Press conference with Minister Wells, Brisbane – 12 March 2024

Read the transcript from Minister Wells' press conference about the Aged Care Taskforce's final report.

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

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ANIKA WELLS, MINISTER FOR AGED CARE AND MINISTER FOR SPORT: …I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we gather on this morning, the Turrbal and Jagera people. Together, we stand on the shoulders of 1600 generations of First Nations people and that is our shared history.

The Albanese Government is today releasing the Aged Care Taskforce’s final report, an important next step towards delivering a sustainable aged care sector that provides high quality care for Australians. 

The taskforce brought together older Australians, aged care providers, and experts to consider what was the great unanswered question of the Royal Commission, which was how to sustainably fund aged care into the future. 

The taskforce received 180 submissions from across the country. The taskforce hosted 11 roundtables with more than 100 attendees while COTA, the Council of the Ageing, and OPAN, the Older Persons Advocacy Network, each themselves peak advocacy groups for consumers who are using these services, they hosted 12 in-person forums across the course of the taskforce to feed in. 

They also ran an online survey that received almost 2000 responses. I thank the taskforce members for their difficult, complex work and for forging a new way forward for aged care together.

With the number of Australians aged 65 years or older expected to more than double, and the number of Australians aged 85 or over expected to triple, and the number of centenarians expected to go up six-fold, it is clear we must start work now to fund a sustainable aged care service. 

Over the next four decades, Australia's population aged 80 and over will grow to 3.5 million people. 

And our workforce is under pressure, with people aged between 15 and 64 years expected to decline as a proportion of our population. We've already heard that the next generation of people entering aged care want a different model and different standard of care than those that have gone before them. 

We're going to have to be innovative to address this challenge. We need more services for more Australians. We need good facilities not to close, and we need Australians in rural and remote communities to have nearby facilities.

The Government confirms today that it will not impose a new tax or a new levy to fund aged care costs or any changes to the means testing treatment of the family home. 

This final report is a result of the hard work of the taskforce. It's not a government report. 

The Government will announce its full response to the taskforce report in due course. 

This report today is the next step in our mission to deliver dignity to older Australians. The Albanese Government has put nurses back into nursing homes, giving carers more time to care. 

We have lifted wages and we have improved transparency and accountability in the aged care sector. 

We are determined to set the aged care sector up for long-term success to make sure that older Australians receive the high-quality care that they deserve, both in the years and decades to come.

Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Wouldn't the levy have been the simple answer? The Royal Commission did suggest that.

WELLS: Well, for the taskforce to speak to why they've made the recommendations that they have. but I think I'd point you to what they say about the genuine intergenerational equity issues that would have followed a decision about a levy.

JOURNALIST: Okay. When will some of these recommendations actually be formalised?

WELLS: So the Government has been carefully deliberating on the report since we received it at the end of December. That work continues. 

What we do today is release it for everybody to see. And we also rule out any new tax, any levy at any changes to the treatment of the family home. 

Those were some red lines that the Opposition had expressed, and we do this in the hope that we'll be able to work together in a bipartisan way to land a sustainable way forward for aged care.

JOURNALIST: And you don't think a levy would be acceptable, that our children would be happy to also contribute, knowing that all of us in the generations would then be looked after?

WELLS: The recommendation of the taskforce is not to pursue a levy. The recommendations of the task force point the Government in other directions so that is where we are now doing our work.

JOURNALIST: Why did you need a taskforce to make recommendations when you already had the Royal Commission costing $100 million? Has it been worth it?

WELLS: Well, this is the great unanswered question of the Royal Commission. The two commissioners split on how to fund aged care sustainably. 

There wasn't a clear pathway forward in a way that in many of the other recommendations in the Royal Commission had a very prescriptive pathway forward. 

So, I mean, there were 22 reports into aged care under the previous government. The funding of aged care, a can that has been long kicked down the road. It has been something that has been put off for decades and decades by government. 

But this is a government that is taking it on. We put the taskforce in place to deliberate on that across 6 months, to do the consultation. They've given us the final report, and now it’s for the Government to make the final decision and provide a response.

JOURNALIST: Look, it's a very difficult issue and we all acknowledge that. But if the Albanese Government takes on these recommendations and gets billions and billions more into the system, will it ensure that all aged care workers are properly trained? Like you talk about, nurses are now giving 24-hour care. Will there be better training?

WELLS: Well, some of the reforms that we already have in place, and you'll remember that the very first piece of legislation that the House of Reps passed under the Albanese Government was an aged care reform. 

We're now starting to see that flow through the system. There are now an additional 2.16 million minutes of care being provided to older Australians in aged care every single day. There was a record pay rise. 

It’s $11.3 billion for aged care workers. We've got 250,000 direct aged care workers in Australia, so all of that work has been undertaken already.

