Transcript: Interview with Oly Peterson, 6PR - 23 April 2024


Interview with Oly Peterson, 6PR

23 April 2024

Topics: Home care wait time blow outs, the Government’s delayed response to the Aged Care Sustainability Taskforce report


OLY PETERSON: Senator Ruston, good afternoon.


PETERSON: What's happening with these wait time figures for in-home aged care packages?

RUSTON: Well, we're very concerned that we've seen in the last two years quite a significant blow-out, particularly in the higher level packages, the packages that are supporting older Australians to stay at home that need a higher level of care. And in some instances, we're having people waiting 12 months to be able to get access to a package, which is really concerning. Because we want older Australians to stay at home, but when they need care, they're going to need that support to be able to stay at home.

PETERSON: And these are the people obviously requiring that extra level of care. Waiting 12 months can literally be the difference between life and death.

RUSTON: Well, it certainly can be, because obviously not receiving the care during that 12 months, you can see a significant deterioration in the quality of that person's life. And we know older Australians really want to stay in their home for as long as possible, but if they're not able to get access to the care that they need, they will end up either having to go into residential care before they want to or, as you say, in some very sad circumstances, they may pass away.

PETERSON: So then why are these figures ballooning, because I thought the Government was going to be making more packages available for in-home aged care.

RUSTON: Well, that actually has not happened. In the last two years of the Coalition Government, we released 80,000 home care packages. This government has only released 9500 packages in the two years they've been in government. So quite clearly, their promises around home care have been completely shallow. They have not delivered them. And even only delivering an extra 9500 packages, we've still seen wait times blow out. So there's some really serious questions that the Government needs to answer. We've been asking them on Questions on Notice, they're just choosing not to answer the questions.

PETERSON: But the Aged Care Minister Anika Wells, I read, attacked the Morrison Government's - what they call - rushed job on those home care packages and promised to get in-home care back on track soon after they took office back in 2022. Fast forward two years later, this says they haven't.

RUSTON: Well, absolutely not. And you know, the Minister really does need to get her facts right, because in 2022, we had average wait times, you know, between 3 and 6 months. And of course, we wanted to have that improve. This government promised going into the election that they were going to put the care back into aged care, that they were going to reduce these wait times, and all we've seen is them blow out. So I think the Minister wants to be a little bit careful when she makes these kinds of comments, because it's actually under her watch that things have got worse. It's under her watch that the promises that her government made coming into the election have not been delivered. So, I would be saying that the Minister probably has some very serious questions that she needs to answer about her performance in this area.

PETERSON: Well, she's also the Chair of the Aged Care Taskforce, and last month made 23 recommendations in that Aged Care Taskforce report. It mentioned the word urgent 17 times just in the summary. So, it's interesting that the Chair of the Taskforce, which is Anika Wells, can present this report to the Minister responsible, which is Anika Wells, say it's urgent, and then the Government's - what? - basically sitting on its hands and not doing anything about this urgent situation.

RUSTON: Well, the thing that was most distressing to me, and obviously distressing to older Australians who need answers here, is that the Minister received the report, as you say even though she was the Chair, in December. So she was well aware of what was in the report prior to December. But in December, the report was officially delivered to government. We waited three months before that report was made public, three months before the Opposition was invited to be included in any briefings, and we still really haven't had an honest and open conversation with the Australian public about what these changes that are potentially being proposed by the Taskforce are likely to do in terms of impacting on Australians. You know, how much more are Australians going to be asked to pay for their care? Which Australians are going to be asked to pay for their care, and what are they going to be asked for? Are really legitimate concerns and questions that I think older Australians rightly should be and are asking. But right now, we don't have answers to those questions, and I think that's a really, really important thing that the Government needs to come out and actually have that conversation with the older Australians and their families.

PETERSON: Well, there are suggestions out there that we might be dipping our hands in our pockets and actually means test the aged care system here in Australia or there will be an aged care levy. Do you support any of those ideas, Shadow Minister Ruston?

RUSTON: Well, right now, what I'd be saying to the Government is - please actually tell us what you're proposing. Because I'm none the wiser than anybody else as to what the Government is actually intending to do to address the sustainability of our aged care sector going forward. Because we need to make sure that it's fit for purpose and is there to support older Australians, not just this generation, but the next one, and the next one and the next one, but the first place we need to start is having an open and honest conversation with older Australians about what they want. You know, what are the next generation of Australians are going to want as they age? I mean, clearly, we know that most people want to stay in their homes as long as possible, but when they actually do have to go into residential care, what do they want there? So, there are a lot of unanswered questions. But the one thing that we did say to the Government right from the get go was that we would not countenance an aged care tax or a new tax - That our aged care system needed to be sustainable without applying a new tax.

PETERSON: We have a budget next month. Are you expecting to hear more there?

RUSTON: Well, I think every Australian would be expecting to hear more because we - you know, this government went to the last election with some pretty big promises around aged care. And, you know, I think every Australian wants to see an aged care sector that supports older Australians. But so far, we haven't seen them deliver much apart from reports and promises, but there has been very little delivery. And I think today's statistics about the blow-out in home care package wait times is just another example of big promises without the substance to deliver, and older Australians should rightly be annoyed and quite understandably anxious about what is in store for them from this government.

PETERSON: Senator, thanks for your time today.

RUSTON: My pleasure. Thanks for having me Oly.


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