HomeOpinionColumnistAnthony Albanese MP - Opinion: Dignity must be delivered for older Australians

Anthony Albanese MP – Opinion: Dignity must be delivered for older Australians

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By Anthony Albanese MP, Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Member for Grayndler.

In the 21st century, human dignity should be a non-negotiable given, particularly for our older Australians. Our parents and grandparents – people who worked hard, paid their taxes and raised us – deserve to live dignified, secure and fulfilling lives.

However, Australia’s aged-care sector is in crisis.

According to a royal commission which reported in 2021, the sector is badly underfunded and understaffed.

The commission’s 2019 interim report found widespread evidence of dreadful deficiencies in the care and safety of nursing-home residents, including overreliance on chemical constraints, widespread malnutrition, inadequate wound care and, in some cases, outright abuse of residents.

It is extraordinary that more than two years later, Scott Morrison has acted on fewer than half of the 146 recommendations of his own royal commission into aged care.

Indeed, he appears to believe everything is fine in our aged-care facilities.

It will take a Labor government to fix this broken system once and for all.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese visited Bolton Clarke Fairways Retirement Living and Residential Aged Care in Bundaberg, Queensland on Good Friday. Albanese holds the hand of resident Lynda. Picture: Toby Zerna / The Daily Telegraph.

We’ll require every nursing home in the country to have a registered nurse on the premises at all times.

This is already in place in Tasmania, which proves it is possible.

This will give residents and their families greater confidence that if their loved ones fall ill, qualified care will be readily at hand.

It will also reduce unnecessary emergency department visits for aged care facility residents, taking pressure off our overstretched hospitals.

We’ll lift standards to require that every aged-care facility resident receive a minimum of 215 minutes of care a day, as per the recommendation of the royal commission.

We must also invest in the skills of carers.

Our aged-care sector needs more staff, better training and greater job security.

We’ll offer fee-free TAFE courses for aged-care workers.

We’ll also back a pay rise for aged-care workers through a submission to the independent Fair Work Commission’s ongoing review of the sector, again in line the royal commission findings.

We must also ensure that aged care facilities that fail to meet appropriate standards are subject to scrutiny and, where necessary, penalty.

We will create a tough civil and criminal penalty scheme, including compensation, to deal with dodgy nursing facility owners who fail to provide high quality and safe care.

The quality of food in nursing homes also requires attention.

The interim report of the royal commission found more than half of residents were malnourished.

That is not good enough. A Labor government will support renowned cook Maggie Beer and her foundation to boost its work on ensuring aged-care residents get healthy food.

This is not too much to expect. The stories of uneaten food being scraped off plates and then put in blenders to serve as puree the following day have no place in our system.

I have spoken to many aged care workers and every one of them is deeply committed to offering care and compassion to older Australians.

But they struggle to pay their own bills.

Aged carers come to work offering love and care looking after other families’ loved ones.

They should be properly paid for their work.

Mr Morrison has no plan to deal with the aged-care crisis.

He has cut funding for skills training and is not prepared to support a pay rise for workers.

He seems to believe that because it will cost money to improve the quality of aged care, we should not bother.

I reject that position. I know Australians are better than that.

As a people, we believe in dignity for all.

We believe in fairness. Just as we have shown during bushfires, floods and the Covid pandemic, we care for each other and our communities.

Aged care is a federal government responsibility.

The neglect identified by the royal commission requires a positive government response.

I want to lead a government that steps up to its obligations to our parents and grandparents.

Australia has many excellent aged retirement villages and aged care facilities where people have told me they feel loved and cared for.

In some, the only complaint residents have about food is there is more than they can eat.

That’s the gold standard. But in the nation of the Fair Go, I won’t rest until the gold standard applies across the board.

This opinion piece was first published in The Herald Sun on Friday, 22 April 2022.

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