During Question Time, Andrew Wilkie, an Independent Member representing Clark, posed the following question to Anika Wells, Minister for Aged Care. “Minister, most of the Aged Care Royal Commission’s recommendations have not been implemented. In addition, the industry’s requests for increased support have yet to be satisfied.
“As a direct consequence of this, significant number of service providers are unable to deliver high-quality treatment consistently, facilities are shutting down, and a substantial number of service providers are facing challenging decisions on whether or not they will even remain in business.
“Minister, in addition to hiring a few more nurses and increasing salaries, when will all 148 recommendations from the Royal Commission be implemented?”
In Australia, royal commissions are frequently abolished and reestablished. It is not crucial for government to comply with the recommendations made by a royal commission, despite the fact that royal commissions are the highest level of investigation and have extensive powers, including the authority to compel witnesses to testify before them. As a result of the over 140 royal commissions that have been held in Australia, innumerable recommendations have been left gathering dust in bottom drawers.
Take, for instance, the royal commission that looked into the deaths of indigenous people while they were in captivity. In the past thirty years since the royal commission’s final report, more than five hundred Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons have died while being held in detention. The 339 recommendations that were meant to prevent the deaths of Indigenous people while they were in the custody of the court system have not been fully implemented by successive governments.
In a similar vein, the recommendations that came out of the royal commission that investigated the banking, superannuation, and financial services industry have not been fully implemented. The final report was sent to the then-Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in 2019, and he made a commitment to take action on each of the 76 recommendations. However, several of the suggestions have been ignored or only partially followed.
This takes me to the royal commission looking at the quality and safety of care for the elderly. Although the final report was presented to the committee two years ago, very few of the suggestions have been put into action.
In 2018, on the eve of an investigation by ABC Four Corners into the systemic inadequacies of the elderly care system, Scott Morrison made the announcement of royal commission into the subject matter. Everyone was taken aback by the statement, including the minister of elderly care at the time, Ken Wyatt, who had previously dismissed the notion that a royal commission was necessary.
In the past 20 years, several investigations, reviews, consultations, thinktanks, and taskforces have provided significant evidence of poor personal care, carelessness, neglect, abuse, and assault in senior care homes. These findings have been uncovered through a variety of methods, including inquiries, reviews, consultations, and think tanks. The research that has been done also demonstrates how terrible the status of home care is.
The majority of the recommendations made by these various investigations and research programs have been disregarded by successive governments. Therefore, I was not surprised when the administration chose to disregard the recommendations made by the royal commission on care for the elderly.
However, Labor’s win in the election of 2022 provided me with a glimpse of optimism. Reforming the system of senior care was a central plank of Anthony Albanese’s election platform. Despite the fact that his five-point plan did not address each of the 148 recommendations made by the royal inquiry, it was a beginning.
Then, a string of warning signs appeared. The first was the choice made by the incoming prime minister to continue having the same minister oversee both the sports and the elderly care responsibilities.
When Labor introduced the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response) Act 2022, this was the biggest warning sign that could have been given. The Liberal party had originally proposed this very same law back in 2021.
When I saw that schedule nine had been inserted into Labor’s bill, I confronted Anika Wells, who is the minister for elderly care, with my worries on the matter. Justifying the necessity of restricting practices as an interim remedy was addressed in the response that I received from the Department of Health. The language used in the response was very similar to that I had received from former minister. According to a famous quotation attributed to Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with same thinking that we used when we created the problems.”
According to the government’s own rhetoric, “reforming the Australian aged care system through several key initiatives” is currently underway. But each of these endeavours is a prime candidate for picking low-hanging fruit. For instance, Labor’s introduction of a star grading system determined that 91% of residential care facilities. The conclusions of the royal commission are not consistent with this conclusion.
The Humans of Aged Care initiative is supported by Wells. She went to a number of nursing homes for the elderly and then posted on social media some of the cheerful pictures that the employees had shot. Residents, members of the minister’s family, and employees who voiced reservations about the validity of this positive spin have had their remarks deleted, and the minister has barred them from accessing his social media accounts.
New financial data were made public by the government just the week before last. Although this is an encouraging first step toward financial openness, it has given providers yet another opportunity to complain about their financial situation, despite the fact that they have received $27 billion in subsidies from the government.
I have lost track number of times throughout the last decade that providers of elderly care have stated that they are on the verge of bankruptcy. Simply put, I don’t believe it until there is complete transparency on the matter, including information regarding the landlord that the elderly care provider pays rent to.
The royal commission suggested the creation of a new statute for elderly care, a necessary minimum qualification for personal care workers, and a registration system for all staff members working in aged care facilities. The changes that the Labor government is making to the system of senior care are mainly cosmetic at this point because the recommendations have not yet been implemented.
There are currently three royal commissions that are being conducted. A royal commission must be established to investigate suicides committed by members of the armed forces and veterans; violence against individuals with disabilities; abuse, neglect, and exploitation of disabled people; and the robodebt program. It is essential for government to not only hear the terrible stories but also to take action in response to them.
Following the findings of the royal commission investigating the quality and safety of aged care, it was suggested that a new aged care act be adopted by July of this year. The time has come for serious reform of the elderly care system.