Parliament – My Aged Care, Submarines, Childcare

Wednesday, 04 March 2020

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (16:24): We’re coming up to seven years of this Liberal government, and there is a question on my lips, as on the lips of many others: ‘What is the point of them?’ What is the point? They’ve been elected with absolutely no plan for the future of Australia. They don’t have a plan for the nation’s economy. They don’t have a plan to get wages moving or to address job insecurity and the rising cost of living—all these issues that are impacting Australian working families. The Liberal Party and the National Party have taken no steps to really invest in our people. This is a real, real shame. They’ve let education and health services really decay, and they’ve done nothing to address climate change.

Of course, there are a number of areas that I could touch on in which they have really failed the Australian people, but I think we can’t go past the aged-care system. It has been terrible to see this government leave the aged-care system in such crisis. It has been under their watch. I really find it frustrating, as do many other people, when this Prime Minister constantly blames others and constantly finds excuses about why they haven’t properly funded aged care. Well, put it in the budget! There’s a simple answer. Of course, we’ve seen waiting times for aged care explode under the Liberals—by 300 per cent—with older Australians now waiting longer and longer for permanent care or for home care packages. More than 110,000 calls for help have gone unanswered by the My Aged Care call centre over the last three years. Just last week, the government was forced to back down on their plans to privatise aged-care assessments. That had been a terrible, terrible plan and finally, after a lot of pressure, I’m pleased that they have backed down on this. But, of course, we still have their inaction when it comes to this really important system. Our older Australians deserve our support. They have worked hard all their lives and deserve, in their older years, the care and support that they need.

I think for any society a measure of how well they’re doing, how compassionate they are and how decent they are is how they treat their most vulnerable—those that require care. Right now, we’re doing pretty badly as a country, particularly when it comes to our older Australians. The Morrison government doesn’t need a royal commission to tell them that they need to address the shortfall in home aged care packages. This is not the first time I’ve raised this. I am regularly having to raise in this parliament the long waiting times for home care packages through My Aged Care. Despite the government’s announcement of additional home care packages, people are still not receiving the support and care they deserve. People are being assessed as needing high levels of support and are simply not receiving it due to long waiting times. In South Australia alone, 6,073 people were waiting for a package. As we’ve heard from others, 120,000 older Australians from around the country are awaiting home care.

One of those people is Mrs Charman, who lives in the electorate. She contacted me out of desperation when she was told there would be a 12-month wait before she received the level 3 home care package she needs. She said to me, ‘I may not be around to receive it.’ Mrs Charman believes she may die before she receives the support she needs. Isn’t that a tragedy? She feels this way not only because of the long wait time but because of her own personal experience when it came to her husband. Mrs Charman watched her beloved husband pass away while he was still on the same waiting list that she is on. She says the support came through too late. She was notified that his package had become available after he’d passed away. Her son is worried for her, just as he was worried for his father.

Tragically, this is not the only situation where family members or individuals have contacted me about loved ones where the person has passed away while waiting to receive the care they were assessed as needing. These are individuals that have been assessed as needing a level of support, and just can’t get it. More than 16,000 Australians died while waiting for their approved home care packages in 2017-18. The son of a fragile aged woman contacted me with his concerns. His mother was not receiving the level of care she was assessed as needing. He was also worried about her husband, who is himself elderly and was responsible for caring for her and making up for the government shortfall. I made my representations to the minister on the family’s behalf. Devastatingly, before the minister’s response was received, she had also passed away. Her son said to me, ‘They claim the support is there but in reality it’s not.’ In response, Minister Colbeck claimed that he regretted that the home care package service was not in place before her passing. Well, minister, it is too little too late. Enough with your regrets. Enough with your thoughts and prayers. Do something about this.

This is a matter of dignity for many who wish to remain in their homes. How can people receive timely assessments to gauge what support they need but then be made to wait months or in some cases years to receive this support? We know that our aged-care system is in crisis—and our elderly cannot wait. The government must do better to ensure older Australians get the quality aged-care services they need. No more excuses, Prime Minister, and no more blaming other people. It is time to act now.

In addition to this issue that’s affecting many in my electorate, the issues of job insecurity and employment are also on the minds of many in my seat in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. Many people are finding the stagnating wages really difficult. Their wages are not going up and, of course, households bills are, and they feel that their standard of living is being reduced—and the government are doing nothing. They have absolutely no plan. Many in my electorate were affected when then Treasurer Joe Hockey goaded General Motors to leave this country. No-one should forget that that the reason that Holden is leaving Australia today is because this government told them to leave—’Pack your bags and get out. We don’t want you here any more.’ And, of course, now we’re seeing the final step, the final consequence, as a result of the then Treasurer, who was part of this government. We’ve still got the same government that provides no support for manufacturing in this country and does not believe in standing up for manufacturing jobs.

