Press conference with Minister Anika Wells on Tuesday 2 August 2022

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister for Aged Care and Sport Anika Wells on Tuesday 2 August 2022.

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

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ANIKA WELLS, MINISTER FOR AGED CARE: Thank you all for coming. Today is a really special day. You only get one bill to be the first bill through the parliament, in a new parliament, and particularly in a new government. And that first bill is Aged Care Reform. And I'm really grateful to the Prime Minister for giving me this job to get to do that, and also for his leadership and allowing us to pass this through both the House and the Senate so very quickly, because that's how important the aged care sector is to us. Last week in the House, I spoke about some of the people that I've met along the way in the past eight weeks as we've put this together, and I really hope that they're out there watching today, seeing that we are delivering on our promises and this is the first thing that we have done in the new Parliament together. I also want to thank all of the provider groups, all of the advocates, all of the residents and families who have worked so hard for many more years than I have been here during this job to see aged care reform happen. It is a really big task to get reform as complex as this through as quickly as we had. And I want to thank everybody who did that work to make this happen. We are working closely with both the House and the Senate now to see debate and passage of the government's election commitments legislation that has now gone to consideration by the Senate inquiry, which has 24/7 nurses, more time to care, transparency and accountability. Today's Bill and the Government's election commitments are down payments on the promises that we made to the Australian people. And today starts that journey. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: On the 24/7 nurses? You've mentioned in question time, that will mean 869 extra. Are we going to get this?

WELLS: Through pulling every lever. And I don't shy away from the fact that we have drastic workforce shortages in aged care, so when I speak about 869 additional nurses being the additional nurses, we need to make 24/7 nursing happen by 1 July 23, which is what we committed to the election. I say that against a broader context of huge, huge shortages, right through to what CEDA talks about - being a 30,000 to 35,000 annual workers shortfall in A\aged care. We're talking in huge numbers. So what are we doing? The first thing I did was write to the Fair Work Commission alongside my colleagues to make sure that we could put a submission backing up pay rise for aged care workers, because we know that the second most common reason that people leave the sector is underpayment. So we're giving them a pay rise, we're doing our very best to give them a pay rise. We're also looking at all of the things. We're looking at migration, we're looking at improvements to conditions, we're looking at - I mean, some of our other election commitments tie into this - the additional fee free TAFE places, additional University places, creating more pathways. But ultimately, I think this is also a cultural issue. The care economy is undervalued. We do not value care workers in our country enough. And until they feel that value, we're not going to get enough people into the sector. So another reason that today's bill, and the passage of today's bill as the first bill through the parliament is so important is so that aged care workers out there, both who are still there and who have left, see that we value them, and that we want them to come back.

JOURNALIST: What measures will the government introduce to manage COVID in aged care? Once those ADF personnel leave at the end of September?

WELLS: Yes, we've got a number of measures that we've brought in even since we've taken government in the past nine weeks. Essentially, the ADF personnel have been there since February, they're due out in September. They've been really generous to stay as long as they have given this is a pretty drastic, extreme measure that the previous government was forced to bring in the ADF to residential facilities in the first place. Let's not walk away from the fact that that was a desperate last gasp measure. So, I think I'm sort of thinking of this in two facets. I've got to get aged care through this winter. And then I've got to start the reform process so that we don't have winters like this again. So, what are we doing? I pulled together a couple of weeks ago now a summit with the Chief Medical Officer, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, nursing advocates, and I put them all in one room and I said, "Right, I'm a new Aged Care Minister, no stone unturned. What are all the things that I can do that have either been rejected before that haven't been considered before? That you tried and didn't work? What can I do?". And together that formed what is now our Aged Care Winter Plan that we launched a couple of weeks ago, now has five elements to it. And those measures, some of those, many of those continue well beyond the ADF leaving.

