Media event date: 
14 June 2022
Date published: 
15 June 2022
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

GREG JENNETT:                  

Yeah, so the Prime Minister delivered those remarks from Queensland on what was his first visit to that state since his election victory. Anthony Albanese made a point of meeting up there with his new Minister for Aged Care and Sport, Anika Wells. They inspected a new aged care home in Brisbane and may also have made a mention or two of the Socceroos win, that's got that team a ticket into the World Cup finals in Qatar. So we caught up with Anika Wells a short time ago.

Anika Wells, welcome back. This time, for the first time on our programme as a fully-fledged Minister now and a lot has changed for you. You had the Prime Minister with you today. The biggest swing towards Labor in Queensland came in your own seat of Lilley, and now you're a Minister. So congratulations on that. I'll just get a brief observation from you. It must feel like your world has turned upside down in the brief period of time since you were sworn in.

ANIKA WELLS:                      

Oh, well what pleasant terms you frame our chat on, Greg. It's great to be with you and it is great to be in this position. Like you said, the Prime Minister has visited Queensland for the first time today, visited Brisbane, and visited me because we want everybody to know that aged care is an absolute top priority for this Albanese Labor Government moving forward.

GREG JENNETT:                   

Yeah, now you've visited what I think could be described as a very modern aged care facility, maybe even the model for all futures in Australia. Can I ask, will it, as an individual operation, have nurses present 24 hours, seven days a week?

ANIKA WELLS:                      

So it's not due to open for another five weeks, Greg, so they're still getting all of that up and running. But this – that centre in particular – like you say, is anticipating and trying to act in accordance with all of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. And I think it gives Australians hope that the future of aged care is better and it is actually already here in some places.

GREG JENNETT:                   

So how many- the question was how many operators are like minded? How many are exceeding the minimum expectations, and I suppose anticipating that which is coming down the road from, you as Minister or from the Albanese Government more generally?

ANIKA WELLS:                      

I want to acknowledge and pay credit to those providers that are doing that, but I will admit that not enough are, which is why that why we made it an election commitment that we would make sure that each centre would have nurses on board 24/7and we aim to do that by 1 July 2023, as the Royal Commission asked us to do.

GREG JENNETT:                   

So what have you ordered be done, if anything, in your brief time in the job towards securing the nurses that will be necessary to meet that 12-month timeline? We're talking, of course, about training, but I assume also through immigration settings.

ANIKA WELLS:                      

Yeah. That's right. So it’s two weeks for me tomorrow as the Aged Care Minister. And addressing these workforce shortages really is an absolute top priority of mine, and not just mine, but the ministers that I work alongside in this space. That means Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke. It also means Immigration Minister Andrew Giles. And it means my Senior Cabinet Minister, Mark Butler. We are working together to make sure that we can do everything possible to address this workforce shortage as soon as possible. And, like you say, it's a complex problem, needs a considered solution. We know from surveys that the nurses’ union have done, from umpteen reports, that there are nurses employed out there who are part time who want to do more hours. So we want to give them reason to come back to the sector and do more hours. We also know that there are so many people who have been part of the care economy in Australia who have left because remuneration and conditions are not good enough and we want to lift wages so that those people want to come back to the sector. So those two factors plus with something to do with migration will give us sufficient nurses to staff centres 24/7 when we need to.

GREG JENNETT:                   

I'm sure you'll discover through no individual's fault that even with a diligent and professional public service, sometimes the things you want to happen can take astoundingly longer than you thought it might when promising them from opposition. So, if that were the case, what would you do at the 10- or 11-month mark? Would you simply extend your own timeline, your own ambition to meet that nursing benchmark by the 12-month mark?

ANIKA WELLS:                      

Well, without dealing in hypotheticals, I'll tell you how I think about that question, which is how I want to act and the values that I bring to this job. I want to be an open and accountable minister. I want to be forthright, and I want a deal in good faith. So I think that Australians elected an Albanese Labor Government because they want to see aged care turned around in this country. I want to repay that good faith by getting runs on the board and doing things that we can do in the short term, whilst acknowledging that this is a system that has been in decay for decades, and it is going to take us more than one term to get the kind of reforms that everybody wants, and to get the kind of aged care future that everybody wants in this country.