But, of course, there is another challenge that we see in South Australia, and that is making sure that we get our fair share of jobs from the Future Submarine project. When Christopher Pyne was defence minister he said that 90 per cent of the Future Submarine work would be carried out in Australia. That was a solemn, solemn promise. But, unfortunately within, say, 18 months that promised 90 per cent has suddenly reduced to 60 per cent. Now there’s only a guarantee of 60 per cent. The increasing uncertainty when it comes to how much work will occur in Australia for the Future Submarine project is concerning, and it’s this government who is misleading the Australian people about Australian content. When the Prime Minister flew to Adelaide earlier this year, he didn’t face the workers at Osborne; he didn’t address their questions; he didn’t commit to having 90 per cent of work on the Future Submarine project in Adelaide. Well, it’s just not good enough. And Premier Steven Marshall is not holding this government to account and is not standing up for South Australians and demanding answers from this Prime Minister. How, within 18 months, can the amount of work go from 90 per cent in Australia to 60 per cent? This is about government misleading the Australian people before an election—and this government of course has form.

In addition to jobs and in addition to failing our older Australians, the government continues to fail when it comes to those that need government services. We know that there are many people, particularly pensioners, who are struggling to make ends meet—and, indeed, struggling to even navigate the Centrelink system.

Of course, we know that there are many people, particularly pensioners, who are struggling to actually make ends meet and, indeed, struggling even to navigate the Centrelink system. There are many people who do rely on Centrelink at some point in their lifetime, whether that is when they need a social security and support if they find themselves without a job, people requiring child care support or pensioners who have worked a lifetime and now are looking to the government for support. And we have seen this federal government run down our safety net system in this country. The wait times for Centrelink continue to be absolutely appalling. I literally have pensioners that thought that, when it came time to retire and they knew they’d qualify for the pension, it would be a simple process, that all they had to do was register for Centrelink and then they would suddenly get their pension. They are now eating into their meagre savings just to get by just because the system has been run down by this Liberal government.

I think that’s because in their heart of hearts the coalition does not believe in a safety net system. It’s a safety net for our older Australians, a safety net for those who find themselves down on their luck, a safety net for those most vulnerable in our community. They don’t believe in it, and so that is why not only with their language but with their actions when it comes to Centrelink and other government services they have no interest and no commitment to it.

Finally, I’d like to quickly touch on our early education and childcare system. We’ve got a government that is just not investing more money. They’re investing less money when it comes to our early education system, and that is just not good enough. We should be investing in our youngest citizens. Just because they don’t have a vote shouldn’t mean that we should not actually invest in them. They are our future, and it is so important. But of course what we’re seeing is a government that will not commit funding past this year to four-year-old preschool and kindy. This was a very successful program that was introduced by the previous Labor government. It has seen early education and access improve right across the country, including in the most recent Closing the gap report, which showed universal access has brought preschool enrolment of Indigenous children to 86.4 per cent and is on target to meet the 95 per cent target by 2025. So it is a good-news story about investing in early education, but the Liberal and National government will not commit to this in the long term.

We’ve heard a whole lot of weasel words when it comes to this government. We’ve heard them say: ‘Well, enrolment’s up, but attendance isn’t good enough. We need to do a review of the national partnerships’—excuse after excuse after excuse. Well, all of those reviews have been done. All of the negotiations have been had with the states and territories, and the test is in this budget coming up in May. There are no more excuses. It is now time for this Commonwealth government to invest in early education in the long term. Fund universal access to four-year-old preschool. Put it in the forward estimates. Stop your dodgy accounting. Stop holding kindies, state governments and community preschools to ransom and just fund them. Bite the bullet and invest in our children. While you’re there, fund three-year-old preschool as well. The two years before school are really important moments in a child’s education. Actually fund these. Actually work with the states and territories, not against them.

My challenge to the government is for them to actually start funding universal access to early education. Put it in the budget because it has a big impact. While we are there, start actually doing something about childcare fees. You lauded your new childcare system, and all it has done is put fees up for families. Out-of-pocket expenses are soaring. Families cannot afford this, and it is time the government took real action when it comes to investing into early education.

There are so many things that this government could do. We are providing a lot of constructive criticism for you. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to see any action, because this government got elected with no plan, but I urge them to take our constructive criticism and get on with the job of governing for all Australians.