SUBJECTS: Aged care worker pay case; Passing of Olivia Newton-John; Hekmatullah; Fitzgerald Inquiry.

ANIKA WELLS, MINISTER FOR AGED CARE: Good morning everybody and welcome to the beautiful kingdom of Lilley here in the greatest nation on Earth. Another Brisbane Winter has delivered for us today. I’m very happy to welcome the Acting Prime Minister, Richard Marles, to the electorate of Lilley to discuss aged care issues with our very dedicated patient aged care workers who join us in the park this morning, following on from the Australian Government’s submission to Fair Work last night and Aged Care Worker Day on Sunday, so I’ll start by handing over to our Acting Prime Minister.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Well thank you, Anika, and it’s great to be here with Anika Wells our fantastic Minister for Aged Care, and, of course, here as the local member, the Member for Lilley. Let me first start by expressing the Government’s deep sadness about the passing of Olivia Newton-John. For people of my generation who grew up watching Grease, this feels like the end of an era. It feels like the world is a little emptier without Olivia Newton-John as a part of it. She has been a mainstay of our lives as an iconic Australian entertainer who has made such a significant contribution to the entertainment industry, not just in this country, but around the world. But of course, Olivia Newton-John has done much more than that. In establishing the Olivia Newton-John Foundation, which has raised money for research in cancer, she has left a huge legacy, which is benefiting so many people who have suffered from cancer. There’s an enormous tragedy, obviously, in her own passing. But through her experience, and her advocacy, she has advanced the cause of cancer research, which has benefited thousands upon thousands of people who will be much the better for the outcomes of that research. And on behalf of the Australian Government, we certainly pass on all our condolences to Olivia Newton-John’s family and friends.

Yesterday afternoon, the Government launched its submission for a meaningful wage increase for those who work in aged care. This is a really important commitment that we made prior to the last election, it’s a commitment that we are now fulfilling. Seeing a meaningful wage increase for those in aged care fulfills also one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care. Those who work in aged care, we ask them to do such a critically important job – we’re asking people to look after our loved ones in the final years of their life. And for those of us who have loved ones in aged care, we know that those workers become part of our family. That we have a sense of faith and trust that they are caring for our loved ones is so important to our own lives. It is a really meaningful job, and it requires a meaningful wage increase. Because right now, people are not being paid appropriately for the work that they are doing. Now, this is a matter of justice. It’s a matter of fairness for those who work in aged care. But it’s also really important in terms of making sure that we are retaining the workforce in aged care, and more importantly, that we are encouraging people to take up a career by working in aged care. So we are really proud of the submission that we’ve made, and we now look forward to the work of the Commission in determining this case. And I might hand over to our Aged Care Minister to speak more about this.

MINISTER WELLS: Thank you, Acting PM. You would have seen on Sunday that it was Aged Care Worker Day, And we have some aged care workers here with us this morning who, as many of you would know because many of you have loved ones in aged care yourself, are some of the hardest working, most dedicated, and most underpaid – and therefore most vulnerable – workers in Australia. We have stories of people who spend decades looking after our older Australians, but their work is so insecure that they have to live in a caravan. And that is not a standard of worker conditions that this Government is prepared to accept, because it does not give us a standard of care that Australians want for older Australians in both residential facilities and in home care. That’s why were so pleased to be able to follow on from Aged Care Worker Day with our submission to the Fair Work Commission looking for a meaningful and significant pay rise for aged care workers. Because the complexity of their work has increased significantly, not just through COVID, but from the kind of standard of care that we are asking them to give older Australians in the years and decades to come. So I wanted to use this moment to say thank you very much for everything that you have done, and that after many, many years of traipsing to Canberra, walking the halls feeling like nobody had listened to them, they got to see the very first Bill through the House, through the Parliament, be a Bill for aged care reform. I would note with some bafflement that the Shadow Finance Minister yesterday, when discussing this important submission about getting a well-earned and meaningful pay rise for aged care workers, asked, ‘how is it going to be paid for?’, was that going to flow on to ordinary Australians? And I think that really bells the cat on the lack of commitment to aged care reform, even now, even approaching 10 weeks after an election where Australians voted for change in aged care. For nine years, we had neglect. For nine years, we had no meaningful reform. And you know that because the Royal Commission said in its Final Report it appears that the Morison Government tried to do as very little as possible as they could get away with by way of reform. And instead of taking that lesson from the Final Report, instead of taking the lessons from Australians voting at polling booths across the country 10 weeks ago, yesterday they still said, ‘how are you going to pay for it?’ The cost of not acting here is too much. And when every single person wants to walk in the door and talk to me about workforce shortages, the idea that the Opposition would say paying workers more is not a worthy and meaningful policy to try and increase workers to a very important industry absolutely blows the mind. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Minister, is it not a fair question, though, from the Opposition to ask where the funding will be coming from considering that – you know, with the RBA raising the cash rate, the cost of living is going up, the Albanese government also promised 24-hour nursing – is it not a fair question to find out where the money is coming from?

