Joining us live now Greg Minister, the Minister– Greg Minister Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for joining us this morning.
Good morning, Pete.
So, enquiry on enquiry has taken place before, we all know that. The shocking claims aren’t new, but still they weren’t fixed. So, why should people expect a different result this time around?
Well, this is the first ever Royal Commission into Aged Care and look, frankly, the Prime Minister called it because, as he said to me at the time, it’s our watch and it’s our responsibility.
And yes, this has been decades in the making, as the royal commission found. And we’ve improved dramatically from where we were 30 years ago, but there’s a great distance to travel to where we want to be as a country.
What does the commission ultimately say? It says that– two things; we need respect and care and dignity - so that national culture of respecting our elders. And then secondly, we need to move to a system of individual needs, focused on that individual care, rather than a– simply, a structure, an institutional arrangement.
And we’re able to do that through our hospitals and we’re doing that with our disability care, we can do that with our aged care. And what does that mean? It means that each person is receiving the support that they needed in the way which best meets their needs.
And so, it is a change. And yep, there are some points of disagreement between the commissioners, but, you will see that in judgements from the finest judicial minds in the lands, our job is to bring those together.
So, an initial response of $452 million, but really focusing on 18,000 new aged care workers; over $750 per person additional for metro and $1,150 almost per person additional for rural and regional aged care residents to support their care, to support their facility. And then, all of that allows us to, as you said, lay out the comprehensive response, a five-year plan built around five pillars of home care, quality and safety, services and sustainability, workforce and governance.
And a monumental change and a monumental task, but one to which we’re completely committed.
Yeah, okay. So, you’ve just identified there the $450 million, it’s really a down payment at this stage. And is it really a snip on what’s required?
You’re going to need billions upon billions and billions of dollars moving forward to be able to correct it. So, now comes the question of how you’re going to pay for it? Do you support this one per cent Medicare style levy?
So, the answer is that there were different approaches from the Commissioners - this was one area where they laid out alternatives and options. We’ll consider that and we’ll respond as part of the overall budget, and I think that is the appropriate place because this was 2500 pages, eight volumes, 148 recommendations.
So, when we’re laying out a five-year plan, we want to do that comprehensively, in the context of the budget. So we understand all of the investments, but then of course, the ability to pay for it.
And that’s the job of the Cabinet - to bring the comprehensive needs of a country together. But what’s the change for Australians to recognise here? Yes, there’ve been a lot of reports in the past. We’ve improved dramatically in the last 30 years - from multi-bedrooms and some people who were left in bed sits - to a situation where there’s overwhelmingly wonderful carers, and nurses, and volunteers who are supporting the system.
But, we can improve that and that’s the next task; to make it about the individual, in the same way we can provide individualised healthcare, individualised disability support, now we’re doing that with aged care. It is a big change, but it’s our time and our watch and our responsibility.
Well I mean, everyone – whether we like it or not – we’ve all got a stake in it eventually.
The problem with the tax hike, I suppose - and Ian Henschke was on the show a little bit earlier, Minister - he has concerns that whatever tax hike comes, may well just get swallowed up in administrative fees from the various providers. Does that weigh on your mind?
So, one of the things we’ve done is put in place 500 audits on exactly the thing which Ian Henschke’s referred to, and I think he makes a very important point.
You have an interesting situation where there’s much more of a struggle on viability in the residential care facilities, there are likely to be greater levels of viability in the homecare, but we have to make sure that there’s additional homecare.
And so, we’ll be putting in place 500 audits though at the same time to make sure that there’s value for money - we’re increasing the focus on fraud and quality in homecare.
And so, that is an important part of it. But, it’s about increasing homecare and then increasing viability in residential care, which then leads on to quality.
Sure, we’ve doubled the funding in aged care; we’ve tripled the places in homecare, but there’s more to do. You’re right, it’s not free, it is a significant additional investment that has already been made, but still needs to be made.
But at the end of the day, the big takeaway is our national culture - it challenged all of us. And they said this has been decades in the making, but our national culture has to be to think of our older Australians as our elders - to be celebrated, to be supported, to be able to live life to the best of their ability right through the course of their life; and that’s a deep and powerful concept.
Okay. Minister, just on to the vaccine rollout. Of the 60,000 doses available, the states have so far administered just 34,000 - that’s about 53 per cent of a take up so far. Why is the roll out so slow?
Look, you've had some states that have started cautiously and slowly - and I was speaking with some of the Health Ministers last night, and they're ramping up. They're focussed on safety and I understand that.
I think there we're over 150 aged care facilities that have been done, and I think that's extremely important. We’ll soon enough be at 100,000 vaccines, and then after that one million vaccines, and then after that at two million vaccines.
So, what we're seeing is the states, understandably - and we've seen this, particularly in Queensland - start cautiously and build up. New South Wales has been extraordinary in what they've done.
But around the country, people are being vaccinated. The elderly we were talking about. Before, I’ve received yesterday's figures which will come through mid-morning, we know that there have been over 10,000 elderly in residential aged care facilities. They’re our most at risk, at the same time, those most at risk of contracting and retransmitting.
Our border control and our quarantine workers are on the front line and being vaccinated, and that reduces the risk to the rest of the country. So, this is happening and we're in a strong position.
We had 30,0000 vaccines arrive on the weekend, we have more coming and then it's going to be distributed. But safety is the first priority and I respect the approach of the states on that front.
In the meantime, we're getting out. We're vaccinating our residential aged care- our older Australians in residential aged care, and we're seeing very good results.
Okay, but if we're already behind, there's no way all Australians are going to be vaccinated by October, is there? Which is your target?
No. I think what you'll find is this progressively ramps up. I was speaking, as I say, with some of the ministers last night - they're opening new facilities this week.
The aged care facilities are being expanded, in terms of the number of providers. And so, what you see, in the very near future - from next week - the first of the AstraZeneca vaccines will be available - much easier to distribute, much easier to administer, but all providing that extraordinary level of protection, far beyond what the world had ever hoped a year ago or imagined would be available by now.
So, we're making progress. Again, 31 days this year with zero cases of community transmission, at a time of two and a half million deaths throughout the last year, and in any one day, eight, nine, 10,000 lives lost around the world.
And yet, no lives lost in Australia this year. I think we have to be- keep it in perspective and be confident that as a country we have got this. Always vigilant, but we know how to do it.
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, appreciate your time as always. We'll talk to you soon.