SOCIAL SERVICES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (NO.2) Bill 2015

PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

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I rise to speak on the Social Servics Legislation Amendment (No.2) Bill 2015.

I want to focus my comments on the bill's two amendments to aged care. They appear to be innocuous enough—but only if taken in isolation.

The first measure ceased payment of the Pre-Entry leave Subsidy. Unfortunately, the contribution by the Government Senator before me clearly does not have an understanding of what this is really going to mean. Not only to the aged-care sector but also to the families of those who are considering moving into aged-care homes.

I think the Abbott Government has demonstrated a clear message every day of the two years that they have been in office, and that is that you are on your own - particularly if you are some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

So, to me, this is yet again another attack on the budget bottom line of the aged-care sector.

We know this Government is very fond of cutting and not really doing anything when it comes to consultation with this sector in particular. But what is more galling is that the Prime Minister, prior to the last election, said that he would bring in a Government of no surprises and no excuses.

Yet every other day and every other week in the past two very long years that is what we have seen—backflips, changes and cuts without any consultation at all.

Unfortunately, the aged-care sector has been one sector that has suffered greatly.

The Bill also abolishes the Aged Care Planning Advisory Committees as part of the Government’s Smaller Government reforms.

This seemed harmless enough at first. But now it’s clear that this “smaller Government” reform can only be achieved by increasing the burden on and pick-pocketing the aged care sector.

So, once again, it is going to have a real impact on the aged-care sector. One might even say that the Government has increased red tape for the sector, something that the sector is not happy about.

This is a Government quick on its feet when it comes to cutting funding and dithering when it comes to implementing any real reforms.

Case in point: the slow and delayed implementation of Labor’s Living Longer Living Better aged care reforms, which were introduced with bipartisan support and extensive consultation.

Our reforms were not ideological, short-sighted, or politically motivated.

Tony Abbott promised to continue rolling out those reforms before coming to Government and the aged care sector was relieved.

This promise came as a relief because there had been so many changes and a lot of upheavals. There was extensive consultation by Minister Butler and the Labor Government, and the sector was assured by the opposition under Mr Abbott at that time that those reforms would be rolled out.

But After two years in Government, Tony Abbott still has no plan to deal with Australia’s ageing population.

Labor’s Living Longer Living Better reforms have been undermined by a consistent lack of oversight and interest. Undermined by and Assistant Minister who has not had his eye on the ball since day one.

I have spoken on many occasions in this chamber about the fact that the Assistant Minister so blatantly demonstrates his lack of care and compassion for and interest in this very important sector. As a result, a great deal of avoidable anxiety and stress has been caused in the sector.

In fact, the performance and administration of the aged-care portfolio under this Government has been, at the very least, very disappointing.

This Government has demonstrated that they are bereft of any leadership when it comes to ageing in this country, bereft of any vision for this country when it comes to looking after older Australians, and it has been clearly demonstrated that they cannot even implement a framework that was put in place by the previous Labor Government.

The fact that they are have not even been able to implement a good policy that was supported not only by the sector itself but by the community leaves me speechless as to the lack of compassion that has been demonstrated by this Government.

Since September 2013 there is only one thing this Government has demonstrated any penchant for – cuts and ideological decisions.

I get the distinct impression that this Government has no idea what it is doing when it comes to aged care.

The sector is undergoing major reforms that require initiatives and leadership - not just traditional care.

The Government has an integral role to play in ensuring we can meet the needs of older Australians now and into the future.

I am truly concerned that this Government’s dithering, delays and disarray are creating even further anxiety and concern for aged care workers, age care providers, and for older Australians and their families who will be the ones who will feel the brunt of this Government’s lack of leadership and vision.

Tony Abbott and his Liberals have set a poor record for aged care. The sector has received numerous kicks to the “gut.” No consultation. No warning. Just hit after hit.

Senator Fifield has overseen a number of chaotic, reactive and often ideologically driven decisions, including:

1. Axing the $17 a day Dementia and Severe Behaviour Supplement paid to residential aged care providers with no consultation or warning.

2. Announcing the experimental “flying squads” to deal with residents with severe behaviours, with no evidence or trialling of the program.

3. Asking tenderers for the “flying squads” to come up with a model and solution for how they might work.

4. Promising to develop an aged care workforce strategy, which the sector is still waiting for.

5. Cutting $20 million from the Dementia and Aged Care Services fund for innovative aged care services including dementia care and risk reduction.

6. Abandoning the Younger Onset Dementia Key Workers Program.

It is time for the Abbott Government to take some leadership, to show some compassion and to take aged care seriously.

We know that Mr Abbott does not give this issue the same profile as we did when we were in Government—we actually had a Cabinet Minister responsible for ageing. That is the weight the Labor Party puts to a policy that is so essential and that affects every older Australian.

We cannot overestimate the value of having a Cabinet Minister to provide a strong voice at the table when they are setting out the Budget.

I do not know why I am surprised that this Government has failed the Australian people on aged care—they have broken all their other promises—even though all the hard work had been done. The consultation had been done; the sector was there willing and able to implement the Living Longer Living Better strategy. It had been agreed; it had cross-party support. But the Government has failed in administering and rolling out these changes.
 
The Abbott Government has put money into research, and that is admirable. I salute you for investing in dementia research. Of course, we have to do research—we have to find a way of preventing dementia in the first place. Those people currently living with dementia deserve respect and a Government that will prioritise the investment into their care so they can continue to live in their communities.

We should be doing more to ensure that we have dementia friendly communities. We should take a leaf out of the book of Scotland, the UK or Japan: they are establishing friendly communities and dementia friendly programs to ensure there is a good profile for dementia in the community.

It is fair to say that the Australian Government under Tony Abbott has failed the Australian community when it comes to aged care. It has failed the fairness test in too many areas to mention. It is really the responsibility of Government to deliver the respect and the care to those most in need.

I remember giving speeches about the eleven long years of the Howard Government. This Government's two years of “great Government” have been two of the worst years in this country's history.

This is how it is going to be recorded, because this Government has attacked the most vulnerable in this community in a whole range of areas—if you look at pensioners, if you look at health and if you look at education where they are trying to stop young Australians going to university unless their parents have a big credit card.

This is not the sort Government that this country deserves.

Whether I am visiting disability services, visiting aged care homes, visiting people through home care support, going to a school or doing my grocery shopping I hear the same thing every single time people talk to me. They say 'bring on the election. We have to get rid of this Abbott Government because it is bad.'

The reality is that the Abbott Government does not go out into the community and listen to people. They might go out into the community and talk to them, but they should try listening to the community. This Government needs to listen to the community because they are not happy.

Quite frankly, older Australians deserve better.