GREG JENNETT:                   

Yeah, and one of the things coming down the track, which will obviously impinge on your goal that we're talking about, is the funding of a wage rise for so many in the sector. The official determination hasn't come through yet, but have you been assured by your Treasurer Jim Chalmers that this will be or is being provisioned for in some way in the run-up to his first budget in October?

ANIKA WELLS:                      

Well, that was all part of what Australian Labor took to the election, wasn't it, Greg? That we would pay an increase in wages as set by the Fair Work Commission. So that started with us. One of the very first things I did as Aged Care Minister was write to the Fair Work Commission seeking permission for us to put in a submission to that case. Now the time frames for that are quite tight, but we will be beholden to the Fair Work Commission to consider everybody's submissions, make a determination about that, set about the timing for the Government then to come forward and pay for that pay rise.

GREG JENNETT:                   

Alright, we will see where that takes us. Just one on the here and now. Obviously not all nursing home facilities in Australia are as state-of-the-art as the one you visited today. Their energy insulation or efficiency ratings are probably not that high in many cases. It makes me wonder whether you've had any assessment yet about the impact of this energy crisis, if that's what we're calling it in Eastern Australia, on aged care homes? Have you sought a briefing on that?

ANIKA WELLS:                      

We haven't had anyone come to us directly with that problem in particular. Obviously that- we didn't actually have black-outs in Queensland last night. That was averted by the good work of Minister Chris Bowen working in conjunction with the Queensland Government and as I understand it that looks like we will avert that again this evening. That is something that I'm relying upon. Everybody working in good faith in the sector to come to me if it was to be a problem, but it isn't something I've had people come to me about yet.

GREG JENNETT:                   

Alright, fair enough. Why don't we move over to the other side of your portfolio that may just be bringing you a little more joy today at least, Anika Wells,` and that's in the sports sphere. You and so many others are celebrating the Socceroos victory over Peru. Just tell us about contacts and conversations that you've had to pass on the congratulations, the gratitude of the nation to various officials and players today?

ANIKA WELLS:                      

How good? How good was it? And my first contact was actually cheering with my husband and my children as we were trying to explain the concept of a penalty shoot-out to a 5-year-old and I think that was the experience that many Australian households had very early this morning. I was kind of following the match along in my shower speaker, on my phone and then ultimately on the TV screen for the shoot-out. And I really think the Socceroos have defied expectations and lit the heart of a nation by getting through to the World Cup for a fifth time. And I think it is a momentous day as part of our golden decade ahead for Australian sport as we run the road to the Brisbane 2032 Olympics. I can't believe my luck that I get to be the Sports Minister to help everybody in the sector work together on getting all of that happening in the decade ahead.

GREG JENNETT:                   

No it's quite a gig, particularly for a Queenslander. Just on the Qatar World Cup finals, in particular, of course, there are human rights concerns around their initial bid and some of their preparation attempts, their building program, et cetera. Do you share those? Will it be your intention to actually attend the finals later this year?

ANIKA WELLS:                      

Oh, well I need permission from the Prime Minister to travel overseas and I've got, like you say, aged care priorities that I am using my time with him to discuss at the moment. Whether we'll travel, look, I've had initial discussions with the Football Australia team this morning. I spoke to the CEO and the Chairman to congratulate them on the Socceroos efforts today. We made a commitment to each other that we would meet again in the weeks to come to talk about what that road looks like. So I'm just going to have to put a pin in that one, Greg and come back to you.

GREG JENNETT:                   

No, perfectly understandable. We thought we'd poke and prod and see where it took us. Obviously a bit of work has to happen and a lot of training too for the Socceroos themselves. Anika Wells, congratulations again on your appointment. Thanks for this initial conversation on both portfolios today. We'll talk to you again soon.

ANIKA WELLS:                      

Thanks so much, Greg, have a tremendous afternoon.

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