BREAKING: The first bill to pass the new Parliament is the Labor Government’s Aged Care Reform Bill, fulfilling their Election promise to make huge changes to Australian aged care.
The Bill, Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response) Bill 2022, passed the Lower House last week and has passed the Senate today in lightning-quick speed.
Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, said having the Bill passed quickly was key to creating the change Labor promised.
“Today the 47th Parliament passed its first Bill,” said Minister Wells.
“Reforming aged care will take years but this Bill is a first step on the journey.”
The reforms in the Bill have been welcomed by representatives of older Australians, as the Bill responds to findings from the Aged Care Royal Commission about abuse, neglect and other sector issues.
Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia is “very glad” to see this aged care legislation passed without amendment.
Ian Yates, Chief Executive of COTA Australia, told HelloCare that COTA will be “looking for urgent action on all [the Bill’s] provisions”.
The Bill’s new funding model, star rating provision and code of conduct legislation – as well as other provisions – “almost all improve consumer protections” and are “all time-sensitive steps”, Mr Yates said.
“Stronger governance requirements on providers are [also] really important because time and time again we find the root cause of quality problems and financial problems is that the governance of the organisation is not up to scratch – it’s not asking the right questions, it doesn’t have the right information,” added Mr Yates.
“So that’s holding people accountable for that role. And also you can’t just stack a board with your mates, you’ve got to actually have people that know what they’re doing.”
The Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) welcomed the new residential aged care funding model in particular. The Australian National Aged Care Classification (AN-ACC) will replace the “outdated” Aged Care Funding Instrument.
OPAN’s Manager of Policy and Systemic Advocacy, Samantha Edmonds, said the new funding model would support a “consumer-directed approach”.
She added that OPAN also believe the extension of the Serious Incident Reporting Scheme (SIRS) into home care is an “important step in reducing the abuse and neglect of older people”.
“We also welcome the establishment of a star rating system for residential aged care service providers,” Ms Edmonds said.
“Star ratings enable a level of standardisation by which to measure aged care providers.
“It is a quick and hopefully credible way for older people, carers and family members to assess the quality of the service and compare that quality between providers.”
The code of conduct for all aged care staff, which is another part of the Bill, will improve the accountability of providers, Ms Edmonds added.
OPAN also support the additional powers given to the Commissioner in relation to failure to comply with the code, responding to alleged breaches of the code and enforcing compliance with the code.
The United Workers Union (UWU) has welcomed the Aged Care Reform Bill as a step forward for aged care workers.
UWU Aged Care Director, Carolyn Smith, said the passing of the legislation is a “historic moment in addressing the neglect of aged care residents and aged care workers”.
“Aged care workers have fought hard on these issues and warmly welcome the swift action of Anthony Albanese’s Labor Government to live up to its Election promises.”
Ms Smith said the reforms will improve “serious issues” workers face, including a lack of time to care for residents and the outdated funding model.
Additionally, UWU is also pleased to see new measures passed that bring accountability and visibility to the aged care sector that has “been put in the too-hard basket for too long”.
“Aged care workers are the guardians of quality aged care and are proud that the change they have campaigned for is finally coming to fruition,” said Ms Smith.
While discussing the Bill in the Senate yesterday, Liberal Senator Wendy Askew agreed it was important legislation but criticised Labor for not supporting a similar Bill introduced by the Morrison Government last year.
“The Opposition support this Bill… as it is a revised version of the Royal Commission response bill that the [former] Coalition introduced in the last Parliament,” said Senator Askew.
“What disappoints me about this Bill is that the Albanese Government could have saved senior Australians and the aged care industry undue stress by passing these reforms when our Bill was before the previous Parliament.
“Interestingly, one of the major election promises of Labor during the Federal Election campaign was to support aged care residents.
In addition to accusing Labor of delaying the reforms, Senator Askew says the new Government’s Bill does not cover a crucial worker screening process.
“I’m also disappointed to see that, in addition to delaying this time-critical legislation, the Government has removed the worker screening regulations that were contained in the Coalition’s Bill,” said Senator Askew.
“These were important regulatory arrangements that were supported by the sector.”
There is a second aged care related Bill, the Care Amendment Bill, that is still being debated in Parliament.
The Bill will bring changes to Registered Nurses on-site at aged care facilities, allow caps on Home Care Package fees, and improve transparency by forcing providers to publish data on finance.
This Bill seems to be moving through Parliament a lot more slowly in comparison to the first Aged Care Reform Bill.