Provision of high-quality in-home aged care services and recruitment of tens of thousands of new workers to the struggling sector are among key priorities for incoming minister Anika Wells.
The Queensland MP, who was elevated to Anthony Albanese’s frontbench this week, said Australia needed a major stream of new workers to support elderly and vulnerable people over the coming decades, and Labor was committed to implementing the findings of the landmark royal commission report.
Labor plans to require nursing homes to have a registered nurse onsite 24 hours a day from July 2023, and mandate that all residents receive an average of 215 minutes of care per day, as recommended by the royal commission.
Ms Wells, who represents the Brisbane seat of Lilley, said more home care packages were needed and pledged to advocate for a real wage increase at the Fair Work Commission. She will work alongside Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler.
“I actually worked in aged care when I was putting myself through uni, so I do have some shop floor experience in aged care, albeit that was in the late 2000s. And I’m sure that things look a little bit different now,” Ms Wells said.
“My mum worked in aged care for more than 10 years before she retired, so there is a bit of family history in the area.”
Improved food, with mandatory nutrition standards for aged care homes, and public reporting of how residential providers spend government funding are part of Labor’s plans.
Not valued enough
Ms Wells said aged care, as well as the wider care economy, was not valued enough in Australian society and would be better recognised under the new government.
“At the moment, I just don’t feel like people who work in aged care or who would consider working in aged care really feel like that position is valued enough by our society, so we have to do that too.”
The royal commission’s final report, released in March last year, recommended the approval of new home care packages within one month of assessments and an urgent clearing of the waiting list. The commissioners called for all staff in aged care to have a minimum level of training, in line with the childcare sector, and for the power to prescribe anti-psychotic drugs to be given to a psychiatrist or a geriatrician, limiting their use in residential aged care.
The commission called for the Aged Care Act to be replaced.
Industry lobby group Aged & Community Care Providers Association welcomed the new cabinet appointments, and called for reform of the sector to be a priority for the government’s first 100 days in office.
“The care economy was at the heart of the Labor pitch for the election and it should be top of its agenda in government. We’d also like to see the aged care portfolio be a dedicated role elevated to a cabinet level. The election has helped focus attention on the need for ambitious action for older Australians and for greater respect and better pay for aged care workers.” interim chief executive Paul Sadler said.
Dementia Australia chief executive Maree McCabe said quality dementia care must remain at the top of the government’s agenda.
“We need to maintain the momentum and focus on aged care and dementia, especially in relation to workforce issues and the need for compulsory dementia education,” she said.