For a long time now I’ve been calling on the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government to fix the aged care crisis.
Since 2013 the Government has had the reigns of Labor’s Living Longer Living Better reforms. In five years this Government has turned exciting reform into a crisis that’s evolved under its watch.
With the aged care system struggling, I make no apologies for pressuring this Government and the current Minister, Ken Wyatt, to fix this crisis because at the end of their ineptness are vulnerable older Australians, their families and carers.
We all know there is a sense of vulnerability around the aged care system.
But when these things are pointed out to those that have the responsibility to fix the problems it seems that sensitivity prevails rather than a drive to get on with the job and commit to finding solutions.
Instead of using social media or media releases to attack Labor, the Government needs to act, to find solutions, pass legislation and implement a plan to continue driving long-term reform.
For the past five years we’ve seen aged care reform under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government crawling along at a snail’s pace.
Over the past 18 months there’s been a bit of tinkering here and there when politically pushed, but the reality is it has been a piecemeal approach that has seen many shaking their heads about the complete lack of will to get on with the job of long-term reform.
Planning has been ad hoc, lacking in strategic direction and without a Minister in the Cabinet there has been a leadership void through three Prime Ministers and three Aged Care Ministers.
The Mid-Year Economic Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) will be handed down next month. It will possibly be the last opportunity the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government will have to use the policy and fiscal levers to get reform back on track – at least travelling in the right direction.
The expectation on the Government to do something significant is great given the 2018-19 Budget was underwhelming. Not one extra dollar went into the aged care budget. All that happened was a shift of funding from residential aged care to fund 14,000 home care packages. We know now by the Government’s own figures and the Minister’s comments that this response was woefully inadequate given the growth in the number of older Australians on the home care package waitlist.
If nothing is done in MYEFO in December I fear the Government will decide to hide behind the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety – using that as an excuse to delay further reform.
I don’t say this lightly but if the Government doesn’t stump up some significant funding into aged care the ability to turn the system around will be made more difficult given Australia’s ageing population and the services that need to be delivered.
Talking with older Australians, their families and carers puts the aged care crisis into perspective. They are genuinely feeling the impact of the Government’s inaction.
Over five years under the Liberals’ watch we now have a clear picture of what has occurred.
As at 30 June, 2018 more than 121,000 older Australians are waiting for a home care package. More than 56,000 have no home care package at all. The remaining older Australians are on interim packages – lower levels of care than they have been approved for.
Legislation has only passed in the Parliament this week that will enable the establishment of a new Commission by 1 January, 2019 to monitor quality care and to deal with complaints. It had well over a year to deal with this legislation given it was a recommendation made to Government in the Carnell-Paterson report made public in October 2017.
Of great concern is almost $2 billion has been cut from the aged care budget. The current Prime Minister, when he was Treasurer, ripped out $1.2 billion directly from the Aged Care Funding Instrument. Scott Morrison was also responsible for removing $500 million from aged care in 2015 MYEFO.
The Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, has already confessed to these cuts in the Parliament but he seems determined to spin what is reality to divert attention away from what really matters – he has not taken responsibility and fixed or reformed the problems his Government created in the aged care system.
There are more than a dozen reports, reviews and inquiries sitting on the desk of the Minister with numerous recommendations unanswered. Of great frustration is that these documents map out the solutions and pathways forward – they have been devised by experts across the sector.
One vital strategy that’s sat on the Minister’s desk since June this year is around the aged care workforce. We know there aren’t enough aged care workers. We know aged care workers aren’t given enough pay, respect or support. We also know there needs to be a greater focus on training and education. But that report is still sitting idle instead of being implemented. There’s currently no funding for this workforce strategy.
Many of us come into politics to make a difference and to change the lives of many Australians. For me, the focus is making a difference to those most vulnerable. That’s why I’ve been pressuring the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government to fix these problems.
More than a million older Australians receiving aged care services deserve better. Those older Australians currently waiting to receive aged care services deserve better.
The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government must use MYEFO next month to make a genuine commitment to older Australians.
It is simply the right thing to do.