MPI: Aged Care

Wednesday, 09 February 2022

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell—Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) (15:42): It's a pleasure to join the minister for health in speaking about this matter of public importance. When we listen to the opposition we hear a series of political points that they're making about the aged-care system. From the government's perspective, in a one-in-100-year pandemic we understand that the pressure that has come upon aged care, in particular, because of the nature of what this virus does and who it targets is extreme. It has happened all around the world. When we listen to a minister like Greg Hunt, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, who has shepherded us through this period at the senior level of government, we don't hear a criticism from the opposition about his performance, and there's a reason why—because every aged-care sector in every part of the world has been under the same pressure. So, when the opposition stand up and say this is something particular to Australia, or a failure, they're ignoring a basic reality about this virus and about what has happened. When you ignore the fundamental reality about what pressure we're under, you then go to a series of other false assumptions.

There is no political party that could come into this place and posit or suggest to the people of Australia that they could deliver a zero death rate in aged care. There's none. There is nobody who could say they could have known ahead of time how the virus would operate, what it would do, that it would not get into any aged-care facility in this country. I would say to the members opposite—who have come here and said we're engaged in a fiction—that that's the purely fictional part. It's fiction to contend it. Everyone knows that, around the world, people who live in aged care, people in homes, people who live close together and people who live in close living suburbs have suffered more than people who have open access, have room to move, are able to isolate themselves and are able to deal with the characteristics of the virus.

The government has responded to ensure that the aged-care sector is well supported throughout the entire pandemic. We've seen our workforces in this pandemic work harder than ever before—there's no doubt about that—in our healthcare sectors, our nurses, our doctors. But in our aged-care sector workers have absolutely worked harder than they've ever worked before, and they work hard every single day. It's something that we've recognised with the bonuses we've provided. As a government we put large amounts of money into aged-care sector workers' bonuses to say to them: we recognise you're working harder than ever before—80,000 shifts, surge workforces, the ADF assisting by providing support to aged-care facilities. There are no other more responsible measures that you can take in a pandemic, when you're dealing with everything else that goes on, to address support for the aged-care sector, and we're going to keep looking at that support with more bonuses.

When you look at how much money is now spent in aged care, we're up to $33 billion. That is the amount of money that I think the parliament should focus on. The shadow minister came up and spoke about his reading of budget papers going back over a decade, but when you're in a once-in-100-years pandemic you really don't have time to look at the budget papers from 10 years ago. We have to look at the acute and important issue in front of us, which is a once-in-100-years pandemic. I've seen the government this year operate at that level. We've had more National Security Committee meetings by far than we've had since World War II. Each of those has dealt with these areas: support for the aged care sector, support for vulnerable Australians, targeted support for older Australians, targeted support for workforces, how other people can be redeployed between government agencies to assist each other.

Australians have come together magnificently. The government's policy has worked as well as can be expected under the circumstances, but no one could ever claim a perfect record in relation to this. Every death in this pandemic is a tragedy; it's a lost family member, it's a loved one. We all grieve for the people that have lost loved ones in aged care in some of the outbreaks, especially early on when the least was known about the characteristics of the virus and how it would operate and what would happen.

I think it's easy for the opposition to look back and say, 'We would have done things differently.' It is easy to say that at this point. I'll be frank: looking back, if we knew then what we know now we would also have made different decisions. I think that's a function of humanity. But we made the best decisions possible at the time, and Australia can be proud of its record in this area—proud that we have been able to keep our society together, keep people together, do our best for vulnerable people and absolutely minimise the death rate, compared to other countries. That's why, as the Minister for Health and Aged Care says, we have a record that other countries look to and say, 'What did Australia do—and how did they do it—to keep the death rate so low and to keep their populace protected?' We must keep that perspective on this, and we do. We will continue to make the decisions to support our aged-care sector as we go through this and into the future, and that is the record amount that we have committed to this sector. (Time expired)