Address to the Aged and Community Care Providers Association Conference - 12 October 2022

Read the transcript of Minister Wells' speech at the Aged and Community Care Providers Association Conference.

The Hon Anika Wells MP
Minister for Aged Care
Minister for Sport

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Thank you, Anne - Rosalind and Daniel- and thank you Dr Graeme Blackman AO, for your opening address and recognise your commitment to this sector and his work as Chairman of the Aged and Community Care Providers Association.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains.

Together, Australians stand on the shoulders of 1600 generations of First Nations people and that is our shared history.

As Minister for Aged Care, alongside my parliamentary colleagues here Senator Ruston and Senator Rice … and as representatives of Australia’s Aged Care providers, it must sit with us all collectively to do better for First Nations people.

We need aged care, particularly residential aged care, to be accessible and a welcoming place for all Australians… no matter their circumstances.

And the Albanese Government is working to deliver a First Nations reform agenda for First Nations Elders, led by in-depth consultation with Elders, their families and carers, providers and workers, and relevant community organisations.

We do this in genuine partnership, under the Closing the Gap National Agreement.

The group gathered here today is important.

We need your input, solutions, and efforts to reform aged care.

We need to do this once and do it well.

I want to be clear – we are all here for the same reason… to make aged care at home and in residence a safe place where people have a quality of life they deserve.

A place where older Australians are treated with a high level of dignity

A place where loved one’s trust their mothers, fathers, and partners will receive a high level of care.

If we all have the same goal, then we should be working together productively to achieve that goal.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has challenged us to create better aged care services and better standards of care for older Australians.

We have had more than a year since that final report laid bare the state of the sector, and for many Australians it was hard reading.

Hard, because it revealed an ugly truth – we fell short of Australians’ expectations of aged care.

I am joining you here because I believe together, we can deliver fundamental, tangible, and meaningful improvements.

The days of inaction and excuses are over.

With your help, we will create lasting change.

The Albanese Government has been in place for less than 5 months, but together we stand at the threshold for real reform.

We made no secret of the priority we are giving aged care – it was the first piece of legislation passed through the 47th parliament.

When I introduced that first bill, I referenced a constituent who is now a friend – Pat Cook.

Pat lives in my electorate of Lilley in North Brisbane.

Pat’s husband of 71 years, Jack, lived with dementia and received a home care package.

Before the election… I brought the now Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, to meet Pat and Jack.

The Prime Minister and I listened to what worked well and what didn’t in their home care package.

We promised Pat and Jack if the Australian people voted us in, we would do our best to ensure home care and support for people living with dementia improved.

Then…just after we won the election… I visited Pat and Jack in hospital to renew that promise.

Unfortunately, Jack passed away between that meeting and Parliament sitting… before we could make good on our promise.

Jack deserved better and we owe it to people like him and Pat to be better.

And if I can just give a special shout out to Pat… who has been in hospital for two weeks after a fall but was released this week and is recovering well.

Our thoughts are with you.

Reforming aged care has already begun - we have set in train:

  • the Australian National Aged Care Classification (AN-ACC), a new funding model which commenced on 1 October
  • a new code of conduct for approved providers, aged care workers and governing persons - the exposure draft has been released for genuine consultation on this code
  • extension of the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) to home care, as well as to flexible care delivered in a home or community setting
  • steps to enable the department to have star ratings for all residential aged care services by the end of this year, and
  • addressing gaps in State and Territory laws regarding the giving of informed consent to the use of restrictive practices where a care recipient does not have capacity.

The improvements we need require us to work together – Government, providers, workers, advocates, older Australians, and their families.

We have committed to deliver –

  • a registered nurse in every aged care facility, on site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • mandating an average of 215 minutes of care for aged care residents per day
  • a pay rise for aged care workers
  • better food for residents, and
  • improved transparency and accountability for how government funding is spent to deliver care and services to older Australians.

These are the promises we made to every person in aged care, the promises we made to Pat and Jack and every Australian who may need aged care in the future.

In the near future, I want to look back and see the changes we have made making a real difference.

I agree with Graeme when he says AACPA wants to move from a culture of compliance to one of excellence.

And I’d add innovation.

I was first to the Innovation Hub this morning!

To do that this government will be consultive.

I am uninterested in consultation for the sake of box ticking.

I have heard there's a disconnect between the government and providers, but I am telling you we will work with you and have a genuine relationship.

