Morrison's aged-care neglect

14 February 2022

Speech to Parliament by Libby Coker MP on Monday 14 Feburary 2022:

The Morrison government's neglect of the aged-care sector and its failure to prepare and plan during the pandemic has led to residents being locked down, isolated and disorientated without enough food and water, with wounds untended and incontinence pads unchanged.

This is unconscionable abuse of our elderly citizens, and it isn't caused by aged-care workers or providers; it is caused by this federal government. The sector has deteriorated shockingly under the coalition government due to its serious neglect over the past nine years. Funding cuts, inadequate staff-to-patient ratios, low wages and a casualised workforce have all led to a system buckling under intense pressure. This was happening well before the COVID-19 pandemic but has now become a full-blown crisis.

Our fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles all deserve better in their old age. They've worked hard their entire lives, paid their taxes, volunteered in their communities and raised their families. They deserve to live out their twilight years with dignity and respect. Instead, we have heard story after story, hundreds of harrowing stories, from aged-care nurses, workers and family members about the extremely poor conditions in which our elderly folk are living in aged care. These stories are appalling and they have shocked me to my core. It is truly unacceptable. I don't want any family of mine or yours in federally run aged care as it currently stands. Severely neglected, underfunded and poorly resourced during the pandemic, it's a national disgrace. Aged-care workers are trying their best to give high-quality care to residents, and I thank them for everything they do. But, with little support from the government, they are frustrated, devastated they cannot provide the high-quality care that residents deserve.

Aged-care workers have spoken out in desperation. Many feel they are working on a factory production line, not in an aged-care environment, with only five minutes to shower frail residents and with responsibility to care for 20-plus patients or residents at a time. It is physically and emotionally demanding work by people who are among the lowest paid workers in our economy. Staff shortages are hammering the sector. At least 25 per cent of aged-care worker shifts are not being filled. The Morrison government has announced it will bring in the ADFan acknowledgement the system is in crisis. But how on earth are 1,700 Defence Force personnel to cover more than 140,000 shifts a week?

Compounding these problems, we now know that 60 per cent of aged-care workers and at least 60,000 residents still haven't received their boosters, and aged-care homes don't have enough rapid antigen tests or PPE for staff. These are vital measures for protection against the pandemic, and this government has completely failed to deliver them. There are currently over 10,000 active COVID cases among staff and residents, and more than 680 aged-care residents have died with COVID since 1 January this year. That's an average of 17 residents dying every single day. This latest outbreak has forced aged-care facilities around the country to lock down and confine residents to their rooms because they don't have enough RATs, PPE or boosters being delivered. Many residents feel like prisoners. This is inhumane and unnecessary, and it should never have happened.

The Prime Minister is responsible for the aged-care system. He failed to listen to 21 expert reports and he even failed to listen to the recommendation of his own royal commission. I call on this government to immediately provide adequate PPE and rapid antigen tests to aged-care facilities, to expediate the vaccine booster program for staff and residents and to address the issue of staff shortages by listening to the sector and what it needs. Aged-care workers are heroes. They've been working on the front line during the pandemic, while the aged-care minister attends the cricket and the Prime Minister plays the ukulele! Across my electorate, indeed right across Australia, aged-care workers are pleading with the Morrison government to step up and support them, not with a paltry and insulting payment, which many won't get, but with proper planning, action and leadership from this federal government, which has failed to protect our most vulnerable Australians.