JOURNALIST: A couple of things - one on the workforce, this number 869. Does that take into account the huge numbers we're expecting to leave the workforce? There has been surveys showing how many people were wanting to leave in the next couple of years. And secondly, did you tag the Prime Minister before he made that try? We all really need to know unfortunately.

WELLS: Let's do aged care and then move to sport. I promise to come back to you on my extremely serious duties on the sports portfolio. But the 869 figure, I mean, that is the modeling provided by the Department of Health and Aged Care, there is also modeling that was available to the previous government. And that came up at April estimates if you look at it, so, I am perplexed as to why they keep prosecuting the validity of that number. But I would say and I risk, I probably risk further ire of the opposition by introducing even a nuance to this debate. But there are lots of different numbers because everybody's got their own modeling on what this is going to look like. This isn't tuck shop prices, this is a complex policy, and there are people leaving the sector, and we need to bring people back to the sector. So that is the modeling that the department, my department has given me for what we need to do to deliver our election commitment. There will be other modeling out there. And even as to where that looks like on 1 July next year, when different things will have happened probably by 1 July next year, we'll have a decision from the Fair Work Commission about pay. Probably by 1 July next year, some of the other measures as part of our winter plan will have rolled out. So things will look a bit different then. I think that answers the question.

JOURNALIST: Just a question on the Bill passed today, the new funding model. There have been concerns about the Independent Health and Aged Care Pricing Authority, leaving discretion to the Government to veto their pricing. Can you give a commitment that the government will cover the full cost of delivering care under this new model?

WELLS: I think this is one of those ones where it speaks to us doing more by way of transparency and accountability. That was our election commitments. So, what we have committed to do is to release the advice and to table it in the parliament. And we will do that regularly so that everybody can see the advice that we're giving. As to the funding, that is very much a question for the Treasurer, but I will always be advocating for more in aged care.

JOURNALIST: Just on the 24/7 nurses, what is the sector telling you about their concerns in meeting that requirement? And I know that this is probably part of the Senate constitution committee as well. But what sort of exemptions are you considering? Or what some exemptions would you see could be given to that role? Would you imagine there would be pretty limited exemptions for those 24/7 nursing requirements?

WELLS: There are a number elements to that. I think people are expressing their concerns, and I welcome it. I think that people feel they were a bit out in the cold previously with the previous government in aged care. And we're doing our best to be really consultative and listen to people's concerns. That is exactly why we've sent our election commitment reform bill off to Senate inquiry. So those kinds of things can be worked through. And that's also why we want to do this with consultation through the sector. And why we've put the one July next year start time, to give us the time to do that. People are obviously concerned about regional and remote Australia. And people also, I think, have suggestions about how we can do that well. So mostly, when we talk about exemptions, it's about those thin markers. But I think also when people are raising concerns, they're saying we've got answers, if we take the time to do it properly. So ultimately, I want to do it once. I want to do it well, and that starts with the Senate inquiry.

JOURNALIST: The aged care providers are supportive of the 25% pay raise for workers. Are you confident that the government - they do want the government to pay that full amount though? Are you confident that the government will cover the full cost of the pay rise?

WELLS: We have committed to paying whatever percentage is deemed by the Fair Work Commission as a fair and equitable value of aged care workers’ work.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned migration is an area that you were looking at to plug these projected staff shortages. What measures are you specifically considering in the migration space?

WELLS: So, not my patch, the Immigration Minister’s patch and I won't encroach upon his patch. But I would say you should be heartened by the fact that we are all working together on this. And the fact that we've got the Job Summit coming down the line has been really helpful in bringing minds together and talking through the different solutions in the room. So ultimately, not my decision. Safe to say I make this point on migration, as I always do. Sometimes people seem to look to it as some sort of silver bullet. It isn't the silver bullet, you would think that if there was a silver bullet for workforce shortages in aged care, you would hope to God that somebody in my job would have pulled it by now. There isn't. it's going to take any number of leaders, it's a complex problem, it needs a considered solution.

