Australian Disability Enterprises and Aged Care Home Care Crisis

There are two matters I would like to talk to the House about tonight on behalf of local constituents. The first one is in relation to Australian disability enterprises.

In January I had the opportunity to host the shadow minister for disability and carers, Senator Carol Brown, in Wollongong.

I was specifically keen to have her there and she was very happy to come along at the invitation of some of our local enterprises, particularly Greenacres disability enterprises and the Flagstaff group, who were keen for her to meet with workplace representatives, with carers and, very importantly, with the employees of those organisations. They have been concerned for many months about the forthcoming modern award review and the issues arising from the transition to the NDIS. They have been running as part of a campaign called My Job Counts. I have to say I have been very proud and pleased to be able to support them.

I'm regularly at these organisations for particular graduations. Or, indeed, one of the greatest pleasures is to go along to their functions for retirements of people who have worked in some cases for 50 years with these organisations. Just the simple pride and joy that these people take in their work should be a stark reminder to all of us that, indeed, their job counts. So I have been very happy. We have had rallies in Wollongong with several hundred turning up to support their campaign. Of course, they are worried about their job security and they want to work.

I just wanted to share—at one of the rallies—one of the Greenacres workers, Sharon Kennedy, was so worried about her job that she wrote a poem. I said if I could get the chance to share it I would, so I will share it with the nation through this chamber. This is Sharon's poem:

My Job Counts

My job at Greenacres Disability Services means so much to me.

Making lots of friends and happy memories.

As I'm sure you will agree, it's not about the money that I receive, it's about the life skills that I can learn and achieve.

Coming to work and feeling proud each day I know that I have done an important job today.

That's why the Fair Work Commission of Australia should listen to us all as a nation.

We stand strong because we are not failures.

Please listen to us, the federal government of today

Because we are telling you that my job counts in so many different ways.

This is a shout-out to one and all.

Please accept our pay system for us all so the future will be bright for one and all.

We will keep fighting till the end. So we can stand tall.

So we can just all live happily after all.

Thank you, Sharon, for the opportunity to share that poem with the nation.

Labor supports Australian disability enterprises, and we recognise their vital role as employers of people with disabilities. We also acknowledge and value the training, the life skills and the social opportunities that people with disabilities access through their employment with ADEs. In addition, we strongly support ADEs providing pathways for so many people to open employment. We believe they should receive real and practical support from government to maintain their viability in this complex and changing employment and workplace environment, and in the context of the NDIS.

We will continue to support them. I will continue to support them, along with my colleague the member for Whitlam—our local ADEs, and more importantly than anything, those workers at those organisations and their families. You can tell from that poem how much meaning and purpose and pride those workers have in the work they do.

The other issue I would like to raise to the House tonight on behalf of my community is to do with home care. Many, I'm sure, colleagues across all sides of the chamber would be having significant numbers of representations into their office about issues with significant delays around the allocation of home care packages. Last November, figures in the Home Care Packages Program data report revealed approximately 950 older Australians in the Illawarra were waiting for home care. That included 321 patients who are requiring high care or level 4 packages. Across the country, of course, more than 100,000 people are waiting for this care. They have—particularly those with high needs, including many with dementia—the need for those packages to be delivered as quickly as can be the case.

In December last year, I visited Prabhunath Mukherjee, a man who had been approved for a high level—a level 4—package. But he couldn't get anyone to tell him how long he would have to wait for this additional assistance, which was critical to him being able to remain in his home.

Prab has suffered two strokes and has numerous other medical problems. His mobility is very limited. He has no family living close by so he's been forced to pay for transport to shopping and doctor’s appointments from his disability pension and, not surprisingly, he's finding this to be a struggle. I wrote to the Minister for Aged Care two months ago and I'm still awaiting a response regarding Prab's upgrade for his package.

I have to report to the House today my office contacted the parliamentary liaison hotline to see if there was any progress and I was very disappointed that they refused to discuss the matter with my staff, saying that they had to get a verbal approval from Prab over the phone to be able to discuss a constituent's case with their local member. This is a very frustrating thing. I'm sure members across the House have come across this on occasion. I wrote to the minister on behalf of two other constituents who contacted my office in relation to home care package problems. I was disappointed to receive a response from the minister which provided me with a list of phone numbers that the constituents could ring. Well, as many would appreciate—I'm sure the minister himself has had this in his electorate office—people come to you when they have tried all those standard departmental phone lines. They are coming to you because they are frustrated and have a problem they can't progress. I think that was fair enough to include the numbers because often ministers do that, but usually they outline where the policy issue is at and how that particular constituent's case could either be resolved or suggest some direct line to get some assistance, not just the general phone lines, and also to then give me the MP liaison line and suggest that my office ring that line. I mean, we have been doing this; this is why we wrote to the minister.

I can only assume that colleagues across the chamber are all having the same problem, because this extensive delay in these home care packages being allocated, I know, is a problem in other electorates, and I would be surprised if it wasn't right across the nation. I understand the minister may be under pressure on this matter, but I would suggest that when MPs, from whatever part of the parliament they come, are writing to the minister, it's an indication we are looking for a higher level of responsiveness than just to tell us what the phone numbers are. It was quite disappointing.

People are suffering while they wait. Families are suffering and are stressed, worried about their loved ones who need these home care packages. I have talked to families where the family carers had to give up work because of their caring responsibility to their relative, which they may not have had to do if the higher care package was delivered and enabled that support to happen in the home.

I'm aware that the minister indicated that he's become aware of the pressing problem. In February last year, he said he hadn't been aware of how many people were waiting for care. We've had 12 months now for the government to respond effectively to this crisis. I would suggest that it needs to really give its full attention to this matter because there are people across all our communities who deserve to know when they will get access to these services. And there are service providers who quite often are carrying the additional cost, which they cannot afford to do forever and a day. Because these people have been allocated a lower care package, the service provider is delivering that, but they need and have been assessed for a higher care one, and service providers don't want to leave them out on a limb by providing higher services so often they are carrying the cost of that themselves to keep it up. This is happening in all our communities. It is urgent, and the government must give urgent attention to this matter.