Home Care Packages

Federation Chamber, 26 February 2018
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Mr KEOGH (Burt) (12:42): Ongoing inaction by the Turnbull government is jeopardising the progress made in aged-care services since Labor's historic Living Longer Living Better reforms. These reforms provided a 10-year plan to build a better, fairer and more sustainable and nationally consistent aged-care system. Unfortunately, the instability and inaction of the Liberal Turnbull government are threatening the continued progress of these critical reforms.

More than 100,000 older Australians are waiting for a package. The release of the latest data on the Turnbull government's home care packages has revealed that more than 100,000 people are languishing in limbo and, of those, more than 10,000 are in Western Australia alone. The government says that those numbers had been hidden from it until the last six months. Well, did the government ever think of asking the sector to find out? No.

The data shows that 80 per cent of older Australians waiting to have a package have high needs. Many have dementia. Currently, around half of people living in aged care have dementia, depression or another mental health or behavioural condition. The proportion of older people requiring high care for complex needs, which includes assistance with all activities of daily living, such as eating and bathing, has quadrupled from 13 per cent in 2009 to 61 per cent in 2016. The most concerning part is that these people are being told that they may have to wait more than 12 months before they even get a look in.

We are clearly now at a crisis point. The Turnbull government's commitment in September to readjust the ratio of places to create 6,000 additional packages has been proven to be woefully inadequate. This wouldn't even clear the queue in Western Australia, let alone across the entire nation. Without intervention, the waiting list will continue to grow, with more and more vulnerable older Australians forced into limbo without care. Meanwhile, many older Australians are instead presenting to hospitals around the country for acute care, are discharged into inadequate care and are then re-presenting at hospitals again and again. This is ultimately costing our community far more than if the government had just delivered the packages that were required.

The Turnbull government has known about this urgent situation for many months but is yet to turn its attention to this growing issue. I have heard horror stories from constituents in my electorate—indeed, even from constituents in the minister's electorate—who are anxiously waiting for their elderly relatives to be able to access an aged-care package while missing out on vital treatment and care. We have called time and again for the Turnbull government to fix this crisis as these waiting lists continue to grow. The minister's only commentary to date on the crisis has been to point out that some older Australians waiting for aged care will receive an interim package. An interim package is not good enough. It may be a start, and I heard the minister say this again in the House today, but it isn't good enough.

In late 2015, the Turnbull government cut almost half a billion dollars from the aged-care funding instrument which allocates funding to residential care. The government did this on the basis of what it labelled 'higher-than-expected growth and expenditure' but without consulting with the people who would be affected and without any concern, clearly, for its impact. Then, less than six months later, the Liberals cut a further $1.2 billion from future residential care funding in their 2016 budget. The Turnbull government has refused to release any detailed modelling around these cuts, raising concern that it had no idea of what the impact of these measures would be on the provision of care for vulnerable older Australians.

Labor have consistently pushed this government on the issue, and in December 2016 we were successful in forcing it to back down on the harshest components of these measures. But the growing pile of work that is unanswered includes the Aged Care Legislated Review, which was led by David Tune. The only action the government has taken to date in response to that has been to roll out two of the 38 recommendations. The government has also not responded to 43 recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission's report on elder abuse released last year—instead, in recent weeks it's kicked off further reviews and consultations. Equally concerning is the lack of response to the 19 recommendations of the committee on community affairs report into the future of Australia's aged care sector workforce released in June. There is no sense of urgency coming from this government when it comes to responding to the 10 recommendations of the Review of National Aged Care Quality Regulatory Processes. To date, the only accomplishment is that the government has accepted one recommendation, which Labor had proposed six months earlier. The two reports, the Applied Aged Care Solution review and the Wollongong report on the cost of care, are now collecting dust in the minister's office. Older Australians and their families deserve much better than this. We now have 100,000 people waiting for a package, which is not only meaning that they are without care but also putting further and further strain on our hospital sector to look after them. The government needs to fix this problem now.