I have also been clear that I want a focus on solutions and work to lift standards of care for our most vulnerable.

I want all older Australians to get the care they deserve, not just essential clinical treatment when they need it, but the basics like help to shower, get dressed, eating a meal and having something to look forward to.

I want Australia to be world-leading not just "getting by" or meeting a minimum standard.

Graeme - AACPA intends to be assertive

I think you will find you have an assertive aged care minister too.

Together, I want us to have ambition for aged care.

I know from speaking with sector representatives, some of whom are with us today, that the aged care workforce presents our most significant challenge.

If the experience during some of those dark days of the pandemic taught us one thing it was that aged care workers are this sector's beating heart.

Without workers, the discussions of care minutes, of improved systems, of returning security and dignity to aged care means little… because it only works when people make it work.

Our government’s commitment to fund the Fair Work Commission’s decision on wages for aged care workers will assist with labour supply through higher wages over time.

We are determined to meet the unique challenges of rural and regional staffing in particular.

We will provide older Australians in regional, rural and remote communities with equitable access to the care they need, regardless of where they live, so they can stay close to their loved ones and their communities for as long as possible.

Under the new AN-ACC funding model, remote and very remote facilities (MM6-7) are forecast to receive on average approximately $290 per bed day, which is $65 more than average AN-ACC funding of $225 per bed day.

We will also provide funding to support integrated health and aged care through Multi-Purpose Services (MPS), and funding to support flexible aged care services for First Nations people.

Additional targeted funding will also be provided to improve capital infrastructure within rural and remote communities that need it most.

I am fighting for funding and resourcing in what can be considered one of our most fiscally challenging times.

As the Treasurer put it recently, the global situation has deteriorated, we have high and rising inflation and interest rates, and pretty substantial pressures on the Budget right now - aged care funding being one of the key challenges.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers revealed on the weekend that Commonwealth spending on aged care will increase by more than three quarters over the next decade from $29.8b in 2022-23 to $52.5b by 2032-33.

This doesn’t include the Government’s election commitment to improve aged care quality, or the future spending requirements as a result of the current wages case.

More room will need to be found in the budget to fund both the existing projected spending and the additional critical investments.

Despite this Budget backdrop, we remain optimistic and want to turn these challenges into opportunities.

We are looking to providers to work with us in creating these opportunities.

So this is a time to ask yourselves… are you contributing ideas and solutions to the national debate about these challenges?

Or is your contribution merely admiring the scale and the complexity of the problem?

Ask yourselves, are you doing all you can to bring the right workers to your organisations?

We can take a moment and step aside from the sector-wide perspective.

You run businesses. You need workers.

So, are you offering the opportunities, the rewards, and the workplace culture that you believe will attract the right workers with the right skills and dedication you need to succeed?

I appreciate the aged care workforce issues we are all facing.

Some of you have already engaged with us, collaborated with us and been proactive and constructive in our shared goal of reforming aged care.

For this I thank you.

We all understand our goal is difficult and that's why we must work together.

The National Skills Commission's Care Workforce Study revealed last month that Australia will have shortfall of around 100,000 care workers by 2027-28.

The study also estimates that by 2049-50, the workforce gap will be around 212,000 full-time equivalent positions.

We face an even more challenging economic environment now compared to when this study was completed a year ago.

To close this gap, we must make the aged care industry an attractive place, where people are rewarded for their efforts.

Transparency is also a crucial element of aged care reform. When it all boils down, many of the complaints I hear about aged care come back to a lack of transparency.

In this stage of the aged care reform journey, when we are working together to build a new sector, transparency will be vital.

You must be prepared to embrace this change and accept the new way of operating.

There is no reason the finances of aged care cannot be laid bare for older Australians to judge for themselves whether they are getting what they pay for.

Likewise, the Australian taxpayer has every right to see if their multi-billion-dollar investment, is delivering what they expect.

In the coming weeks, the first Financial Report on the Australian Aged Care Sector is to be released, for the 2020–21 financial year.

When you add the impact of the pandemic and the report of the Aged Care Royal Commission, the scene has been set for more people to look for alternatives, to age in their own homes or to turn to family, rather than residential care.

So, the reforms and our collaboration to deliver them, will do double the lifting – improving the care available to older Australians across the board and making the available care options more appealing to them.

While transparency will change business for providers, for the better, it is important to recognise our reforms are increasing the transparency of government processes and decisions as well.

