31 July 2023

I thank the Member for Clark for this important motion.

The Royal Commission’s recommendations, delivered almost two and half years ago, are still so important today.

The Commission envisioned an aged care system that supports people to age with dignity in their own homes for as long as possible, and then in a residential facility that offers caring, safe and affordable services if they need it. Even though years have passed since the Commission delivered its report, we are still a long way from realising this vision.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, known as the Complaints Commission, is mandated to actively listen to complaints against the aged care system, and then take the necessary steps to respond to them so the system can improve.

However, the Royal Commission found that this complaints body [and I quote] “is insufficiently responsive to the experiences of older people”. It went on: it “does not provide enough safeguards to protect older people and provide reassurance to their families that they will receive safe and high-quality aged care”, especially in home care. This includes both the Commonwealth Home Support Program and the Home Care Packages Program.

People who make a complaint shouldn’t find the process hard to access and their complaint shouldn’t go unanswered; experiences the Royal Commission found were happening all the time.

On recommendation of the Royal Commission, the Minister for Aged Care ordered an independent review of the Complaints Commission. These findings and recommendations were released only two weeks ago.

I urge the Minister to carefully consider and respond to this review as a priority, as one step towards improving older Australian’s experiences of the aged care system.

One recommendation in particular stood out to me:

The Commission must acquire a better understanding of the diverse needs and circumstances of aged care consumers and their communities [including], older people living in regional and remote communities. 

I know that the constituents that call into my office to talk about their experiences with the aged care system would thoroughly agree with this recommendation. There is a real sense that the struggles of regional communities are not heard, let alone understood.

Too frequently, my office hears stories of older people and their families who are desperately trying to find home care providers but, being in a regional or rural area, there are just not enough of them. Providers say they can’t find the staff to do the work.

If the Complaints Commissioner is to handle complaints effectively, they must understand this limitation of regional areas.

Currently in Wodonga, the biggest town in Indi, there are currently no government subsidised providers available for home maintenance services like minor repairs, window cleaning, weeding.[1] The waitlist to receive these services – essential to keeping people in their homes – is 2,000 people long.

In Benalla, the third biggest town, private providers are at capacity and clients left for long periods without services, last-minute cancellations, changing workers and very little continuity of care. I have heard deeply concerning stories about people waiting for over a month to have their house cleaned. I have met with Age Friendly Benalla, U3A and the Benalla Rural City Council about this crisis. I have written to the Interim Inspector-General of Aged Care asking that they do something to get this back on track.

Another example is in the Strathbogie Shire, where there is only one service provider for outreach into homes. Many constituents have written in, describing how they would complete an application for home care, and be approved for a plan, only to hear back that the only provider has closed its books.

One constituent who has been waiting for help for months, wrote to me and said that “the Australian Government state they aim to keep older Australians in their own home by providing services to achieve this outcome. Unfortunately this is not the reality”.[2]

Sadly, this constituent could not be more correct. Home care services are still in crisis, especially in regional Australia. The Government must show it grasps the extent of this problem. It must actively listen to regional and rural experiences in its consultation on the new Support at Home Program. It must also provide proper powers and resources to the bodies set up to handle aged care complaints, so the experiences in regional and rural areas are properly understand and solutions found.

  1. MR WILKIETo move—That this House:
    1. notes that:
      1. the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety provided a clear blueprint on how to fundamentally change and improveour aged care services, but the majority of the 148 recommendations have still not been implemented; and
      2. the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission is the point of contact for concerns and complaints about aged service provider responsibilities but it appears to be understaffed, have limited powers of investigation and be restricted in the way sanctions can be imposed on providers; and
    2. calls on the Government to:
      1. establish an independent body to oversee the implementation of the essential aged care service reforms in line with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety; and
      2. expand the powers and resourcing of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to enable it to effectively manage complaints and impose meaningful sanctions.

(Notice given 20 June 2023.)

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