But this really is a big and important, difficult, structural, reform that has been squibbed before, but we are taking it on because everybody deserves a better aged care system that is sustainable, not just in years but in decades to come.

JOURNALIST: Just going back to the levy, we know that they both recommended a levy, but you're still ruling that out 100 per cent. Is it politically not palatable?

WELLS: If you have a look, the 2 different commissioners actually recommended different types of approaches to that. It wasn't a unified prescription for government. 

And I mean, the taskforce has 15 members. They deliberated that question across the course of 6 months. And as you can see from the recommendations they have suggested to government that a different course is taken. 

And you could ask them, I guess. I suspect many of them would be happy to talk to you in depth about why they felt that was a fairer way to go.

JOURNALIST: Just looking at – some Australians might say: we've paid taxes all our life, why should we have to pay more? But clearly, when you look at these numbers, it is unsustainable.

WELLS: I think there's two things at play here. Firstly, the recommendations that the taskforce has made to government talk about government still being a majority funder in aged care. 

And when you look at it as it stands now, government contributes 75 per cent of the cost of a person in residential aged care, and government contributes 95 per cent of the cost of a person receiving home care, and that person contributes the remainder. 

But when you look at the demographic trends, when you look at what older Australians are telling us what they want about where they want aged care to go, they want to stay at home. 

They want a better service provided to them at home. They want different services. And if you look at some of the recommendations in there about additional services like palliative care, for example, that they would like to see offered in the home, there's no way to do that without more money going into the sector. 

So we have to find a way to do that, and I point you to some of the comments that the Opposition Leader made in his budget reply last year, when he talked about it not being a magic pudding. 

There's only 2 ways you can do this: taxpayer funding or resident funding. We've just got to make sure we get that balance right. And that's what the taskforce has been deliberating. 

They've given that report to government and we are now deliberating on how to respond to it.

JOURNALIST: And paying something like an extra 70,000, how do you think people will respond to that if they were already paying, say, half a million? Is that fair?

WELLS: I think those numbers are hypothetical at this point. I mean, if you look at the recommendations of the taskforce, they said to government that they think this is a way that we should do it and left those kind of exact figures for government to determine, amidst all the other things that a government has to determine in any kind of big structural decision. 

But in all of the consultation that has been undertaken so far – the roundtables I talked about, the Kantar research that has been put out into the public – what people have told us is that they're prepared to pay for a better service if it's a higher quality service, if they can access things that they can't currently access. 

In my NPC, my Press Club address last year, I talked about that cinderblock, 4-bed, no-ensuite room that was what aged care looked like. 

It's not what people want to experience, and they're happy to pay if they can get a better product. But unless we can have innovation in a sector that feels sustainable, we're not going to have that investment to build those higher quality services.

JOURNALIST: And just the last question here, how can you be sure that if there is a massive injection of money being paid into aged care, that it won't just go to profit?

WELLS: Yeah, great question. It's something that I talked about in the last sitting of Parliament where we launched the Dollars into Care initiative, which gives greater transparency and accountability on where taxpayer funding is going to aged care providers than ever before. 

You can click on the website and you can see where every single individual facility is choosing to spend the money, where what's going into laundry, what's going into food, what's going into care as a percentage of funding. 

And one of the things that we thought in terms of the sequencing of how we did these reforms is that if we could get those things into place first, so that people could have some confidence that they would see where this money is going, then we could tackle these really complex, difficult questions.

JOURNALIST: Just one last one. Would there be money left over at the end of the day for us to give our children? Or will we, will all that money get sucked into the system under new arrangements?

WELLS: I think that's a hypothetical, depending on how government ultimately chooses to respond to the recommendations of the taskforce.

JOURNALIST: Hey, Minister, thanks for your time.

WELLS: Hi, Lucy.

JOURNALIST: Considering the Government was handed this report in December and it was supposed to be released in January, why don't we have your response yet?

WELLS: Two reasons. I think this is complicated, dense, complex work. You know, you only have to read the 23 recommendations of the taskforce to see that that's the case. 

We received the report at the end of December. We have been steadily working on what our response might look like since then. But there's a few steps along that journey if we can learn something that's going to stick. 

And the first of that is that we need, I think, bipartisan support. Firstly, I think that's what people expect of political parties. For something as important as aged care, we should be able to work in a cooperative manner and set something down that is structurally sound and that improves care. 

The Opposition through the Opposition Leader's budget reply made clear a number of red lines for them. 

We’ve been able to work on our response since that time, since the taskforce report was handed to us in December, to be able to say today definitively that we can meet those requests, we can rule out a new levy, we can rule out a new tax. 

