I thank the member for Jagajaga for this very important motion. The royal commission has shone a light on how, over time, we have undervalued our older people and, in turn, the system that cares for them. It spoke about how we owe our parents, our grandparents, our partners, our friends and our neighbours a safe, kind and quality care—care that I know is possible. At times in my career I had the privilege of working in aged care and I have witnessed firsthand the dedication, professionalism and compassion of the staff who care for our elderly.
The royal commission exposed the systemic failures of our aged-care system. Daily, I hear how these failures result in frustrating and disempowering experiences of aged care. I meet aged-care providers who are trying their hardest in difficult circumstances. I sit down with health and aged-care staff and talk about the burnout that they’re experiencing. Recent aged-care measures, including under the budget, are a step in the right direction. Our aged-care workers are at the heart of the system, but across Indi aged-care facilities tell me how incredibly hard it is to attract the much-needed workforce to keep their doors open. They’re forced to employ nurses from external agencies at higher costs because they can’t attract their own local workforce to fill the shift. Those costs include accommodation in a tight market on top of wages. A 15-per-cent wage increase for aged-care workers is long overdue and a true acknowledgement of their value. Aged-care facilities tell me they hope this wage rise will increase and attract a stronger local workforce to ease some of the financial pressures they’re facing. Adrian Johnstone, CEO of the St Catherines aged-care provider in Wangaratta, says this wage rise will reward staff with the pay increase they deserve. Like me, he hopes that this wage increase will spur on more people to take up a fulfilling career in aged care.
In the 2021-22 financial year, 74 per cent of aged-care homes in regional Australia were operating at a loss. This is a startling figure. We feel this close to home. In the last few months, three aged-care facilities in my electorate of Indi have sounded the alarm on the extent of their financial losses. One is experiencing losses of $100,000 every month. In rural and regional Australia, when facilities go under, the consequences are felt right across the community. It’s about losing a major employer and a skilled workforce. When a facility closes, I hear heartbreaking stories of husbands or wives having to drive for an hour or more to visit their loved one, when once they could just pop down the road. Likewise, lifetime friends can no longer just pop over.
Under the budget, the indexation for the Australian National Aged Care Classification price will increase by 17 per cent, and this means Commonwealth support given to facilities per bed per day will increase. The government say they are confident this increase will see a real reduction in the huge financial losses that aged-care facilities are experiencing right now, such as those I have described in my electorate, and I’ll be watching very closely to see whether this is the case, because one thing’s for sure: we can’t continue to lose local aged-care providers at the rate we’re experiencing now.
As our population ages we must also support people to age at home when they want to. While the government is trumpeting the 9,500 extra home-care packages in the budget, the problem we’re now seeing isn’t about getting approved for a package; it’s about finding a provider to deliver the services they’re eligible for. One of my constituents—let’s call her Mary—was approved under My Aged Care for help under the Commonwealth Home Support Program for gardening and for cleaning her windows and gutters. After this approval, Mary started calling the local providers listed on the My Aged Care website to see who could offer her this support. Unfortunately, Mary cannot even get on their waiting lists, as they’ve closed their books. Providers say there are simply not enough workers to offer the services people are entitled to.
Benalla in my electorate is yet another example. The private providers are at capacity and clients are left for long periods without services. There are last-minute cancellations, the changing of workers and very little continuity of care. I met with the age-friendly Benalla U3A and Benalla Rural City Council about this crisis and I’ve written to the Interim Inspector-General of Aged Care asking that they do something to get this back on track. I’ll be approaching the minister about this as well. This program must address the frustrating inadequacies that my office constantly hears about. It must ensure the support of quality care and the appropriate support that we owe our elderly people.