Second Reading – Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill 2018
Mr PITT: I rise to speak in support of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Bill 2018 and the related bill. One of the reasons that this first bill is so important to the people I represent is that my electorate of Hinkler has one of the largest percentages of elderly people in Australia. As at March 2018, there were 27,738 on the age pension in my electorate and 47,506 had a pensioner concession card. At the end of the day we are here talking about regulation and oversight, but, more importantly, we are talking about people. And I want to speak briefly about the people who do need this level of care and what it is that they’ve done for our nation. These are the most resilient and stoic people I have ever met. If we look back to what it is that they have done for us, many of them were teenagers or young adults through World War II. Their parents lived through the World War I era. They’ve lived through the Korean War and the Vietnam War. They’ve seen technology move so rapidly: from the original meat safe to a refrigerator; from the development of television, and men landing on the moon in 1969, all the way through to now, with social media and expansion. It has been such an incredible change for them. And what have they done? They have been hardworking. They have been out building our nation—our roads, our farms, our industries, our businesses—and providing opportunities for their children and their children’s children over, literally, decades.
The reason this debate is so important is that they deserve the dignity and the respect and the care that they have earned over the many years of building our nation, and I think we should be focused on them. That is the absolute reality: we should be focused on them. I look back to the things that they would have seen—the donkey hot water systems and the outhouses—they know what ‘night soil’ means. Many of them never had the opportunity to go to university as many of the people in this building did. In fact, it has extended enormously compared to what they used to do. They knew what hard labour was. It was hard labour—pick and axe and shovel. They have cleared our agricultural production areas. They have done everything that we need to make sure that our economy and our nation goes forward. So we need to look after them at their time of need.
Locally, what we are doing is providing more services. In my electorate in 2014 we provided an additional $8.6 million to an additional to 126 residential care places and 57 home-care packages. In 2016, it was an additional 278 residential care places. In 2017, it was an additional 174 residential care places. There are about 28 aged-care facilities in my electorate, with two new ones opening in Hervey Bay—The Waterford and Ozcare’s new centre. These are two fantastic aged-care facilities. In fact, I’d describe The Waterford as a cruise ship. It has cruise-ship-like facilities. There are theatres. There are workshops and a Men’s Shed. There are all sorts of local assets for people in that facility to utilise. But aged care is a changing business, so we continue to invest in new and expanded facilities throughout the aged-care approval rounds. Once again, the people who’ve worked hard, who’ve raised us, who’ve raised their children and who’ve raised their grandchildren deserve that respect and that dignity and the highest standard of care.
I’m very pleased the minister for aged care is here in the chamber tonight. Mr Wyatt and I have met a number of times with local constituents and with local providers, particularly over issues which have been raised with me in my electorate. As a result of those meetings, we had one of the first unannounced audits of an aged-care facility in this country. We’ve had the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner visit the electorate to meet with concerned residents and aged-care providers. Those aged-care needs continue to be met, but we must ensure that the standard is of the level that is required, so roundtable discussions with aged-care providers and families were a valuable opportunity for them to raise their concerns with the minister. The reason people bring these challenges to us is because they want action, and we took that action at the time. But what I don’t want to do is to disparage those operators who are doing a very, very good job—to disparage those people who work in aged care every single day, in trying circumstances, doing their utmost. It is on them that I want to reflect, because they are doing a great job, and we shouldn’t be out there making their time more difficult. That is why the Department of Health and the Office of the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner held two aged-care forums in Bundaberg just last month. Our first session was for consumers, seniors, their family and carers, and anyone else who might have been looking for information about how to access aged-care services. The second session was for aged-care services and health professionals. We had around 100 attend each session, and the feedback from the first session was very positive.
We need to provide those opportunities to those individuals who are concerned, because, at the end of the day, one day it may well be us needing these services. In my own personal life, that opportunity was of no avail for my grandparents, apart from one; they simply did not live long enough to need that care. So I think we should celebrate the fact that Australians are living longer and continuing to contribute.
While aged-care services are there, fundamentally, to provide services to people in need, they are also such a massive driver of our local economy. They provide employment. They provide the supply of services and goods. They are a huge driver of our local economy. For us, in an electorate where this is one of our biggest challenges, they are providing local jobs and strengthening our local regional economy. They are a massive driver of our economy, and the more we have, the better. Obviously we continue to need more facilities locally. So I’d say to all those providers out there: we have the numbers, but there are more people coming into care, and certainly the Hinkler electorate—Bundaberg to Hervey Bay—is an opportunity for you as a provider to deliver more beds and more services in our local region.
I’ve spoken a number of times about ACAT assessments and the fact that the wait time has once again become too long in regional Australia. I would say again to the state Labor government: you need to fix this. Just because someone does not live in the city does not mean they don’t deserve the same standards. Many of our constituents look to these services, particularly in regional areas such as Childers, because regional centres become the catch-all for the smaller communities inland. As a coastal community, we pick up service provision to those people who have resided in Mundubbera, Gayndah and Eidsvold and in other electorates and who move to the major centres when they need these services. But, like all Australians who’ve lived somewhere for a long time, they would like to be able to stay home for longer, and we are providing those services. So, for those out there looking for that opportunity, I say again: move to the Hinkler electorate; that opportunity is there for you. There is affordable housing, it’s a great place to live and it is a wonderful place to retire.
And we are debating, of course, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which will become a single point of contact for aged-care consumers and providers of aged care in relation to the quality of care and regulation. The commission will continue to regulate residential aged-care services, home care services, flexible care services and the Commonwealth funded aged-care program. The commission replaces the existing Australian Aged Care Quality Agency and the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner from 1 January 2019 by bringing together these functions into the commission. This will result in the commission being responsible for accreditation, assessment, monitoring and complaints handling in relation to Commonwealth funded aged-care services. While I’m on my feet and have the opportunity, I say to those individuals out there who have concerns about aged care that you should raise them. I’ve spoken to a number of people, and not only people who provide health services, or employees. If you have an issue, raise it with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, once it is established, because that is its job as a regulator.
As part of the reform agenda, it is intended that the commission will be responsible for the approval of providers of aged-care compliance and compulsory reports of assault from 1 January 2020. The commission will be led by a statutorily appointed Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, who’ll be supported by an advisory body. I’ve also written to the aged-care minister—he might not have seen it on his desk quite yet—about the actual terms of reference of the royal commission, asking for the minister to consider the total transparency of costs and funding to show just how federal government funds are expended per patient for what services and how much per provider. I’ve asked the minister to consider greater transparency relating to profits and losses and how aged-care providers, both not-for-profit and for-profit providers, re-invest any of those potential profits into the facilities where the profits are generated to ensure that no profits are siphoned into a provider’s general operating costs over a number of facilities, as well as the ability to make compliance reporting measures mandatory, not voluntary, in relation to adverse incidents, and the assessment of staffing needs with the focus on the number of staff, the qualifications mix required, staff training and competencies, and wages across the sector.
I’ve also asked about a review of the need for access to registered nurses, whether on call, per shift or through other means, and also an assessment of the needs of regional and rural facilities to investigate their specific needs to maintain viable services and ensure that any recommendations do not lead to closures and job losses in towns. If you live in a regional area, you are linked to that community, and it is important that those communities are provided with the opportunity that services provide in the capital cities. You should not have to move to a capital city simply to be provided with aged-care services. So I commend the bill to the House.