Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (11:11): I am very, very pleased to second this motion by my colleague on the aged-care crisis. I want to talk to the Chamber about three ways in which it is having a very real effect on older people in my electorate at this very moment.
The first aspect is obviously the issue around home care packages. I've had a lot of families contacting me in great distress because their elderly relatives have been assessed as needing a high-level care package, and they have been waiting months, some up to a year, to get that service. Imagine what that means in reality for those families. They have an elderly family member, living at home, who they are trying to support, and, at the same time, the elderly family member has been assessed as needing a package that they can't get. What that means is: those families are stepping in, trying to provide that support to their elderly relative, often when they're managing their own work, life, children and so forth. I've had people in tears because it's really awful and they feel terrible complaining about having to support their elderly relative, but the pressures on their family are enormous.
Before the budget, from the stuff leaked to the media, it seemed that we were going to see some big initiative. What did we get? Around 14,000 measly places across four years across the whole country when the government's own figures showed that over 100,000 people across Australia are on these waiting lists. It is an absolutely critical issue that the government needs to get serious about addressing.
The second aspect, and what became obvious from the budget, is that the funding that was provided for those 14,000 places wasn't new money; it was coming out of residential care. I can tell you: residential care needs more investment, not less, at this particular time.
Just the other week, I attended a forum in my electorate organised by the Health Services Union as part of their campaign for better aged-care services. I just want to acknowledge the speakers who were there. Gerard Hayes, from the Health Services Union, spoke, but we also heard from four amazing aged-care workers—Amanda Hampton, Karen Singh, Lisa Walker and Lyn Martin. Their love of their job and their dedication to the people they work with is one of the most inspiring things I've heard. It was really well received at that forum, because people understand, particularly if you've got elderly relatives in residential care, that these carers at the front line provide the love, care and protection that we would all expect for our elderly relatives in aged care.
They were talking about the pressures and stress they're under around issues of funding, staffing and quality care and their cry-out for more care from government to make sure that those services are offering the dignity, respect and quality of life that our older Australians deserve.
I'll tell you what they don't deserve. They don't deserve to have their work undervalued. It's not good enough to say to aged-care workers, as the Prime Minister said in question time last week, that 'what you should aspire to is to either get a better job or move up to management'. The reality is we should respect and honour the work that these workers do day in and day out, looking after our elderly with love, care, compassion and dedication. I would suggest to the Prime Minister that he rethink what he said and maybe make a clarifying statement about the fact that that work is important and we value it. We've got a shortage of aged-care workers. We need to be backing them in.
The third aspect that's having a real effect on older people in my electorate is the decision by the Department of Human Services to cut the Warrawong Centrelink and Medicare office. There's a report out today by Anglicare Australia talking about the impact that the loss of face-to-face services in Centrelink is having on vulnerable people, and that includes our older Australians, particularly in terms of the increased automation making it a much more stressful experience.
Hank Jongen, speaking on behalf of the department, said that they recognise that not everyone wishes to or can access digital solutions. That's absolutely true. I would call on Mr Jongen, in the spirit of his comments to the media today in response to the Anglicare report, to review the decision to close the Warrawong office, which is right in the heart of communities that are very disadvantaged and that also have very high populations of elderly people from a non-English speaking background, who need to have a Centrelink and Medicare office they can go into to speak to someone face to face and lodge their documents. On those three aspects, where we have real issues for older people in my electorate, we need to get much better at servicing them.
Watch Sharon’s speech here.