Ms Bird (Cunningham) (18:19):   I thank the member for Macquarie for putting this issue on the debate list today. It's not new for me, in speaking in this parliament, to talk about the experiences of constituents in my area waiting for home-care packages. It is a persistent issue and a persistent problem in electorates right across this country. It is indeed an issue that was raised in the interim report of the royal commission, to which the government responded by releasing, I will acknowledge, an additional 10,000 home-care packages. The problem is: that's less than 10 per cent of those who are actually on the waiting list, and, when you consider the way our community is ageing, there are as many people coming onto the waiting list as the bandaid of a small percentage of new packages addresses. So the problem we've got now is that the waiting list is just not being tackled. The repercussions of that are not just numbers and figures. They are people who are making really difficult decisions in their homes and their families.

Many people have, very sadly, as we've heard from other speakers, died before they got the package that they were assessed as needing. We can only imagine what that meant for the last period of their life where they were struggling in their home, having been assessed as needing support and not being able to access it.

We know, in our constituency offices, what that means for the families, because it is the families who are picking up that work. I've talked to women who are in tears because they've had to give up their job to look after their elderly relative, to families torn by guilt about the fact that they can't do what their elderly relatives need, and, very often, to people going into residential care who would not have had to do that if they'd got the support they needed. Those are the true stories behind those figures. The government really needs a serious strategy to tackle those waiting lists.

I just want to take this opportunity, because I have spoken on a number of occasions about this, to report to the chamber the views of an amazing constituent of mine, an amazing advocate in the aged-care sector—indeed, the Senior Citizen of the Year in Wollongong in the Australia Day awards, Val Fell. Val recently turned 91. Happy birthday, Val! I'm not here to talk about Val's application for a home-care package. I'm here to read Val's words on the work she's doing to help the elderly in our community. This is what Val has to say:

Although Australians are living longer, many of them begin 'the Waiting Game' as soon as they are diagnosed with an illness, such as heart complaint, stroke, physical disability mental health problem or dementia.

In the dementia field, because of the lack of face-to-face discussions with an advisor, people with dementia and their carers 'wait' to access services because they are often unaware of their existence. (there is A Dementia Advisory Service but the staff numbers cannot cover the number of people involved ie (one adviser to over 6000 people with a diagnosis in one area).

Arranging an ACAT under the current system is usually without problems and carers are confident with the result because they know that the assessors are part of a trained, multi-disciplinary team.

And Val was making that point because of our concerns about the privatisation of that service, so I'm very pleased the government has backflipped on that today. Val continues:

If you are computer literate (not all aged people are in that category) accessing 'Finding a Provider' for HOME HELP under CHSP on the MY AGED CARE website can be time-consuming and frustrating.

Many people are initially looking for domestic assistance, personal care, gardening and transport although there are other services listed. This means going through the process 4 times (difficult if you are caring for someone 24/7 who is constantly shadowing you.

The result of trawling through the system at the moment in many areas is—

  1. Domestic Assistance - currently not available but you may go on a waiting list …
  2. Personal Care offered by 1 organisation … Who say 'currently not available'.
  3. Gardening—only available from 2 organisations on a 'one-off' … basis …
  4. Transport depends on your postcode.

Val has done a lot of work advocating tirelessly for people who ring her seeking assistance. She's an amazing 91-year-old. But, on her behalf, as an advocate in my community who lives this day in and day out, I call on the government to take more immediate action to address this matter.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.