Adjournment Speech- Turnbull-Liberal Government’s shameful approach to ageing and aged care

I rise to speak on the Liberal Government's continued lack of vision when it comes to aged care and issues of ageing in this country. It would seem that the Government is out of ideas. It does not know what it wants or which way to go.

There is division in this Government, and Australians are still waiting for it to actually deliver on something—in fact, to deliver anything. It is visionless, and the same goes for its treatment and handling of aged care and ageing.

This was very evident during the Senate estimates two weeks ago when the Government confirmed it was walking away from its promise to develop an aged-care workforce strategy and would be outsourcing its leadership to the sector. They confirmed that there had been no movement in the development of an aged-care workforce strategy, promised over 500 days ago, saying that the Government wants to assist industry in them leading the development of a strategy.


Older Australians in this country deserve so much more. Those working in the sector deserve so much more. The providers, the leaders in the sector, deserve so much more. It should be the other way around. The government should be leading workforce development. That is what it promised when it came to government.

Let us remember that it was the former Labor Government that led the way with the Living Longer Living Better package. The Liberal Government did not have to show any vision, all it needed to do was roll our changes out. The vision was already there.
The consultation with the sector was already there. The plan was there for this Government. But it could not manage that. It took its eye off the ball, and all it has done since it has been in Government is to take money away from the aged-care sector.

It has ignored and neglected aged-care workforce development for two years, and now it is looking to outsource its leadership because it does not have a solution. The Abbott-Turnbull government already has a shameful record of mishandling the aged-care workforce issues, and now it is putting this in the too-hard basket.

It is unacceptable. Aged-care workforce development is one of the biggest challenges currently facing the sector and is not an optional policy area for the Turnbull Liberal government; it is a necessity. I have said many times in this place that in my home state of Tasmania, just in that state alone, over the next five years—that is five years; that is not very long—we need an extra 5,000 people to work in the sector to support older Tasmanians.

The Government have a responsibility to produce a plan to ensure that the demands of our ageing population are met by an adequately skilled and equipped workforce. This is something that they—that is, the government—must show leadership on. The lack of vision on the topic during Senate estimates certainly leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the care of vulnerable older Australians. They are giving older Australians every reason to fear getting older.

The Government's consultation with the sector in the past two years has been dismal. It is not just us on this side of the chamber saying that; that is what the sector tells us. And nothing has changed in recent times. During the Senate estimates they demonstrated that once again they have taken their eye off the ball, and they were left red faced after they were unable to name one aged-care facility visited by the Minister for Aged Care, Sussan Ley.

I started my estimates questioning with what I thought was a pretty easy question, and that was: could they inform the committee as to what aged-care facilities the minister had visited; how many; what was the purpose of the visits; and what were the outcomes? But to my amazement—and shock, quite frankly—there was no answer. They had to take it on notice.

It is clear from the minister's social media platforms that she has been busy with visits relating to other areas of her portfolio, like sporting events. I love sport, but I also love and have a passion for the aged-care sector in this country. But there is no evidence that we could find that she has actually visited any aged-care facilities outside her own electorate.

Here we are, almost at the end of the Liberal government's term, and not only has it failed to address workforce issues; it has broken every promise it made to older Australians and aged-care workers and providers. What we want to see is change. We want to see this government give aged care the priority that it needs.

Labor, as I said, developed the Living Longer Living Better reforms with wide-ranging consultation with the sector, but what we have seen from this government is that it has taken its eye off the ball. The hard work was done for it, but it has dropped the reform process and left not only the sector but the community really concerned about the future of aged care in this country.

This brings me to the revolving doors of Malcolm Turnbull's ministry. We saw Assistant Minister for Health Ken Wyatt add aged care to his list of duties last week. Of course, Labor welcomes the clarification of Mr Wyatt's duties, which comes after months of confusion over ministerial responsibilities within the aged-care portfolio. For a long period of time now, we on this side have been urging the Abbott-Turnbull government to give ageing in Australia the attention it deserves—because aged care is not the only facet of ageing policies that need to be developed by the current government. We have been asking for clarification of the roles and responsibilities of Minister Ley, Minister Nash and Assistant Minister Wyatt for almost six months. Quite frankly, there was not even an adequate explanation at estimates. So, as I said, we welcome that we finally now have an indication of who has responsibility.

There are lingering concerns. Ageing was not initially prioritised by the Prime Minister in his first ministry. He neglected to appoint anyone with direct responsibility for ageing or aged care. This, along with the belated appointment of Mr Wyatt, has caused confusion within the sector and is indicative of the Abbott-Turnbull government's record for ignoring and neglecting the aged-care issues that are confronting this country.

The biggest challenge they have ahead of them now is the workforce: where are the workers going to come from, what skills do they have, what training opportunities do they have and what career path will they have in the future?

Along with a new portfolio, the new Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care will also inherit a list of unfinished business. The heat is certainly on for the new Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care to do a better job providing leadership and consulting with the sector than his Liberal predecessors did. Renaming a ministry is completely pointless if there is no intention of giving ageing and aged care the attention and priority that were lacking for the past two years.

The Government needs to change its attitude towards ageing and aged care because right now it would appear that social policy and supporting the vulnerable, the weak and the marginalised are not big priorities for this government.

We know that the issues confronting this sector are huge. It is not just the workforce; it is also about ensuring that older Australians do not fear getting older. They need to be reassured that the government of the day has the vision and the strategy to ensure that they are well cared for and well supported in the community.

Those working in the sector deserve nothing less. Those providers and investors who are putting infrastructure into aged care deserve nothing less. Those people living with dementia and their families deserve nothing less. Older Australians in this country deserve nothing less. It is the responsibility of those elected to government to show the leadership that we all believe is in the best interests of this country.