RADIO INTERVIEW - ABC STATEWIDE - Royal Commission into the aged care sector


SUBJECTS: Royal Commission into the aged care sector, Scott Morrison’s cuts to aged care.

SARAH GILLMAN, PRESENTER:  Good morning Helen Polley.
SENATOR HELEN POLLEY: Good morning Sarah.
GILLMAN: Do you support the idea of a Royal Commission into aged care? We have spoken before about some of the key issues that need to be addressed.   
POLLEY: Yes, Labor does support the Royal Commission and we have been saying for quite some time that there is a national crisis within the aged care sector. We were booed by the government. We know that currently there is about 14 reports sitting on the Minister’s desk and most of those have not been acted on. And I think a Royal Commission will not only give the providers an opportunity but also residents, their families and staff the opportunity to speak. I know from the inquiries that I have chaired or have been involved in that we know that there are a lot of things which are not working within the aged care sector at the moment.   
GILLMAN: We will come to those but as you say there have been a number of parliamentary inquiries now and national reports. Even the Health Minister Michael Ferguson is welcoming the news of the Royal Commission. It will cost $75 million to hold. Why can’t the recommendations of the previous reports and inquiries be implemented?    
POLLEY: I think because it has gone beyond that point now. When you have the Prime Minister deny that he has cut over $500 million from the sector when he was Treasurer. Then on his second budget cut $1.2 billion. You can’t take that money out of a sector and then expect the same quality of care. We know that there is a shortage of staff. I was involved in an inquiry 2 years ago that showed that need. Then we had staff telling us that exact fact. We will hear tonight on Four Corners that the sector has gone beyond relying on this government who have quite frankly over the last 5 years at every opportunity used the sector as an ATM and ripped money out of it and you can’t keep doing that.

GILLMAN: Scott Morrison got into a bit of a vigorous debate with one of the journalists yesterday during the media conference denying he has cut money from the sector.   
POLLEY: You only have to look at the Budget Papers. It is there in black and white. Now if this Prime Minister lies about that then quite frankly I don’t have any faith in this government to be able to turn around the sector. It needs leadership, we have been calling for that. We have offered to work in a bipartisan manner as we did when we were in government with the Living Longer, Living Better reforms. But what we have seen ever since is a lack of interest. We have seen three ministers in the last 4 years, we don’t have a minister in cabinet that can push their agenda for the sector and ensure they get the money that they need so we can make the sector better. It really is outrageous. We as a rich nation, should be judging ourselves in the way we treat older people. It is shameful and no wonder we have older people in this country that are too afraid to go into residential care.          
GILLMAN: Well that is the other issue. The commission will look into home care packages and we have talked about that. The terms of reference for the Royal Commission are expected to be announced or developed over the coming weeks. What do you think its terms of reference should be?   
POLLEY: Well we have asked to have a say in that. So we will wait to see if the government allows that to happen. Certainly what we need is a complete overview of the ACFI instrument and see if it is still viable, we need to look at staffing levels and home care packages. 108,000 older Australians are waiting for home care packages. We had a roundtable with Bill Shorten, Julie Collins and myself in Melbourne on Friday and we talked about the issues that are confronting the sector from consumer groups to providers, to professors; across the spectrum. They are all saying that until we reduce the 108,000 Australians waiting for care at home then we are going to continue to have an ongoing problem. We need to look at the standard of care that is being provided, we need to look at the meals, we have to look at how do we put this sector on a stable footing moving forward. We have an ageing population. We have to look at how it is going to be funded. We might have to look at making some tough decisions. We cannot allow for the standard of care to deteriorate any further. But I might add there are some wonderful residential homes across the country. I have travelled for 5 years right across this country and there is some great work being done. But if we look at the impact of when they took away the $110 million back on June 26, 2014, right out of all these aged care places who were using that supplement for severe behaviours of dementia, that was the beginning of the rot setting in. And this government has failed older Australians quite clearly.     
GILLMAN: Helen Polley, good to talk to you we will watch with interest to see whether you get a say in the terms of reference.   
POLLEY: Well we will certainly be pushing, thanks so much for your time.