Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022
Mr COULTON (Parkes—Chief Nationals Whip) (19:09): I rise today to speak on the Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022 and support the amendment that was introduced by the member for Farrer. I want to make it very clear right from the start that I support the concept of as much highly-qualified professional support in aged care as possible, and the idea of 24/7 nursing care is an honourable goal to aim for.
My concern, though, is: if it’s legislated, particularly in some of my more regional smaller communities, and the aged-care provider can’t find the staff, and if they are then in breach of legislated conditions, what happens then? Are they going to be closed down?
I watched very closely the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and there were some tragic stories. But I’ve got to say that, in my part of the world, I didn’t see too much of that. A lot of the providers in the Parkes electorate are smaller and they’re community owned or maybe run by the local council. We have seen some amalgamation of late. McLean Care, for instance, have come in and taken over the Alkira and the nursing home in Gunnedah. We’ve seen Whiddon homes that are servicing Narrabri and Wee Waa and out at Burke, and they’ve just taken over Fairview in Moree. But my experience from visiting these places is that the folks that are residents there are getting great service from very dedicated staff. They’re doing the best that they can to attract the staff that are available. Quite frankly, they should take, and recognise, the people who have come from overseas to work in aged care. Just out of interest, the second language that’s spoken at home in the Parkes electorate, that’s not English, is Nepalese. We’ve got people from Nepal, the Philippines and the subcontinent countries who are doing a great job filling in that workforce gap.
We are also doing a lot of work locally, and I want to give a shout-out to my home town and the Gwydir Learning Region, an organisation that I used to be chair of, that is training people in a cert III in aged care at the local school, because there are no tertiary facilities in Gwydir Shire. Over the last 15 to 20 years, maybe a couple of hundred people have been trained up and are now working in aged care. They are fantastic. When my father was a resident at Naroo—a facility that he was actually instrumental in building, and he was chairman of the committee, and ultimately became a resident—the local people who had had a career change later in life, as mature people, did an amazing job.
The most important thing is that there are services within local communities. A lot of my towns are more than 100 kilometres apart. I’ve been working with the Lake Cargelligo all-care committee now for probably more than a decade. It was started by a couple of gentlemen whose wives had dementia and there weren’t any services locally. They’d been married to their wives for over 60 years, and their wives were in facilities 120 kilometres away. These chaps, who were in their 80s, couldn’t be there every day, as you need to be if you’ve got a family member with dementia, to help with the feeding and just the continuation of being in the life of someone who’s going through the terrible experience of dementia, and it was just terrible. All those years together and, in the final years of their lives, they’re separated. My concern for other towns that I have is what happens if they have to provide nurses 24/7 and they can’t.
Over the years I’ve worked very closely with many of the aged-care facilities in my electorate. There is Cooinda at Coonabarabran; I’ve been helping them by working with some capital grants to upgrade their facilities so that they can do what’s necessary. Another great example is Cooee Lodge at Gilgandra. The community of Gilgandra has actually made aged care and disability care an industry that actually droughtproofs the community. They’ve constructed duplex villas for people to go into for retirement, there is a hostel nursing home and then dementia care. So people are actually moving to Gilgandra because of the care that’s offered in that community.
But over the last, probably, 15 to 20 years we’ve seen a change—we’ve seen more aged-care packages delivered at home. A lot of these facilities were built basically as hostels, where people might go and spend five or 10 of the later years of their lives, but they’re now going in as high-care patients. The funding model allowed for a bond—and the low interest rates have also impacted on aged-care facilities’ viability, because the return on those bonds hasn’t been as high over the last few years—and now that people are mainly there for end-of-life care that model has broken down. So most of the facilities in my electorate now are in financial difficulties. We’re going to have to look at that funding model because it’s just not working the way it did. Also, a lot of my communities have a higher proportion of older folk who are on pensions. They don’t have a house that’s worth $500,000 or $600,000 which they can sell to pay for the bond. Many of the homes in these small country towns are not worth anything like that. So funding is particularly difficult.
Despite all of this, I believe that the people in my electorate are getting good care through the dedication of the staff involved. Obviously, in the bigger centres like Dubbo we have some great facilities. Basically, there are retirement suburbs. There are nursing homes supported there—three or four of those. A lot of people are actually coming into Dubbo now to retire. But the ones I’m particularly concerned about are these smaller towns of 1,000 or 2,000 people and that are a hundred kilometres apart—places like Bourke, where Whiddon provide the services now. Cobar has Lilliane Brady Village, which was driven by the local council and named after the very determined and famous hardworking mayor, Lilliane Brady, who, sadly, passed away in her 91st year. These communities have banded together to build facilities so that they can care for their loved ones at home. That’s what we’ve got to do.
I do recognise and understand the reasons for the legislation in the way that it has been presented; I just don’t think the government understands that there could be unforeseen consequences in this. I’m hoping that the government will support the member for Farrer’s amendment so that the exemptions mean these smaller regional facilities can continue. This is seriously one of the biggest issues we’re facing as a country. By the time baby boomers, like me, need that higher care, not only is the expense going to be higher for the government; we’re also going to need a workforce. That’s the other side of it. I am supportive of reform now because the issues around aged care are only going to multiply as baby boomers need that higher level of care. I am just expressing extreme caution on putting legislation that may ultimately lead to some facilities having to close. That would be a complete disaster.