We can rule out any changes to the treatment of the family home. And we hope that being able to do that today, we can now work cooperatively with the Opposition and try and land a response that everybody can support in the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: And just one more if I can. How much do you expect on your projections with reforms like forcing older Australians with the means to do so to pay more for their care, how much would that take off the ballooning aged care bill?

WELLS: Well, if you look at the recommendations of the taskforce report, they aren't as prescriptive as that. They leave it as a decision for government. I think you need to look at these things across the entire aged care system. 

And I would just point you back, Lucy, to the way that these things are currently funded. 

Government funds 75 per cent of a person's cost of being in residential aged care. 

Government funds 95 per cent of a person's cost of being in home care. 

Not for a second do we wish to walk away from that. We wish to be the majority funder moving forward. 

JOURNALIST: Hi, Minister. It's Izzy from Channel 7.

WELLS: Hey, Izzy.

JOURNALIST: Thanks for this. Look, you're the Minister for Aged Care, but you're also the head of this taskforce. What are we waiting on for the Government to implement this policy? Do you not have faith in your own recommendations?

WELLS: Look, the way that we set up this taskforce was modelled on the Strengthening Medicare taskforce, which was the first complex, substantive health policy reform out of the blocks. That taskforce – the strengthening Medicare Taskforce – was chaired by Mark Butler, the Minister for Health with independent members on the taskforce. 

The Government then provided its response. 

The sector considered that to be a successful model. So when taking on the second complex, intersectional, substantive health policy reform, we used that same model and I became the chair of the Aged Care Taskforce. 

I would also point to the incredible work of the 15 task members that – 14 other taskforce members who have spent 6 months diligently working on this and providing very robust advice in a very safe and well-intentioned room to try and forge a new way forward for aged care together across all different elements of the sector.

JOURNALIST: Minister, but my question was if you were the head of this taskforce and you're also the Aged Care Minister, well, what's the hold-up in implementing this and rolling this out as policy?

WELLS: The fact that I am part of an Albanese Government, and we work in a collegiate manner, and the decisions that are made in aged care have broader impact on primary and acute care in the health system, on different other elements of the care economy more broadly. These decisions that we like working together on, because it affects everybody, and we want to make a good decision that lasts. And as for me personally, I've spent nearly 2 years now with a twin on each hip and a ministerial portfolio in each hand. These are things that I think every Australian working woman juggles every day.

JOURNALIST: Thank you Minister. And just lastly, it's been revealed that the leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, has spent $23,000 on 2 private jets between Canberra and Brisbane. Do you think that's appropriate spending of taxpayer money?

WELLS: Look, you're breaking news to me this morning. I've had my head deep in aged care and a little bit of sport this morning, so I'll leave that for you to analyse.

JOURNALIST: But just on its merit there, Adam Bandt, $23,000 on two private jets. Do you think that's appropriate?

WELLS: I think it's up for every single individual parliamentarian to be able to justify what they use taxpayer funds for.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.

JOURNALIST: It's just 2 last questions, Minister. Just back to aged care. Look, you're talking about training and things are improving but just questions from Anne Connolly. Some of the star ratings 3 or 4 are still homes where the standards have failed. Is it misleading to given 4 stars when the standards are not up to scratch?

WELLS: Well, the fact that star ratings and compliance ratings under star ratings is based around regulatory action rather than simple non-compliance, and also if providers are non-compliant with quality standards, but they can show the commission that they're working to improve, their star rating would not be impacted.

JOURNALIST: And just looking we know some of the horror stories that we all heard about, what sureties can you give people that these shocking incidents won't happen under these reforms? Things like sexual assaults and neglect, they're still being labelled, and every single day we're seeing unreasonable force and other cases like what can you do?

WELLS: That’s awful. It's awful and we obviously all want to see that addressed and stopped as quickly as possible. But something that is good, if uncomfortable, is the fact that we've implemented more – far more stringent reporting requirements for providers. 

So firstly, we now know these things are happening and we have a far greater degree of how often these things are happening, the frequency, the gravity of these things. 

And that's the first step, being able to actually assess the scale of the problem. So yes, it means we do see more incidents and more numbers coming through. But that's far better than before when they were just happening and nobody knew about it.

JOURNALIST: And when you look at the massive money that the Government's paying for NDIS like, will we all be able to have a good aged care system, all of us, as we age, will we be able to afford it?

WELLS: Yeah, I'm so glad you asked. I mean, that's the whole point. And this is reform that has been squibbed for a long time. 

But we are taking it on because we came to government trying to fix aged care. I worked in aged care when I was going through uni. My mum worked in aged care for 15 years. 

This is something that is so important to all Australians. It's too difficult. It's too important for us to neglect any further. So yet this is complex, difficult stuff. I might take a bit of paint off on the way through, but it's too important not to try.


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