MINISTER WELLS: It’s not fair, because 10 weeks ago this was very much their problem that they were doing nothing about. These aren’t new workforce shortages. These aren’t newly underpaid workers, these are people who could earn more stacking shelves at Woolies. That government, and now that Opposition, knew about for nine years and did nothing about. The problem that we’re facing now is wildly exacerbated because of their neglect across years. They had nine Budgets to do something about aged care reform, they had nine Budgets to find what they might find to be a sustainable way to pay for pay rises, and they didn’t. In fact, the very first thing they did – one of the very first things they did – in December 2013, when the Abbott Government came to power was to suspend Standing Orders in the House to cut the Aged Care Workforce Compact, a workforce compact that would have given a pay rise to aged care workers. One of the very first things they did was cut aged care pay. So yes, I can understand that they appear baffled by the idea that a government might have to pay for pay rises, but I can’t believe after everything we have all been through as a country, the Interim Report, the Final Report, the election, that they still don’t understand this is what Australians want to do, what Australians want their government to fix. And specifically, the cost of not doing this is 10-fold.

JOURNALIST: Will it include palliative care as well, Minister? Like will there be some funding to palliative care? People this morning are getting a release ready, and they’re calling on the government to make sure that they remember the palliative care people moving forward.

MINISTER WELLS: Complex answer that I will distill down is that this decision by the Fair Work Commission will affect a number of different awards, and so it will affect lots of different groups of workers within the broader aged care sector.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the Report talks about the fact that the cost to business of increasing aged care sector wages would be substantial. But because the government has committed to funding it, you know, the Commission can therefore proceed on the basis that impact on business will not be material. So we know that you have already committed to funding it, where the money comes from (inaudible). So if, let’s say, the Fair Work Commission raises the minimum wage and then aged care homes raise their fees as a result, are they then just taking us for a ride? Considering you guys are funding the wage increase?

MINISTER WELLS: Well, the funding model is a bit more complex than that. The decision by the Fair Work Commission will affect the modern awards and the Enterprise Bargaining Agreements that sit within aged care. And that will be quite transparent, you’ll be able to see what those things are. And one of the measures that we are introducing that will pass through the House and I hope will be in effect for the end of the year, is greater transparency and accountability. So you’ll be able to see much more data available online about what different residential facilities are spending their money on. So I think you’ll see an increase in transparency and accountability overall. What was the first part of your questions?

JOURNALIST: No, I guess it’s just if aged care, the price of aged care, goes up because wages go up, even though the report says it shouldn’t be material.

MINISTER WELLS: Well, I’d point you to the funding model that we just put through the House that has a 10 per cent uplift in funding from the government to flow towards all of the elements of aged care – whether that be food, whether that be care minutes, and there’ll be more to come as we deliver more reform, hopefully in the September or November sittings.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what about education, and – we’ve talked about it before – worker shortage, will some of the funding be used to, I guess, try to attract grade 12 students, grade 11 students to get into the aged care sector?

