concluded that the retention, attraction and training of staff would be crucial to lifting care standards as Australia ages, but today there are fewer than half the enrolments in TAFE studying health and welfare in age and disability than there were in 2013.

This government is already failing to live up to promises to fix longstanding staff shortages, despite the royal commission's outlining of it as an urgent priority. Time and again we have seen this government presented with recommendations, but I worry that the lessons that have come out of the royal commission are falling on deaf ears. We don't have time to waste. We need action now and we need to make sure that we get this right. My hope is that this government will finally hear the calls of all Australians and do what we need it to. I hope the government will finally give our older generation and our aged-care workers a fair go, because they've more than proved that they deserve it.