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Opposition Budget reply promises to fix the "crisis in aged care"

The Labor Party has released its reply to the Federal Budget, pledging an extra $2.5 billion to the aged care sector and promising to fix the ongoing issues plaguing the industry.

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The aged care sector has responded positively to Labor's Budget Response with many peak bodies and organisations wanting to work with all parties on their aged care plans. [Source: Parliament Live]

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese says that the Labor Party plan for aged care will put "security, dignity, quality and humanity" back into the sector.

The pledge from Labor includes a few timeline accelerations on recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

"More of us are living long enough to need extra care in our later years. But currently, that thought fills a generation of Australians and their families with dread," says Mr Albanese.

"Older Australians fear that the final chapter of their life will be in an aged care facility where they are not properly cared for, let alone afforded real dignity.

"Their children wrestle with the dilemma of sending them to a place that might not be good enough, versus the risk of leaving them at home when it’s becoming unsafe for them to be on their own."

The five "concrete" measures Labor has promised to implement are:

  • Every aged care facility will be required to have registered, qualified nurses on-site 24/7
  • A mandate that every resident in aged care receives a minimum of 215 minutes of care per day, as per the recommendation from the Royal Commission
  • A pay rise for aged care workers by supporting the outcome of the Fair Work Commission Work Value case
  • Better food for aged care residents by implementing mandatory nutrition standards for aged care homes
  • More aged care funding to go towards more staff, better care and accountability, as well as new powers for the Aged Care Safety Commissioner

Opposition Leader Albanese adds, "The simple truth of it is this: the Liberals have had a decade to do something about Aged Care.

"Even an Interim Royal Commission Report – with the searing title “Neglect” – wasn’t enough to spur them into action. If they are left in power, nothing will change - and the bleak present they have created will be the bleak future awaiting so many more Australians.

"...If we want to change aged care in this country for the better, then we need to start by changing the Government."

The Federal Government has responded with Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, saying that the Opposition's aged care response "ignores" home care, has "gone against" the Royal Commission recommendations, and has "unfunded wage promise[s]".

"Labor’s promise of $2.5 billion to fund its measures is simply not credible. Mr Albanese says older and vulnerable Australians and those who care for them deserve better. But as the Morrison Government has listened and acted on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, Mr Albanese has done nothing but criticise," says Minister Colbeck.

"His Budget Reply was an opportunity to outline a comprehensive alternative but it has fallen desperately short. Every measure offered by Mr Albanese is already being acted on by the Morrison Government.

"It is clear Labor remains focused on political strategy – not policy – when it comes to offering a framework for the future of aged care delivery."

Minister Colbeck believes implementing the Royal Commission recommendation of 24/7 nurse coverage in residential aged care too soon would increase the risk of closure for some facilities.

Only yesterday, peak bodies raised concerns that providers will struggle to find the workforce to sustain that commitment after nursing amendments to theAged Care Reform Bill were passed through the Senate.

The Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC), a group of six aged care peak bodies, says that 24/7 nursing coverage in aged care would also require adequate funding and workers to make this measure a reality.

Industry receptive to Labor's pledge

The aged care sector has responded quite positively to Labor's Budget Response with many peak bodies and organisations wanting to work with all parties on their aged care plans to make sure they are actioned appropriately.

Paul Sadler, Chief Executive Officer of industry peak body Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) and AACC representative, says that representative organisations have already asked for the current Government to match the funding pledge from Labor.

"The first thing to say is thank you - about time! From our point of view, we have been asking for all sides of politics to commit to a wage increase and address the quality issues in aged care," explains Mr Sadler.

"We do need to see the details and we will need to be engaging with the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the relevant Government about how these promises are actually activated."

He adds that the $2.5 billion commitment from Labor is on top of the Government's current $18.5 billion response to the Royal Commission, so it is equivalent to just over a $20 billion dollar package over four years.

Mr Sadler does point out, however, that the Royal Commission found that the aged care sector was underfunded by $10 billion per annum, so this funding goes half of the way to making the aged care system sustainable.

"There is still more work to do," says Mr Sadler.

Mr Sadler adds that ACSA and the AACC feel encouraged that Labor has promised to support the outcome of the Fair Work Commission Work Value case.

The United Workers Union (UWU) have welcomed the Opposition's promise to boost quality care in aged care and increase worker wages.

Aged Care Director for UWU, Carolyn Smith, says that Labor's pledge to honour the Fair Work Commission Work Value case will be a significant increase to aged care wages.

"Labor’s plan to fix aged care addresses years of neglect experienced by aged care residents and aged care workers alike," says Ms Smith.

"We have seen through the Royal Commission and beyond that aged care residents have suffered appalling conditions due to understaffing and a lack of quality care."

Ms Smith says that several aspects of Labor's plan will address long-standing issues in the aged care sector.

Dementia Australia also acknowledges the "strong commitment to aged care" by the Opposition party.

Maree McCabe, CEO of Dementia Australia, says the focus on registered nurses, committing more time to care, increasing worker wages, ensuring better quality food and more funding for care is essential to quality aged and dementia care.

"As we turn to the Federal Election all parties must honour their commitments to fulfil the Royal Commission’s recommendations and keep dementia front of mind throughout the aged care reform process," says Ms McCabe.

"We need to maintain the momentum and focus on aged care and dementia, especially in relation to workforce issues and the need for compulsory dementia education.

"With 70 percent of the almost half a million Australians with dementia living in the community and 70 percent of those in residential aged care having moderate to severe cognitive impairment, it is crucial to specifically include a guarantee of delivering quality dementia care throughout the entire aged care system – residential and home and community care."

Ms McCabe says that clients and dementia advocates want to see strong messaging from leaders of the nation that dementia is top of the agenda within aged care reform.

Dementia Australia will continue to have conversations with all parties to ensure quality dementia care is a priority across health, aged care and disability sectors.

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