Matters of Public Importance - Aged Care

The Morrison government's priority is of course the safety of the public. Along with that goes the safety of aged-care residents and the quality of care that's provided to the same. The effects of this pandemic have been serious and they have been tragic. I think we all acknowledge that this crisis has been well managed by this government but the loss of life is tragic. So I'd like to commence by taking the opportunity to express my sympathy to the families and the loved ones of those who've tragically lost their lives in the past six months. It goes without saying, of course, that every death is a tragedy. But it goes deeper than that: many other Australians are doing it tough in isolation, they're struggling financially or they're just struggling with the realities of the world in which they now find themselves.

For these reasons it strikes me as being simply extraordinary that anyone, or any one group of people, would try to politicise a situation like this. Over the last week in particular, the attempts by the ALP to play politics with the memory of people's lives have been as staggering as they have been shameful. Drawing more deeply into the equation, you can understand why it is that those opposite would seek to behave in this way. We know that those opposite are hopelessly divided and devoid of a coherent agenda. While we on this side of the chamber seek to get on with the business of fighting the virus, delivering an economic lifeline to Australians, reopening the economy, building confidence and momentum in the economy and guaranteeing Australia's national security, those on the other side are busy fighting amongst themselves and failing to learn the lessons of elections past.

What do I mean by that? I'm glad you asked, Madam Acting Deputy President, because only this week we've seen two examples of that which I've outlined. The first was the news this week of the extraordinarily named Labor Environment Action Network, or LEAN as it's been called. I believe it's a campaign in Victoria that asks people to throw away their gas-powered household appliances. It doesn't strike me as being a very good policy for the elderly, in the middle of one of the coldest winters we've seen, from the side of politics that is claiming to be the friends of the elderly.

Then we've got Mark Butler, from my home state of South Australia, and Joel Fitzgibbon going toe to toe on Labor's energy policy. What does it show? It shows they're hopelessly divided and looking for a distraction.

Yesterday we heard allegations of leaking to the press—can you believe it, Madam Acting Deputy President?—by members of this chamber. It was reported on Sky News that Labor Senators O'Neill and Keneally had what was described as a 'tense altercation' on Monday at some point. I didn't hear it, but it was somewhere over your left shoulder, Madam Acting Deputy President, and it all related to Ms O'Neill's entitlements. She reportedly was accused of leaking stories about entitlements and visits to Tasmania when they met in the corridor outside this very chamber. Once again, those opposite are hopelessly divided and devoid of an agenda.

It's not surprising at all that those opposite are trying to run lines against the government, and it's not surprising at all that they're trying to distract from their own hopeless and divided opposition. But, to put a bit of a positive spin on this, Australia is, of course, facing an extraordinary health challenge, and it's unfortunate that, in circumstances where there are large clusters of transmission in the community, it is very, very hard to keep the virus out of aged-care facilities. We know that. That's a simple fact. Those opposite love to preach the politics of evidence based policy, but they like to choose the evidence based on their own agenda. So these are some real facts that will assist those opposite to understand the very real facet of what is actually happening here.

The Morrison government is committed to providing an unlimited amount of surge workforce in facilities that have had an outbreak. In fact, Commonwealth funded surge staff have been deployed across to Victorian aged-care services to date. ADF personnel are onsite in many residential facilities, with additional ADF clinical reserve staff available for deployment.

I think it's instructive to run a fact check. I know those opposite love a fact check. In fact, the one fact check they love the most is an ABC fact check. So I'm going to do one similar to that, except this one is going to be based in real facts, not partisan facts like we see on our national broadcaster. These are real facts. No country has been able to avoid an outbreak, as I said earlier, in residential care when there has been widespread community transmission of the virus. In fact, Australia's total death rate as a proportion of cases is 2.1 per cent. Once again, it's instructive to understand what that means in real terms. If we compare that to the United Kingdom's figures, they have a rate of 13.1 per cent. My maths has never been great, but that is significantly higher.

Senator POLLEY interjecting

Senator ANTIC: I say this for the benefit of Senator Polley who seems to need it reiterated. In any event, it's also instructive to point out that 3.2 per cent in the United States is also higher than here. This is a non-ABC fact check; this is a real fact check.

Total aged-care spending under Labor when they left office was $13.3 billion compared to $22.6 billion this year under the coalition.

Senator MOLAN interjecting

Senator ANTIC: Once again, Senator Molan, my maths is not outstanding, but it seems to me to be a largely superior sum and a largely inflated sum. But, also, that is going to rise to $25.4 billion in 2022-23. We will see an extra $1.2 billion of support. Only those opposite could call a $1 billion a year increase a cut—extraordinary stuff. By the way, this is the same party across the way here which planned for $387 billion in new taxes at the election but, notwithstanding that enormous tax grab, had no plan for additional funding for home care, aged care or mainstream residential care—extraordinary stuff. So, when it comes to policy, the ALP—those opposite—are hypocritical. When it comes to aged care, those opposite are hypocritical. Every year under the coalition government, these sectors have increased their funding.

Work continues to progress under the leadership of the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council—the ACWIC—which was formed in May last year under this coalition government. Additionally, this government continues to improve vocational educational training with the Aged Services Industry Reference Committee by designing new VET qualifications for aged-care workers. And then there is the Serious Incident Response Scheme. The Australian government is investing $23 million to introduce this scheme for residential aged care from 1 July 2021.

There are so many different funding schemes here that I could talk to you about. I won't have time. But we are conducting a fact check, and I love facts. I know those opposite love facts as well, so I'm going to continue to roll through them. These are achievements of this coalition government since the calling of the royal commission: this government has invested $3 billion since the 2018-19 budget into home care packages, released 14,275 new residential care places—including 13,500 residential places and 773 short-term restorative care places—and invested $21.9 million for My Aged Care operating costs. The list goes on. I could continue, and I will continue. In fact, this government has established $17.1 million in the Specialist Dementia Care Program and $21 million in 13 research projects that will focus on risk reduction, prevention and tracking of dementia. Dementia is Australia's second leading cause of death.

This is not information that fits the narrative being run by those opposite; in fact, this is information that shows very clearly that those opposite are simply attempting to distract the Australian people from their own disunity and lack of a policy agenda. The Morrison government in the meantime, as is evidenced by this fact check, is getting on with the job of protecting Australians and protecting the aged.