I want to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land from which I am coming to you from, the Kaurna people.
Together, Australians stand on the shoulders of 1600 generations of First Nations people and that is our shared history.
It’s so good to be back here with you all again.
Last October, we were in Adelaide, and I was just five months in as Minister for Aged Care.
Standing before you as part of a new Government experiencing what many of you had warned – that the situation was dire.
Nine years of neglect from a Coalition newly cast into opposition.
Abject policy failure
Older Australians abandoned by their Government leaders.
A system in crisis.
I stood in front of you and promised those days of latent inaction were over.
I also challenged you… in that speech I asked….
"are you contributing ideas and solutions to the national debate - Or - is your contribution merely admiring the scale and the complexity of the problem?"
I'm sure you sensed my frustration as I sensed yours.
Today I stand in front of you to thank you for how you have responded to that call to arms.
Thank you for your ideas and your solutions. Thank you to workers and staff for your exceptionally skilled and dedicated efforts.
The Age of Change is a perfect title for this conference and it represents what I hope continues in our sector - an embrace of reform.
And that's what I've seen in the past year…
All of you sitting here have helped reinvigorate aged care… but there's significant work to come - a new Aged Care Act, Support at Home and the government’s response to the Taskforce – making aged care sustainable.
When I attend this conference again next year… I want to see further contributions to the major shift happening to the aged care story.
I want older Australians planning their future to see they shouldn’t be afraid of aged care.
Narrative change is only propelled by tangible evidence.
That evidence is found in Star Ratings increases… more 3’s becoming 4’s, more 4’s becoming 5’s.
And… in return we will respond to the work of the Taskforce and put aged care on a footing that is more sustainable, simple, fair and equitable.
Progress so far
Since I last spoke to you… 12 months ago… we have all been busy.
Busy with -
- The 15 per cent wage rise – to help retain and recruit more workers.
- 24/7 nursing – to improve the level of clinical care.
- 200 Care Minutes – which is worth noting was a bipartisan commitment also made by the former Government – to deliver more carers with more time to care
- The Food and nutrition hotline – to give residents a voice – and… a shout out to Jemma O’Hanlon from Dieticians Australia… a group that has worked with us to improve resident experience.
- Inspector General of Aged Care – to improve government and sector transparency and accountability.
- Free training program through the Maggie Beer foundation – to improve the quality of food.
- Addressing 69 Royal Commission recommendations – our blue print for reform, as we promised.
- Quarterly Financial Snapshot – for more transparency.
- And, because we’re not done yet, we currently have more than 100 reform projects active.
Investing $11.3 billion dollars on a pay rise for aged care workers remains our greatest achievement to fundamentally improve the aged care experience.
I have repeatedly witnessed the difference this has made through the 42 aged care homes I have visited in 17 months
But a recent morning really stuck with me.
In September I went to Uniting Care's Mirinjani in Weston… where a sign at the entrance read:
“Our residents do not live in our workplace. We work in their home.”
It was more than a pleasing turn of phrase.
Inside I met staff including Loraini… who was in tears as she spoke about the privilege she feels to care for older Australians… and the relief to be paid better for it.
While Uniting Care NSW and ACT Executive Director Tracey Burton told me the wage rise had not only prompted an influx of new staff, but they are seeing what they call ‘boomerang workers’ – those who left aged care due to the lack of support but are now returning because they are finally being paid what they deserve.
Uniting Care recently did a staff survey where every metric of satisfaction had improved.
You have told me this result is not isolated. Australians have been voting with their feet.
Australians like Emma Babao from my electorate of Lilley who is in the room today I understand… Emma is a registered nurse who used to work in a hospital but moved to aged care.
One of thousands of workers choosing aged care because of how important the work is.
Data received from SEEK.com showed a:
- 66% increase in applications per job ad for Aged Care nursing roles from January to June 2023; and,
- A 55% increase in applications per job ad for Personal Care worker roles from January to June 2023
Now, the Fair Work Commission has commenced deliberations on Stage 3 of the Aged Care Work Value case, with final decisions anticipated early next year.
Rejuvenating our aged care workforce is an essential part of the reform story and will help us all.
24/7 Nursing and Care Minutes
I'm aware the rate of change has been difficult.
Our push to improve standards quickly has been needed, nay demanded by Australians, but I appreciate it hasn’t been easy.
Instead, it’s been a challenge for the sector to rise to - which you have done.
And that’s why I'm so proud of the 24/7 nursing results… with a registered nurse now on site in aged care 23.5 hours a day on average.
While 88 per cent of facilities have a registered nurse onsite 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Star Ratings and the future
Another key measurement tool for us is Star Ratings, which I touched on earlier.
Almost 12 months since Star Ratings was introduced, we are proving that monitoring quality in aged care homes is working.
Since December we’ve seen an extra 178 homes improve their quality to good, 4 stars) or excellent care 5 stars.
While 131 fewer homes are now receiving 1 or 2 stars.
I want to see this metric continuously improve.
The department is hosting a Quality improvement in residential aged care webinar on November 2.