We went to the election with a commitment to fund a wage increase for aged care workers which will improve services.

The quantum of that increase will be decided by the Fair Work Commission, and importantly the Government will continue to collaborate with the sector throughout this process, including on matters of implementation.

We need to work together to ensure pay rises flow through to workers.

On 1 October 2022, we implemented the new funding model, AN-ACC, replacing the Aged Care Funding Instrument.

AN-ACC gives more equitable funding to government subsided residential aged care providers across Australia that better matches residents’ needs and the costs of delivering care.

It is a far more transparent system for providers, older Australians, and the community.

Importantly, we have commissioned the Independent Health and Aged Care Pricing Authority to give us advice on indexation for residential aged care.

Again, this is a major way in which government decisions will be more transparent to the sector.

So today, I come to you with a commitment to increase transparency.

What I would like from the sector is that you also embrace obligations the Royal Commission set out.

It is vital that all of us – Government, older Australians, their families and carers, workers, providers, and policy advocates –do everything we can to achieve a better and more transparent aged care system.

And that you take on responsibility and accountability for your role in creating an aged care system Australians deserve.

We want to achieve solutions only possible through true partnership.

We will reform the system working with your knowledge, expertise, and experience.

Our government is listening to service providers.

We want innovative ideas that address needs-based services and products to meet the requirements of older Australians.

Just last week I saw firsthand how innovation can change lives.

I was in Sydney to sit down with two older Australians, the rare aged care recipients who have become famous.

Their names are Cecilia and Aranka… and they feature in the ABC television program Old People’s Home for Teenagers… an initiative that connects teenagers with older Australians to create unique friendships.

Like most of the show’s participants, Cecilia and Aranka agreed to take part because they were lonely.

They felt disconnected and without community. They had few friends, many of their loved ones had passed.

Cecilia, aged 74, said she felt embarrassed to admit on national television she was lonely, but bravely wanted all of us to understand how easy it is to become detached.

Old People’s Home for Teenagers has been an incredible success.

The show gave participants a renewed sense of life. Now, Cecilia and Aranka go to birthday parties for 15-year-olds.

In fact, their diaries are so busy we had to work around their schedule just to get a meeting.

During our chats, 94-year-old Aranka’s phone buzzed repeatedly… it was a 14-year-old girl checking in on her day.

Cecilia and Aranka’s spirits have been fundamentally changed through innovation in aged care… connection and community have eased their loneliness.

I'm determined to find more ways to make aged care recipients more connected and I hope you will join me on this mission.

A key part of this mission is genuine co-design and authentic consultation.

You heard me say I don't want a tick and flick exercise.

I also do not want loud voices drowning others out in the process of designing and delivering meaningful reform.

Again… I repeat… we want people bringing practical solutions to the table.

In my first five months as Aged Care Minister, I have been deeply moved by the stories of Cecilia and Aranka - Pat and Jack - and listened to the many providers we have met with including Catholic Health, Opal Care, Your Side, Sun Care.

I have been inspired by workers like Jimboomba's Tara who cares for Maxine and for Sylvia.

Workers like Thursday Island's Conwell, who works in the only residential aged-care facility on Thursday Island.

Like Marina who supports older generations in Perth and South Australia's Rhiannon who due to staff shortages had to get the older Australians in her care out of bed, showered and ready for breakfast all in only eight minutes.

I want all voices to have a seat at the table and help re-design aged care.

This remains a final challenge I set for all of us as you listen to the many impressive presenters over the next few days.

Our work has only just begun.

When we introduced the aged care reform bill to the house on that first morning of the 47th Parliament, we sent a signal of intent.

We will deliver an aged care system that:

  • is simpler to navigate with face-to-face services
  • empowers older Australians to make informed choices
  • is well regulated
  • is more transparent
  • makes sure providers are accountable, and
  • values and grows the aged care workforce.

We will see aged care that delivers security, dignity, quality, and humanity.

I am ambitious for aged care.

I want to be able to say that we are delivering an aged care system that cares for older Australians as individuals, with the respect, security and compassion they deserve.

It is my most sincere hope, that you all, as aged care providers, share in this vision.

Share in this ambition.

So the next Pat and Jack don’t need a promise for change… so the next Cecilia doesn’t feel desperately lonely… so more Aranka’s receive check-in chats from teenagers.

Thank you.

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