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Aged care a hot topic during the first Election Leadership Debate

The first Leadership Debate of the Federal Election campaign was held last night and hard-hitting questions were asked of current Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese locked heads during the first Federal Election Leadership Debate. [Source: Sky News Live Video]

The debate included the topics of aged care and cashless debit cards.

Aged care has been considered a key issue that will impact the outcome of the upcoming Federal Election and was a big topic of discussion during the Leadership Debate.

There were 100 undecided voters in attendance at the debate to ask questions about issues and policies that Australians want to know about to inform their vote.

Mr Albanese was named the winner of the debate with the backing of 40 percent of the undecided voters to PM Morrison's 35 percent, and 25 percent of the voters were still undecided.

The event was held in Brisbane at The Gabba Stadium by Sky News and The Courier Mail, and was moderated by Sky News Anchor, Kieran Gilbert.

Aged care workforce and quality care

One of the first questions of the Debate was about aged care, specifically the nursing workforce and how the two parties intend to support the aged care sector, including in rural and remote areas.

Mr Albanese started off the debate stating that 80 percent of nurses in the aged care sector are part-time and many nurses want more hours.

He adds that the Labor Party, if elected, were committed to "putting the nurses back in nursing homes".

"I think most people would be surprised that there aren't nurses in nursing homes right now because it seems so fundamental, it seems like such common sense. We need to make sure that occurs," says Mr Albanese.

Mr Albanese also says that there are 20,000 additional university places being put forward in the Labor plan to address the skill shortage in the sector. He wants more nurses trained for jobs in aged care to account for the ageing population.

Policies that Labor wants to implement include:

  • 24/7 nursing in aged care homes
  • 215 minutes of care for every older Australian in an aged care home
  • Better pay for aged care workers
  • Better food and nutrition, with a specific mention of working with the Maggie Beer Foundation
  • Improved transparency and accountability of providers

Mr Albanese says, "One of the things I found incredibly shocking about the Royal Commission findings is that the Interim Report found that over half of aged care residents weren't getting the nutrition they need. They were literally starving.

"We had cases like food being scraped up off plates and put in a blender and served the next day as puree. Now, in 2022, we can do better than that."

The same question was put to PM Morrison, who was asked why the Government has not already implemented 24/7 nursing in aged care facilities.

PM Morrison explained his own experience with his father in aged care and was incredibly grateful to the workers who took care of his father until he passed, however, he called the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety because the aged care system was not working as it should.

He was adamant though, that implementing 24/7 nursing right now would not be sustainable and resources need to be developed and pooled before executing that plan.

"What the Royal Commission found is that there have been problems in our aged care system for 30 years and they are complex and they are difficult problems," explains PM Morrison.

"We can't just make nurses all of a sudden fall out of the sky and be able to go and meet a 24/7 commitment to have a nurse in every single aged care [home]. Now, a part of our plan, in 2025, I believe, is to be able to achieve that and hopefully before then. This year, [we will have nurses covering] 16 hours a day, because that is how many nurses we have to do that.

"If you go and make a standard of 24/7 nurs[ing], because you asked me about rural and remote nurses, if you make that the standard in aged care facilities right across Australia right now, then you will be closing aged care facilities in rural and regional communities right across the country."

PM Morrison went on to point out strategies that have been implemented in aged care over the last two years to fix the sector, including $19.1 billion in response to the Royal Commission and a $10 a day payment per resident for nutrition - which he says is currently achieving $12 a day.

"Nutrition is important and care is important, we are training more nurses and we need to train more nurses. But aged care is complex and difficult, there are no simple solutions, you can't all of sudden say that there's going to be all of these nurses to go in there because if you make it a standard then you have to hold to that standard," finishes PM Morrison.

Mr Albanese provided rebuttal to PM Morrison's claims, stating that the workforce was highlighted by the Royal Commission as the "missing piece" to fixing issues in aged care, however, the current Government has only provided once-off payments to workers.

"The truth is that the Royal Commission found that unless we do something about increasing wages of people who are aged care workers, then we won't have a workforce," says Mr Albanese.

"Unless we do something about addressing the 215 minutes of care, then the pressure [on] aged care workers, that I have spoken to right around the country, means that they will leave the industry and that is why we need a plan that includes a plan for workforce.

"That is the missing piece that just isn't there in the Government's response."

