Delivering the 'Living Longer, Living Better' reforms means caring for carers

Published on Monday, 04 September 2017 11:27

We have to remember that our aged-care workforce is itself getting older and includes a majority of women. As with so many vocational sectors with high levels of female participation, there is no doubt that the incredible commitment of aged-care staff is too often taken for granted and too often used consciously or unconsciously to hold down wages and conditions. That's wrong. 

Mr Wilson (11:27am) — I thank the member for Hindmarsh for putting this motion up for debate, and all those who have contributed to it. It should be a matter of broad consensus that older Australians have the right to expect safe, secure, high-quality aged-care services, wherever those services are delivered—at home or in a residential facility. For quite a long time now, we've been talking in Australia about the future challenges of our ageing population. But when you speak with people who are directly involved in aged care they always press the point that that is not a prospective phenomenon, it is the reality here and now.

As a local member, I'm mindful of the changing composition of my own electorate. In the last 10 years, the percentage of people aged over 60 has continued to grow and now totals 18 per cent of the population—nearly one in five residents. Of course, it varies across my community. The proportion of residents over the age of 60 in suburbs like North Fremantle and Samson, for example, is 29 per cent. In Coogee, it's 26 per cent.

In 2016 there were 3.7 million people, or 15 per cent of all Australians, aged 65 and over. It's three times the number in 1976, which at the time was nine per cent of our population. We know that the number and proportion of older Australians is projected to keep growing. By 2056 it's estimated that it will be 22 per cent, or 8.7 million Australians. While it's wonderful that Australia's public health and safety measures are enabling people to live and stay active longer, we do need to adjust our economy and our social compact to meet those changes.

In May, I had the privilege of opening the new Hillcrest centre, by Regis, in North Fremantle. It's a beautiful facility that's won awards for its sensitive reuse of a precious heritage building. Previously, I attended a sod turning for a Regis facility under construction by the sea in the suburb of Coogee. I'm glad that additional residential capacity is being developed in this way, but I'm conscious of the need for a wide range of residential options and for better services for those who want to remain in their home as long as possible.

161102 JeanWillisVisit HACCOne of the challenges in my community is the provision of culturally appropriate aged care. Italian Village and Villa Dalmacia are examples of care facilities that ensure residents from southern European backgrounds can be supported in an environment that makes them feel at home. These centres have only been made possible with considerable leadership and funding support from the local community, which I applaud. I've also enjoyed visiting the Jean Willis Centre, in Hamilton Hill, which, in addition to its work supporting social inclusion and interaction for seniors in general, has a specific focus on cultural engagement with older Indigenous Australians.

Last week, the member for Port Adelaide was in Fremantle to launch his new book, Climate Wars, but it was as a result of his former ministerial role that he produced Advanced Australia: The Politics of Ageing. That book examines the ideas and analysis that underpinned Labor's push towards a fairer and more flexible aged-care program through the Living Longer Living Better reforms. Those reforms included the provision of tailored care packages to people receiving home care; new funding for dementia care; $1.2 billion to improve the aged-care workforce, through a workforce compact and a workforce supplement; and a two-thirds increase to the number of home-care packages, from 60,000 to 100,000 such packages. By contrast, the Abbott-Turnbull government has removed $2 billion from aged-care funding at a time when client-to-carer ratios and specific high-care conditions like dementia are increasing.

Shortly after the election last year, I was grateful to meet with United Voice aged-care workplace delegates to hear some of their stories of a system under stress. I heard stories of carers being so rushed by high client-to-carer ratios that there was no time to help people wash their hair properly and of aged-care staff having to pitch in their own money to buy basic toiletries or linen. Needless to say, that shouldn't happen. The United Voice submission to the 2016 legislated review opens with a quote from a care worker, who says:

I am proud & honoured to help others … I am proud of the level & quality of care we provide to the community. Skilled & committed workers are needed in this industry, it's not work if you love what you do.

We have to remember that our aged-care workforce is itself getting older and includes a majority of women. As with so many vocational sectors with high levels of female participation, there is no doubt that the incredible commitment of aged-care staff is too often taken for granted and too often used consciously or unconsciously to hold down wages and conditions. That's wrong. Like childhood education, aged care is a labour of love. The very young and the very old represent special and vulnerable groups in our community. Caring for them starts with caring for the people who work in those sectors.

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