This Friday the government will receive the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Many Australians will remember that this was the royal commission the government only called back in 2018 because the government was shamed by a Four Corners media scandal. This inquiry, the most in-depth and thorough examination of Australia's aged-care system according to the counsel assisting, Peter Rozen QC, has heard from 641 witnesses, held almost 100 days of hearings and accepted more than 10,500 public submissions. The result? A shocking tale of neglect.
The interim report released in October 2019 found the aged-care system failed in its duty to support older Australians. It found:
It does not deliver uniformly safe and quality care for older people. It is unkind and uncaring towards them. In too many instances, it simply neglects them.
This government has had almost eight years to look after older Australians properly. It's had nearly 18 months to act on the urgent recommendations of the interim report. This crisis is the government's doing.
The Prime Minister was Treasurer when the government cut $1.7 billion from aged care. Now there are close to 100,000 older Australians waiting for a home-care package during a global pandemic when many people are afraid of entering residential care, with those needing more support level 4 packages waiting for more than a year for the help they desperately need. Over the past two years, 28,000 older Australians have died while waiting for a home-care package. It's a national disgrace.
In my community on the Central Coast of New South Wales there are 1,109 people waiting for a home-care package—people like Enid, who at 96 was told she would have to wait 12 months for a level 4 home-care package. It's not good enough. It's not easy growing old. As the report observed, we avoid thinking and talking about it, leading to an apparent indifference where, 'left out of sight and out of mind, these important services are left floundering'.
I know of people, some living with dementia, who've ended up in residential care after a fall or a hospital stay, and of families and carers burnt out and frustrated while trying to keep them safely at home. I was with my dad when, after an exhausting battery of tests over many years, he was finally diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer's dementia. He said to me, 'You will never leave me dribbling in a nursing home,' and I am determined to keep my promise to my mum, Barbie, that it will be better for other families. But kind words and good intentions won't help people like my dad's friend Steve, who was admitted to residential aged care during COVID, and it won't help the dedicated staff I've met with—like Leanne, Jenny, Cathy, Nicole, Bec, Julie, Bronwyn, Adam, Ron, Kevin, George, Peter and James—who are frustrated and exhausted, trying to care for people in a system that is broken. It has to be better; it must be. To the many people who've written to me about aged care, and those just in the past week—like Steve, Cecily, Liz, Joan, and Vicki—the government must act now. There's no time to waste.