JOURNALIST: On the fourth dose data for aged care that you're releasing at the moment is quite detailed. In some cases, the rates are quite high by 90%, a couple of kilometers away here in Canberra, even 10 to 19%. Can you explain the disparity? What factors lead into this and what's going to be done about it?

WELLS: So, a couple of factors there and obviously I should start by saying we want everyone to get their fourth dose. Thank you for the prompt. If you have not got your fourth dose, please go and do it. The difficulties for people having had their fourth dose. Firstly, if there's an outbreak in a centre, the back team that comes in can't come back in until the outbreaks and some centres have had, you know, numerous rolling outbreaks. So, that's why some facilities have great figures and some facilities are well behind. There's also the difficulty of when people had their third dose. So, there's people that maybe that the vaccine can see. But they aren't yet up to the number of months following their third dose in order to have it. So, what are we doing about it? We have called in to providers using the department - called in to ask them, how are you going? What are the problems? How can we help? We used Operation COVID shield additionally to that, and we have now as of yesterday started publishing the data on individual residential facilities and how they're going. We understand that previously that has been effective in driving up tax rates.

JOURNALIST: So, the legislation today, big day for the Albanese government - first piece of legislation. What specifically does it do for older Australians?

WELLS: The big thrust of the legislation that we passed today is introducing a new funding model. And what that funding model does, firstly, and most importantly, drive the 10% uplift in funding for aged care. So residents get a 10% uplift to their funding, as of this model, which commences on the first of October. But I think what you need to understand about the new funding model essentially, is that it kind of modernises the funding system and recognizes that the cost of your care looks different if you are a homeless person in Rockhampton compared to if you are someone with dementia who lives in my electorate in suburban Brisbane. So it understands that nuance but it funds it accordingly. It also, I think, importantly, introduces the star rating system, which we know people want for aged care, and come the end of the year, you will be able to look up an individual facility and see how it rates against other facilities in terms of performance and things. and that speaks to our election commitment about more transparency and accountability about where taxpayer dollars are going in aged care.

WELLS: Not in this new model that's through today, because you would have seen that last week, we made the decision to delay the support home scheme back to the original recommendation of the Royal Commission report. We have done that because every single person that has come to talk to me about home care, since I got this job has said they were really concerned about where that was up to, hadn't been enough consultation, what are flaws with it? Again, this is the kind of reform that we need to last for decades. We have to do it once, we have to do it well.

JOURNALIST: You've been in the role now for two months. And of course, this bill comes out after that report, which was titled Neglect. From your discussions with aged care providers, do you think that the industry gets it now? That they have apologized for what has happened and they are really willing to work to sort of, you know, furthering the outcomes of people in their care?

WELLS: Yeah, I think this is a tricky one. I've had some robust discussions with the peak about this particular issue, because I think there are brilliant facilities out there who do remarkable, innovative things, we've got thought leaders out there, we need more of them, who are co locating nursing homes with kindies who are doing really innovative things with food and kitchen gardens, who are doing entirely sustainable facilities. And then we have the kind of facilities that appear on Four Corners. And there's the full spectrum. And what we need to do is lift the standards of those ones to make sure that everybody gets a decent standard of care. So yes, like I said many of them are well ahead on the journey. I think that those are ones that are catching up and are considering looking at the reform coming down the line, seeing the additional measures in transparency and accountability, and making decisions about whether or not they stay.

JOURNALIST: Minister, human rights advocates are disappointed by the failure of a few exemptions to providers from prosecution for restrictive practices, which is concerning because of the amount of medication that is used under questionable circumstances. How do you see things progressing, in terms of setting up a proper consent process that will actually be workable?

WELLS: Glad you asked. I think what's important, and perhaps what's been lost in the nuance of the debate so far - is this is not a general immunity. It is absolutely not a general immunity. And it's a sunset clause designed specifically as a temporary measure to get us to the new Age Care Act, which per the Royal Commission is meant to come in 1 July next year, which is going to be enormous. And those kinds of advocates also seek to have that act be a Human Rights Act. So this gives us a temporary amount of time to work through all those issues and to make sure that we do the new Act once and well.

