Radio interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National, 16 May 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Wells' ABC Radio National interview on aged care labour agreements, workforce, and gambling reform.

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

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For years, the aged care industry has been crying out for more workers. The problems, as we know, were accelerated during the COVID 19 crisis. But the cracks, like low wages, poor working conditions have really been deepening for a much longer time.

The Government is moving to increase the number of aged care workers from overseas and expedite the visa applications to deal with the shortages. Federal Education Minister Anika Wells joins me this morning.

Anika Wells, welcome back to the program.


Good morning PK


Minister, an aged care facility is the first to sign an agreement to get up to 570 workers over the next five years. That's just one facility. How many workers will this policy bring to Australia?


Lots, we're hoping, P.K. This is a huge step forward for us tackling the workforce shortages not just in aged care, but hopefully in the broader care economy, but aged care first, because we know this sector has been in crisis for some time.

And as we try to lift the standard of care with all of our reforms, that will deliver a better standard of care for residents, it was important that we did aged care first.


Okay, when you say lots, you won't be surprised that that won’t satisfy me. I mean, can you quantify it?


Like you said, 570 across five years, just for this one provider in Perth that signed the first with Minister Giles. I spoke to Minister Giles last night to see how we were tracking, he said, “We've got people queuing up with interest”. They need to talk to the relevant union first and then come to us with their agreement.”

So, I think we're really hopeful this is going to be a huge step forward, but it's far too early for us to try and predict how many workers it will yield.

We just know this is the number one thing that providers should be asking us to do. And it's taken collaboration not just across, I guess, the providers, the unions and the workers who seek to address workforce shortages in aged care but across different portfolios of Government.

I know I've found as the Aged Care Minister, super important portfolio, but this is a junior ministry. What I've relied upon is being able to work really well with a number of different Cabinet colleagues to get these big reforms through the budget.

For example, the Treasurer supporting me for the pay rise for aged care workers, Minister Giles and Minister O'Neil for these migration elements. Minister Burke for some of the industrial relations elements. Minister O'Connor for some of the skills and training elements. It's taken a huge team effort to get the kind of progress that we've seen in aged care so far, and I think that speaks to the fact that this is a priority of the Government and the Government seeks to be collaborative first.


Okay. You mentioned being a Junior Minister, it sounds like you've just made a pretty strong case for being elevated to Cabinet or having at least the role elevated to Cabinet.

Should it be?


PK, absolutely not. Mark Butler sits as an excellent Senior Minister, he has been extraordinarily kind and helpful to me as a new Minister. I haven’t even been Minister for a year. He had the aged care portfolio himself back in the Rudd, Gillard, government. Aged care sits as one of the three essential elements of the health portfolio, acute care, primary care, aged care and when you consider it as three tranches of important work, it makes complete sense that someone like me tackles aged care in a dedicated fashion whilst Mark sits across the cabinet.


All right. The sector is short more than 25,000 nurses and care workers in the next financial year. That blows out to almost 40,000 shortage in 2024/25. How quickly can the shortage be addressed?


Well, as you've heard me say before, we have been pulling all the levers as quickly as humanly possible, since coming to government, to try and address these workforce shortages.

That's not just the pay rise and the labour agreements which are the big two that we're talking about today that came out of the budget, but it's also fee-free TAFE places. That's also an extension of the exemption for student visa settings. We, I think, have put a huge amount of reform to the sector. We do need to allow time for that to wash through.

That will address the workforce shortages but I think discussing particular numbers in and out at this point really isn't as helpful as making sure that we have done everything we can and then allow that to allow that to work.


Look, that 24/7 aged care nurse deadline will be missed. Do you concede that you over promised on that, given you can't deliver the election promise?


The election promise was that we would legislate 24/7 nurses in nursing homes and that is what we did. We did that in the first couple of days.


I'm going to have to contest that because I listened carefully. And in fact, you said there would be a 24/7 nurse in aged care by July 1 in all the nursing homes.

It wasn't just legislation.


And the second element of my answer, PK. Is that there are going to be nurses at every nursing home by 1 July. There will not be nurses 24/7 in all homes by 1 July.

But the vast majority of homes, if they weren't there by the time we came to government, have quickly taken steps to be there and the vast majority of homes will have 24/7 nursing in all homes by 1 July.


Sure, but the promise was all of them, not the majority.


Well, the Treasurer and I talk about this a little bit when we talk about it's an even bigger mess than we thought. We knew that aged care was in crisis but I think I, along with Mark Butler, were staggered by how bad a state it was in when we came to government and got the formal incoming government brief.

So, we were trying to uphold the intent of the Royal Commission. We have done that. We've legislated it. It is the law. The vast majority of homes have lifted to that call, have lifted to what the Royal Commission has asked us to do, have listened to what the Albanese Government promised to do when we came to Government, and we are now working with that remaining percentage of providers who, mostly due to workforce shortages, will not get there in time and we're just going to get them there as soon as we humanly can.


Now, there's more than $11 billion in this budget to pay for that 15% wage rise for aged care workers. One of the things that keeps coming up on the text line here from aged care workers themselves is that they worry it won't be passed on in full.

How can you guarantee it? Will you actually put in legislation to guarantee they get that wage rise in full?


What we're going to do is make providers attest through their regular reporting to us as the government, the department, the commission, that they have passed along those wages in full.

So, we will see whether they've done it. They will have to attest that they have done it. And if they lie in their attestation, that is a criminal offence.

Also, that data is going to be published from 1 January so that anybody who has an interest or concern about this, and I know a lot of aged care workers do, will be able to see that data.

Finally, thanks to the work of Ged Kearney, Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care. We've managed to strike a compact with providers and the unions that we will publish a schedule because this is incredibly complex with all the different rates of pay, different awards, EBAs. We will have a schedule that will provide anyone and I'm thinking of personal carers, aged care workers in particular, where they can look at the schedule, check that they are being paid, what they should be paid under the pay rise.

And if not, they could work with their local union to a local resolution and if not, they can escalate it to us


Okay, just final question. We've only got a minute, so just briefly. Anthony Albanese declared he finds the sort of barrage of betting advertisements during sporting matches annoying. Peter Dutton's gone further though he's proposed a ban because footy time is family time.

Do you support a ban? You're also Sports Minister for those who don't know.


I agree with the Prime Minister that it's annoying. I also agree…


Do you agree with the Opposition Leader, though, that it should be banned?


I listen to national sporting organisations as the Sports Minister and they have so far been pretty constructive with submissions into the inquiry being run by my excellent friend and colleague Peta Murphy.

And I trust Peta's judgement and I wait for the results of her inquiry.


And is there some urgency around this, though? It's destroying lives, isn't it?


I think we have responded to that urgency by setting up an inquiry in the first year of government to properly work through these issues and we will give it the considered and, if necessary, urgent response that Peta as Chair of the inquiry recommends.


Okay. Minister, thank you for your time.


Have a good morning.



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