TOM CONNELL, HOST: A growing number of aged care homes could close over staff shortages. Regional providers warn they're being left in limbo waiting for exemptions to operate legally under the government's new nursing targets. Two Queensland aged care facilities have told their residents they could close, new rules requiring facilities to have at least one nurse working at all times came into effect on July 1, two rural New South Wales homes have been unable to source those registered nurses. Many operators say the government has not responded to their exemption applications. Joining me now is Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Health Emma MacBride thanks for your time. How many homes have yet to be told what's happening with their exemptions?
ASSISTANT MINISTER MCBRIDE: Our government is determined to make sure that we restore quality and safety to aged care. We make no apologies for working towards these standards, I understand that there has been no delays, that there have been 51 applications for exemptions. That as we would expect the department are working through with the applicants in a meticulous and thorough way to make sure that where applicants can't meet the requirements at the moment, that appropriate alternative arrangements are in place to make sure that residents are safe.
CONNELL: So in terms of the legality of it, and what they're told, no centre's being told they would need to shut down or not operate, while they're waiting for this exemption is that the case, that as soon as they've applied, they're in this situation where legally they're fine, until they find out about their exemption?
MCBRIDE: So, the applications closed in June and there was 15 received at the time, there's now 51, with the department. And that's correct, the department are working through in a very thorough and methodical way with the providers to make sure that where at the moment they don't meet the 24/7 requirement that alternative arrangements are in place. We want to make sure that dignity is restored to aged care. I lost my own father to younger onset Alzheimer's and my family had their own experience of the aged care system. And we want to make sure that every older Australian is treated with the dignity and care that they deserve.
CONNELL: This recommendation comes in the Royal Commission. It's just that it's coming a year early while we've still got a shortage of nurses. So the last figure I've seen from the government is about 5% of homes would not be able to be compliant right now. But also there's still a shortage of 8,000 registered nurses. Do those two figures marry up is it really only 5% still?
MCBRIDE: We understand that the vast majority of aged care homes have met the requirement, and that is so important to give confidence to family members and loved ones that their older Australians are going to be looked after with the care and expertise that registered nurses provide, that should be available whatever time of day, we are working as a government towards workforce shortages to make sure that we have the appropriate health workforce in the right places at the right time.
CONNELL: Okay, and what about that 8,000 shortage, though? Is that number sort of been harder to bring down? I know it has been coming down slowly but harder to bring down and the government realised?
MCBRIDE: I understand that that shortfall is closing and the government is working very hard. Minister Anika Wells is working tirelessly as is Minister Mark Butler, to make sure that we have that pipeline of workforce. We've introduced fee free TAFE places, more University places, and by increasing the wages in aged care is making recruitment and retention in aged care easier for providers. So we are determined, and we make no apologies for working hard, to meet these standards in aged care. Because every older Australian deserves dignity whilst they're in care.
CONNELL: We've had a death in the flu in your electorate. Is there a sense of complacency about the flu? And you know, should parents really know that for all the concern of COVID in children the flu much more likely to kill a younger person?
MCBRIDE: And my condolences go to the family of the year 9 student on the Central Coast who passed away because of the flu and understand another young person has died in Queensland and I just echo the sentiments of the Chief Medical Officer of New South Wales, Dr. Kerry Chant, that you know, flu is something that we should be immunised for and we encourage parents particularly in the school holidays to be able to make sure that their family are up to date with their flu jab and to talk to their GP or their pharmacist to make sure that their young people are immunised. It is an absolute tragedy that young people have lost their lives to the flu. And we want to make sure that as a population that we're protected, including young people.
CONNELL: Big wind farm projects and part of it won't go ahead in your electorate Norah Head. Is the lesson for local communities push back hard enough and you'll be able to be exempted because there's going to be a lot of these projects popping up?
MCBRIDE: I think what we've seen and the same in the Gippsland, the first offshore wind turbine zone that was approved by the Minister, we've seen the result of genuine constructive community consultation. There was close to 2,000 submissions, a third of which were from my electorate, which saw the original zone reduced by almost a third by 1,000 kilometres squared and we've also seen it pushed out from the shore. So, the original draft zone was 10 kilometres from the shore now it's at least 50 kilometres from the shore. So I think what we've seen and talking to the Minister for Climate and Energy yesterday, is the results of genuine constructive community consultation. I think we've got the balance right, where we're making sure that we're working towards renewable energy and at the same time, working with communities to make sure that environmental concerns and social concerns are properly understood and accounted for.
CONNELL: But it has meant a much smaller project. So if this happens everywhere where Labor is attempting to do it, the renewable energy goal is going to struggle, isn't it?
MCBRIDE: Well, we've seen with this wind zone, s wind zone of this size, which is approximately 1,800 kilometres squared, that it's estimated that depending on the project and the proponent, that it could generate five gigawatts of energy and to put that into context, that's enough energy to power 4.1 million homes. So this wind farm is a significant project and meeting with proponents in the Port of Newcastle yesterday, we know that this will go a long way to meeting our clean energy requirements at the same time as striking that balance and making sure that local communities views are heard, and you properly recognised.
CONNELL: Emma McBride. Appreciate your time today. Thank you.
MCBRIDE: Good to be with you.