JOURNALIST: Minister, back on that 869 figure. So, some of the aged care sector say that won't be enough. They are saying 1440 is closer to the number needed due to the number of RNs that work part time. Where did that 869 come from and is that something you intend to build on?

WELLS: It's from the Department of Health and Aged Care. It's modeling. So we all know what modeling is and we want everyone to have their own modeling. And that's why you're going to see different numbers out there, as everyone would have done their own modeling at different times. I welcome that, I welcome the interest. But I think it's pretty galling for the opposition to stand up every day and ask perplexingly about this one figure, when the reason that we have these enormous workforce shortages in aged care is because they neglected it for nine years. And particularly, they exacerbated it. One of the first things the Abbott government did in December 2013, was cut the aged care workforce compact. They literally suspended standing orders in the house to cut the aged care workforce compact, a compact that would have given aged care workers a pay rise. One of the first things they did was cut aged care pay, and set in train nine years of neglect. And now with a straight face, walk into the first three question times in the new Parliament and say, "Oh, what are you going to do about this workforce shortage? Sounds bad." Like I cannot believe that they are doing that with a straight face, to be honest.

JOURNALIST: Of the 869 workers, and I know you touched on this earlier, is there a I guess, a timeline or a deadline that you've set yourself to solve that immediate problem? I appreciate its modeling. And you mentioned 30 to 35,000 workers more building will be needed. But is there a timeframe or a deadline you set yourself for that 869 additional nurses?

WELLS: Yes, it's the election commitment, which is to bring 24/7 nurses in for one July 2023.

JOURNALIST: But we will need more nurses before then, because in October, we're supposed to have the 40 minutes -

WELLS: Yeah, it means we are only starting the recruitment process for 1 July. But, in terms of delivering what we promised, that was our election commitment. We have literally the first bill through the parliament is aged care reform. I deliberately introduced two aged care bills, one which is a remnant of the 46th parliament. I don't shy away from that. something that the Morison Government could not get through the Senate. We have now managed to get through as the first bill through the Senate. And alongside that, I wanted to introduce a bill that started the process of our aged care election commitments, including 24/7 nurses so that people wouldn't think we were just doing what had been done before that we were starting the journey. And I think I cut you off, sorry. Were you all done?

JOURNALIST:  Did the PM play a dodgy this morning?

WELLS: I will move to sport - fire away.

JOURNALIST: Yeah so - exactly what we have all been asking this morning.

WELLS: I have been dreading this question all morning.

JOURNALIST: You have not! Come on! Did he claim a dodgy try. Did you give him a tag before he crossed that line?

WELLS: I think - keeping in mind my new position as a new Minister, in the job for nine weeks. And may I say to take this opportunity before I walk back into the Prime Minister's office that I really love being the Minister for Sport, it's been honest, and it's been an honor, and if I get if it gets taken away from me based on his next answer, so be it.  I will say the following. I think we can all agree that the referee awarded the Prime Minister a try. I think we can all agree that the referee is probably going to be the next Governor General based on that decision. And I think we can ultimately say glory to Queensland.


WELLS:  It did come up. Yes, you can,

JOURNALIST: If you can't be trusted on the footy field, (crowd laughs) can you be trusted to run the country?

WELLS: I guess at this point, I'm you know, reflecting broadly on my remit to clean up Sport, and in integrity and sport, and hence I will limit my comments to what I've given today.

JOURNALIST: Andrew had them on the field I think.

JOURNALIST: That's what I said!

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). He had a bird's eye view. Did he get any?

WELLS: I think I mean, let's use this room to make a new policy. Andrew Abdo should take, as a top priority and inquiry through the NRL commission, given that he is in the photo. 

JOURNALIST: Jesus, (inaudible).

WELLS: Already told him that. All right, thanks, everybody.


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