Radio interview with Minister Wells and Tom Symondson, ABC Brisbane Radio, 10 May 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Anika Wells and Tom Symondson's interview with Breakfast's Craig Zonca and Loretta Ryan on the Budget, aged care and Brisbane 2032.

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

Media event date:
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General public

Loretta Ryan, Breakfast co-host: Well, the centrepiece of this federal budget for aged care is an $11.3 billion spend on increasing the minimum wage for workers. It's been welcomed by the aged care industry, but there is a catch. Tom Symondson is the Chief Executive Officer of the Aged and Community Care Providers Association, and this is what he said when we asked if there were enough workers.

Tom Symondson, CEO Aged & Community Care Providers Association: There just aren't enough people in the country willing to work in aged care. And many people have chosen to cut the number of shifts they work. So, while there might be plenty of people willing to do one, two or three shifts, we might need them to do 5 to keep our service going.

So, you know, I think we've got a long time to go. We need to make it easier to get people into the country. There were some things in the budget that make it easier to recruit international workers into aged care. So that's positive, but the bottom line is we just need to train more people.

Craig Zonca, Breakfast co-host: Tom Symondson, the CEO of the Aged and Community Care Providers Association, he will go into a meeting with the Aged Care Minister this afternoon, as I understand it. But Anika Wells is here with you now on ABC Radio Brisbane. Anika, good morning to you.

Anika Wells, Minister for Aged Care and Sport: Good morning. Hope you are well.

Zonca: Now, budget night last night, we’re still trawling through the documents, but there's $11.3 billion spent on increasing wages for workers in the sector. Is it going to attract more workers? That seems to be a big question.

Wells: Yes, we've got modelling that says that $11.3 billion commitment to lifting wages should attract about 10,000 more workers to the sector. So, it's great news and worth doing.

Zonca: Where are they coming from?

Wells: They're coming from everywhere and I think Tom was pretty good then at explaining the different levers we have to pull to bring more workers to the sector, we have to train more people. That's why the Albanese government has put hundreds of thousands of free TAFE places in and I've now met people who've taken that up and are training to become an aged care worker. We've got to do some more work on our migration settings. I've got more news for that in days to come. So, stay tuned. And we have to pay people better, I think we have to really shine a light on the importance of the work that aged care workers do and thank them for it. And while I think $11.3 billion to increase pay is an enormous deal, it's an extra $7,000 a year for personal carers and $10,000 a year for nurses. It’s also, I think, a really important validation and acknowledgment of the work that they do from the Commonwealth.

Ryan: Despite the huge $11.3 billion injection for the workers, providers are still very concerned. Some more here from Tom Symondson.

Symondson: We still got 70 per cent of providers losing money and we got a decent rate of indexation in our funding this year. But how long can we go with 70 per cent of providers losing money?

I'm sure she would say it's a slow job. But you know, we've got members who are saying how do we keep our doors open in this circumstance when we're losing money year on year?

Ryan: Does that statistic, Minister, concern you, 70 per cent of providers?

Wells: Well, another statistic in what Tom just said, he said there is a decent increase in the indexation this year. To be clear about that, the last Morrison government budget gave a 1.7 per cent increase to aged care providers and has spent 12 months saying they're worried about viability. Last night's budget is giving a 17 per cent increase per bed per day to providers. That is enormous. That has never happened in the Federation and we are now confident that there will be a real reduction in losses when the next quarterly results come through in a few weeks and you will see real improvement in the finances of providers.

But turning the corner after nine years of neglect and there's a long way to go. Tom's right. You're really spoiling our meeting this afternoon, putting those questions to me.

Zonca: Yeah, we told Tom that. We told Tom that we're just a warmup act effectively. Yes, Minister.

Wells: No, you guys are my main event. But, Tom and I will continue to work together to make sure facilities are becoming more profitable. That is what the data is saying, and that we gear the whole system towards innovation and excellence by writing the new Act, by how we design the new supported home scheme.

Zonca: Because the reality is that you can't have providers go down the gurgler. You can't see that loss of beds because we just have such demand for aged care right now.

Wells: Yes. Absolutely. And I do want to give the reassurance that we have many more beds opening across the country each week than we have closing. And we also acknowledge the enormous trend that's happening in our baby boomer generation. This is a generation that has set the trend for every stage of life as they’ve moved through it. And they have made it incredibly clear that they want to stay at home as they age and they want to stay at home for longer, for as long as possible, and they want the support to do it. So, what we are trying to do is to turn the Queen Mary around and gear the whole system to better facilitating them to do that.

Ryan: Yeah, well, just on that and homecare packages, what is in the budget as far as that is concerned? How many more will be funded because there has been a massive waitlist for that service?

Wells: Yes. And we are adding an extra 9500 home care packages in the budget to help those waitlists. The waitlist is reducing already. It's dropped 47 per cent in the last 12 months. So that's a good thing. But there's heaps more work to do. We announced last night that we're going to push the new support at home programs implementation date back to 1 July 2025. And that is not a decision I took lightly, but it's one that is, I think, hopefully demonstrating that I genuinely listen to the feedback of the people that this matters to. The feedback has been very clear that they want more time. These are the kinds of things that governments neglect across decades. The last new Aged Care Act was 30 years ago. We just have to do it well. So, we need to do some more work in developing fair and efficient prices for service providers. We need to do more work on the services list, which is what people can access of a home care package. And we need to explore options to provide higher levels of care at home.

Zonca: And with these nine and a half thousand home care packages that you talk about, additional packages that will be funded, is that straight up from next financial year or is that nine and a half thousand over the forward estimates.

Wells: It's from 1 July.

Zonca: From 1 July. And what about then over the forward estimates? How many more will be provided? You know, in year two, three and four of the forward estimates.

Wells: We decide that budget to budget. And I think the big piece of work that we're going to have to do for the next budget is what the new Support at Home Program looks like. It's just so important. And another thing that we announced in the budget last night is that we're standing up a taskforce to look at funding in aged care.

And I think these two things really go hand in hand. We can't ask people to consider a higher standard in aged care without asking them what they want to receive.

So, like I said, there were just too many substantive things that needed more work or that important people were not happy with, for us to proceed for 1 July 24. So, we're going to continue to do that work.

Zonca: The Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells with you. Another portfolio that is in your name is that of Sport, the money for some of that Olympic infrastructure coming through $1 billion to kick things off from the federal government along what is it, $3.4 over the next ten years as we head towards 2032 itself. I just want to ask about cost overruns that could happen, say, with the Brisbane Arena that the Federal Government are going to pay for. Is your funding capped or what's going to happen if there are cost overruns with projects like that one?

Wells: Yes, it's capped, which is what was settled in the inter-governmental agreement between the Federal Government and Queensland Government just after the last time I spoke to you I think Craig.

Zonca: Yeah. So, if those projects run over the budget, you know, blows out who's going to foot the bill for that. Will that be back to the Queensland Government to make up the cost?

Wells: Well, if that was to happen, which I hope remains a hypothetical, Craig.

Zonca: It is a hypothetical, yes.

Wells: Then the terms that were agreed by both parties in the intergovernmental agreement would be what is carried out. Don't have that in front of me because Catherine King looks after that from our patch from the federal government. But that was an important point that had to get hammered out between the two parties. That has been considered. And that's what was agreed and settled in an inter-government agreement.

Zonca: And like you say, you hope there are no cost overruns. I think everyone hopes that there are no cost overruns between now and 2032 when the Olympics arrive on our shores here in Brisbane. Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

Wells: Have a great day.




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