Minister for Aged Care and Sport - Speech - 16 March 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Wells' speech at the Business of Ageing - Retirement Living and Aged Care Leaders' Summit 2023.

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

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Thank you, Chris, for that introduction and inviting me to be here today.

I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

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

I want to acknowledge interim Inspector General Ian Yates, ACCPA CEO Tom Symondson, and the 550 leaders in aged care, including 200 CEO’s, at this DCM event.

We are all here to seek solutions.

Aged care has been derided and talked down for years, often for valid reasons.

However, we are in a rare position right now… because we have good news.

For the first time in more than a decade, every person in this room should be hopeful about the future of aged care.

If there is one message I want you to take back to your management and workers – it is optimism.

Optimism for funding, optimism for workforce, optimism for care, optimism for older Australians.

Optimism about the introduction of the new Independent Health and Aged Care Pricing Authority, the 1 July increase will be based on your real costs.

But it is upon us all to turn optimism into long-lasting improved care for older people.

It has been 10 months since Anthony Albanese told me I would have the privilege of being the Minister for Aged Care.

Now some have queried the word privilege and many people have asked me if I want this responsibility.

I do.

Few people have the opportunity to structurally and tangibly improve the care of our most vulnerable.

It is a privilege. And this work is worth the struggle. 

Trust me, I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t.

And I know that you know this, and that you also believe that it’s worth it. I have met many of you now and I feel your passion.

I see your drive to get the best outcomes for the people your organisations care for.  

For us, this is a shared vision.

For those who haven’t met me, I would like you to see me as more than The Minister.

Most here know I have a six-year-old daughter Celeste and twin toddlers Oshy and Dash and a rescue kelpie named Don.

Some of you have met them -although Don’s services as a companion dog in aged care are pretty high octane and not to be recommended. 

But you should know my vision for aged care was born from direct experience.

I took on multiple aged care jobs during university, to help my Mum, Deb, who worked in aged care for years, managing staff and caring for older people.

Many of the issues we are discussing at this conference, such as managing the books, viability and filling shifts, I heard my Mum get frustrated about around the dinner table.

Her determination to improve the lives of older people, and her colleagues who mothered me along with all the other people in their care, still inspires me today.

Hitting the wards to see how it’s going feels like going home to me. 

So far, in ten months of Government, I have visited 26 aged care homes and spoken to hundreds of residents, workers, and providers.

I have seen first-hand, exceptional, care delivered.

I’ve played many games of Bingo too… even won Bingo at the first five-star facility we visited, Sundale’s Bowder Care… truly a Ministerial highlight.

Helen from Sundale? Sorry to put you on the spot, but I’m still waiting for my prize.

The most common issue I hear about on these visits is workforce, including your concerns about getting to your care minute targets this October.

In Western Queensland, I saw the struggle and dedication of facility managers when I visited the Ningana facility in Dalby.

They were low on staff so facility manager Jasmine was on breakfast cooking and cleaning duty.

My staff and I joined Jasmine to cook breakky for residents, wash up, prep morning tea and lunch and better understand how workforce problems impact on the ground.

I want you to know I’m a Minister who mucks in, and that these moments illustrate why we must work together to increase the workforce.

These moments are why the Albanese Government has committed to funding a 15 per cent rise to the award wage.

And I can tell you right now, it will be 15 per cent from July 1 this year.

This pay rise will help you retain your skilled workforce, attract more people to the sector and stop paying high agency rates to fill the gaps you have now.

Without workers, the discussions of care minutes, of improved systems, of returning dignity to aged care means little.

This industry only works when people make it work.

I need to be clear about our expectations.

It is Government’s expectation that funding for the wage rise will be passed on directly to staff.

It is not for budget repair. It is for staff.

It is not for cross subsidisation of services. It is for staff. 

Why? Because workforce is our collective, hands down, unquestioned number one issue.

Every provider whom I have spoken with in ten months has said workforce is the number one issue, and now this is our best possible, best funded opportunity to address that. 

We cannot squander this. The stakes are too high. 

In recent consultations with providers I have heard an idea to help provide certainty to the workforce – an open pledge committing to pass the wage rise on.

I welcome this idea and the leadership to push it forward.

As Minister I will do what I can to help you facilitate this pledge.

The pledge could be a discussion point of a unique event we are planning to host next month.

We will be delivering our first aged care summit in Australian Parliament with further details to come.

At the Summit, I want to hear from providers, consumers, unions, stakeholders… how we can work together to deliver a world-leading aged care system.

I mean it when I say, our ambition is world leading.

And the people in this room can get us there, and I know difficult conversations must be had first.

Our inaugural Quarterly Financial Snapshot showed a majority of providers unable to make a profit, even in the quarter leading up to the payment of new AN-ACC funding.

COVID, inflation, workforce shortages and the high costs of agency staff have had enormous impacts on your businesses and organisations – I know some of you are worried about viability.

I want to tell you the Albanese Government understands that things are tough and that the rate of change has left the sector fatigued.

We won’t apologise about being ambitious for aged care but we do understand government needs to be better at consultation and better at explaining the changes coming.

When we came to government, we set ambitious targets such as 24/7 nursing and 215 minutes of care.

We have funded these changes but know it’s a stretch for some providers given the workforce pressures that currently exist.

We want you to meet these targets; we want you to succeed.

There are many providers in this room already delivering – or close to delivering – what we’ve promised.

I can’t be clearer on this next point – we will not close providers that are trying their best to meet this target.

If you have made genuine efforts to recruit registered nurses and lift care minutes but can’t find enough staff… we will work with you to help get you there.

The purpose of these targets is to ensure every older person in Australia, no matter where they live, has access to consistently high-quality aged care.

As Minister, I have a covenant with the Australian public – to deliver the transformational reform that was promised in response to the Royal Commission.

But I know that it’s you who does the heavy lifting.

At times, we will disagree about the routes we drive to reform but I know you truly want the best for older people and please believe me when I state that’s my goal too.

I want people, like Ningana facility manager Jasmine, to not have to jump on to kitchen duty… I want events like this in the future to be focused on improvements rather than crises and fixes…

Together we will build an equitable, sustainable, aged care system trusted to take care of older people.

So be excited because for the first time in more than a decade… we really can be optimistic about aged care.

Thank you.



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