MINISTER WELLS: Yeah, I’d point you to a number of the election commitments that Labor made that will help this complex problem. So we’ve got the additional HECS places for areas that have skill shortages, we’ve got the fee-free TAFE places. Both of those are to incentivise pathways to give us more nurses, more personal carers enter into aged care, because this is a broader problem. This is the problem care economy wide – this is aged care, this is veterans, this is the NDIS – this is the care economy. So we have a number of different election commitments that flow across a number of different portfolios designed to increase both the pathways available to people, and to reward it more because, like I’ve said before, I actually believe this is a cultural problem. We as a country do not value care enough. When we talk about the kind of care that personal care workers give in aged care facilities, I think that one of the reasons that we put this submission in is because the emotional intelligence that you need when navigating someone with dementia or who has a normal routine and has just moved into a residential facility for the first time, that is a skill that they bring that I don’t think is adequately recognised or remunerated at the moment. And until we value care more, we’re not going to have people who want to do that care work feel like their country recognises the complexity and meaningfulness of what they do. So that’s why not only are we putting a submission into Fair Work to try and get a meaningful pay rise to try and get a significant pay rise, but people like me, and people like Richard, are going up hill and down dale to tell our aged care workers we value you. Thank you, we value you. And we thank you for everything that you’ve done, and we want you to stay there and we want more people to join you.

JOURNALIST: I just wanted to ask, does Australian know where Hekmatullah is, and is there anything that can be done to bring him to justice?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: I won’t be commenting on that matter.

JOURNALIST: Acting Prime Minister, could I just ask, today there’ll be a Fitzgerald Inquiry 2.0 that’ll be handed down in regards to the CCC here in Queensland. The Government has all but conceded that there will be some findings by the Fitzgerald Inquiry that will deal negatively on the CCC. We know that the federal government has always wanted to have a federal watchdog. Will the federal government today be looking at the findings of the CCC to, I guess, educate itself on perhaps having this federal watchdog? Because there will be some very, I guess, negative findings in it today.

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: I won’t comment on the specific findings of the CCC, I’ll leave that to the government here in Queensland. We have made a commitment to introducing an Anti-Corruption Commission at a federal level. And that is a very significant commitment that we took to the last election. And it’s one that we intend to pursue with vigour. Now, in informing ourselves about the precise model, we’re obviously having a look at the various models which exist around the states, including here in Queensland, and all the learnings from that will inform us as to what is the best way in which to implement the commitment to have an Anti-Corruption Commission at a federal level.

JOURNALIST: It is certainly concerning, though, that some of these findings suggesting that officers acted outside of the law, that people were questioned when they shouldn’t have been questioned. The CCC’s been funded by the government, it’s an exorbitant amount of money, and yet they haven’t had that many convictions. I mean, surely it’s a concerning thing for the government?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, I’ll leave commentary on that to the Queensland Government here. As I say, in terms of meeting our own commitment to introducing an Anti-Corruption Commission, we are looking at the various models and the various experiences around the states.

JOURNALIST: Acting Prime Minister, what is your message to China on hearing the news that it will conduct a new military drill around Taiwan?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: What we want to see is a reduction in tensions and a de-escalation of activity in the Taiwan Strait. We need to be seeing a return to normality and more peaceful activity in the Taiwan Strait. That’s obviously what serves the interests of the region, it’s clearly what serves Australia’s national interests, but to be frank, it’s what the world, I think, is seeking right now. We need to see a de-escalation in the tensions around the Taiwan Strait and I really believe that we will breathe a sigh of relief as soon as that happens.

JOURNALIST: Hekmatullah has said that he’s going to kill Australians again. Why won’t you comment on the matter?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER: I think given the circumstances of all that’s led here, I think people would understand that it’s not it appropriate for me to be commenting on this.

JOURNALIST: Another question for Minister Wells, if that’s OK. Do we have a ballpark figure on how much the wage rise could cost?

MINISTER WELLS: We have lots of different modeling about that, but it’s all hypothetical, because it’s ultimately for the Commission to decide what percentage pay rise it is. And then following on from that, they’ve foreshadowed that there will be the opportunity for both government and other parties, like the unions, who’ve made submissions to this matter to talk about the sequencing of that. You might remember that the community workers case back during the Rudd-Gillard Government years that gave a significant pay rise to our community workers was stepped out across nine years. So the sequencing around that, there’s lots more work to do, and yes, we’re preparing, I guess, for all eventualities, but until we have the figure from the Commissioner, and what figure he’s attributing to different sections of the aged care workforce, it’s all hypothetical.

MINISTER WELLS: Was there a last question about sport? And then we’ve got to go.

JOURNALIST: Is there a number where the Fair Work Commission will come back with and you could go that’s too low, and you guys would fund it above that? Is there a floor?

MINISTER WELLS: The reason we’re going to the Fair Work Commission is because they are an independent, qualified arbiter who can assess the significant work value (inaudible) and we look forward to his decision.


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