Cashless debit cards

Another topic of interest was around the cashless debit card for pensioners, which Mr Albanese claimed could be put in place by the Federal Government as he alleges that the current Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston, had "left open the potential extension of this [program]".

Mr Albanese wants the entirety of the cashless debit card to be gone, as it tells people on welfare - who have the card - what they can buy and who they can buy it from.

PM Morrison made it very clear that the cashless debit card will not be given to pensioners to use.

He added that the Government has worked on the cashless debit card with vulnerable communities and people in vulnerable situations, and these cards will give "vulnerable Australians the support they need to get back up off their feet and be able to get forward with their lives".

Both parties adamant they can make a difference

During the closing remarks of the debate, both PM Morrison and Mr Albanese were confident that their parties would form the best Government for the next three years.

PM Morrison says that this upcoming Federal Election is all about the economy that people, their families and communities will live with for the next ten years and will determine the economic opportunities of the population.

"Our Government has proven that with a strong economic plan that has been delivering unemployment falling to four percent, a triple-A credit rating, biggest budget turn around we have seen in seven years," says PM Morrison.

"The future, we are heading in the right direction. Now is not the time to turn back.

"I thank you for your questions and I look forward to realising the great opportunities that Australia has as we seize them with the economic plan that we know is working and we will continue to work for you and your family and the essential services you rely on."

In Mr Albanese's closing remarks, he says that the problem with the current Government is that they have been in office for a decade and they are shooting for another decade in office, however, they haven't shown any plan recently or over their entire time in office on how they intend to grow wages.

"How do you have an economy that works for people, not the other way around? I want an economy that sees wages being lifted, I want people to enjoy a higher standard of living, I want us to inspire and be optimistic as we should be as a country," explains Mr Albanese.

"I have two simple philosophies… and in part that drives me every day. One is no one left behind. That is the Labor party will always look after the disadvantaged, that's why we do things like the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme] and the big picture things for social justice.

"[Secondly] no one held back, we are the party of opportunity, we are the party that is into training and education and understands that if we are going to advance as an economy, then we need to have stronger education."

Industry pleased to see aged care a hot topic for upcoming Election

The aged care sector has welcomed the fact that aged care was a big topic for the first Leadership Debate.

Coming up to the Election, industry peak body, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), wants to continue seeing commitments from the big parties on aged care reform.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of LASA, Sean Rooney, says, "It’s about time aged care was given the prominence it deserves during an Election and in last night’s debate between the major party leaders, we saw both leaders express a desire to fund improvements to aged care services for older Australians.

"We support the Royal Commission’s recommendation to have a registered nurse in aged care homes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And we acknowledge the leader’s commitment to realise this."

Mr Rooney points out that LASA understands the current Government's hesitance on rolling out mandatory 24/7 nursing in aged care when some providers don't have the capacity to do so.

"We know that around 80 percent of residential aged care providers already have a registered nurse on staff 24/7," explains Mr Rooney.

"For the remaining 20 per cent of providers, some of whom are in regional, rural and remote areas, they will need emergency funding to get the additional workforce in place to provide that care. Without this support, we are concerned at how these services can remain viable."

Mr Rooney adds that the sector not only needs a commitment on Registered Nurses (RNs) and money to fund them, but also a comprehensive workforce strategy that aligns with the Royal Commission recommendations for care minutes, 24/7 RNs, more Home Care Packages, and the staff and skills to deliver quality care across diverse settings.

On top of that, this strategy needs to be fully funded to attract, train and retain aged care staff who are being paid appropriately, says Mr Rooney.

While PM Morrison repeated workforce commitments from last year's Budget, LASA was disappointed to see no commitment to match Labor's pledge to fully fund a workforce pay rise.

The Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC), a group of six aged care peak bodies including LASA, has already highlighted over the last few months what is necessary in the short term to secure aged care, including:

  • A Workforce Partnership Supplement to spend on staff wages, training, minutes of care, nursing, and COVID-19 prevention and staff retention costs
  • A minimum wage increase for aged care workers and award wage increases from July of this year
  • A multidisciplinary workforce that includes allied health needs assessment and funding model

As a spokesperson for LASA and the AACC, Mr Rooney says, "Given that we have another four weeks of the Election campaign, we would like to see the major political parties commit to develop a sustainable funding mechanism to support aged care into the future."

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