During the webinar they’ll be sharing practical case study examples with providers of what’s working in the sector to drive quality improvement.
In the spirit of reflection, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the enormous effort you all made to keep older people safe from COVID-19.
As many of you would know, the Chief Medical Officer recently declared that COVID-19 is no longer a communicable disease of national significance.
That doesn’t mean you won’t have our support.
The Australian Government has committed $318 million to continue to provide support to residential aged care providers for a further 12 months from 1 January 2024.
From 1 January to 31 December 2024, a new Aged Care Outbreak Management Supplement will replace the current COVID-19 grants.
Surge workforce support will continue for aged care homes impacted by an outbreak and experiencing workforce shortages.
We are here to support you.
Your collective embrace of the reforms so far has been outstanding. And the green shoots of hope have arrived.
But I remain ambitious for aged care.
For this, I make no apologies.
Major changes are coming to legislation, regulation and allocation of aged care.
We are focused on delivering reform, while ensuring there is effective consultation.
New Aged Care Act
Our primary work in the next few months is focused on the once in a generation New Aged Care Act.
The department recently consulted publicly on the foundations of the Act.
Feedback was received from more than 1700 stakeholders.
An exposure draft of the Bill for the new Act is expected to be released for public consultation by the end of 2023.
What we’re working towards is a system that appropriately protects and respects older people at every step of the care pathway.
But… and I know you’ll be pleased to hear this… it will be a more streamlined system to help make your jobs easier.
Through the new regulatory model, we’re driving a shift in perspective.
And we understand where that shift needs to happen.
Can you guess the most common two words used when discussing the sector with the Government?
Drum roll please… the words are - "too complex"
Although… I'm told the language used to be a lot worse pre-election…
64% of issues referred to the My Aged Care case coordination team are about client confusion on accessing aged care.
We get it. You get it. Consumers get it. We will make it simpler.
We’re moving from a system of often unnecessarily burdensome regulations to one of thoughtful design.
Support at Home program
Another of our pillars is the new Support at Home Program beginning 1 July 2025.
In the next 40 years, the number of Australians aged 65 and over will more than double and the number aged 85 and over will more than triple.
And they expect to age in their own homes.
Support at Home will increase independency, give greater choice of provider and allow more flexibility for people to change services as needs develop.
We are also creating a single assessment system from 1 July 2024.
This will simplify and improve access to all aged care services for older people.
Aged Care Taskforce
As I mentioned, the next generation of people entering aged care expect greater standards.
Total annual aged care expenditure has increased from $24 billion in 2021-22 to a forecast $36 billion in 2023-24.
In 2026-27, aged care funding is expected to grow to $42 billion.
We formed the Taskforce with a simple premise – how do we get more funding into a sector that needs more funding.
The Taskforce’s analysis identifies a range of issues with the current funding arrangements:
- We need better ways to attract more capital into the sector to allow you to refurbish old facilities and build new ones.
- We need to ensure you’re getting enough funding for hotelling services and accommodation.
- We need to address a badly designed, overly complicated user contribution system that in Home Care, for example, currently delivers just 2.5% of total funding.
- We need to make sure funding changes are transparent and easy to understand – for older people and for providers.
- And, we need to make sure aged care is set up not only to survive but to thrive for the years and decades to come.
These are the challenges the Taskforce are working hard to solve.
The Taskforce has now had 4 meetings and, from what I’ve been told, a pseudo fifth meeting right here on Wednesday.
It’s clear there needs to be an injection of funds in both the home and residential sector to ensure we have viable providers that can meet increasing demand and expectations for the years and decades to come.
There will be more information to come on the specific options the Aged Care Taskforce will recommend to Government once the Final Report is settled in December.
A report featuring your conscientious leader and Taskforce member Tom Symondson.
Without disclosing confidential deliberations, I’ll say you can be very satisfied with Tom’s evidence-based advocacy for your interests.
We may not always agree but we always pull up short of hurling morning tea pastries at each other.
To finish… I have good news hot off the press… which… is also designed to avoid croissants being thrown at me at the next meeting…
All 11,383 Covid grant claims have been assessed.
Almost $850 million dollars in COVID grant funding has been paid and the remaining $140 million will be processed shortly.
I know it hasn’t been easy. I won’t pretend it will be easy from here.
Aged care is back from the brink, but it hasn't been fixed.
Working alongside you, and closely with ACCPA, the aged care sector will be its best self.
My colleagues in parliament are invested in the sector – believe me, they regularly call my office asking about the latest changes.
I hope you can see from my last speech to now… I keep my word.
I told you last time the days of inaction were over… they are.
Today I'm telling you… we need to fundamentally change the narrative to end the stigma of aged care and usher in a new era of sustainability and success.
To do that I need all of your help.
Every single person in this room at some point made a decision to join aged care because you recognise its meaning, its value…
We have made stark gains for the people of aged care in the past year.
Now we stand at the threshold of a once in a generation opportunity to make our sector sustainable, strong and ready for a new era.
Keep the faith and together we will get this done. Thank you.