On the eve of a royal commission into Australia’s aged care industry that is widely expected to uncover some ugly truths, the federal government has announced more fresh funding for the sector.
But Labor says the $662 million windfall is simply too little, too late.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday announced every Australian living in residential aged care will have an extra $1800 spent on their care by June as part of the funding, with $320 million set to be rolled out to residential facilities in the coming months.
The royal commission into aged care quality and safety will start hearing evidence in Adelaide on Monday, with commissioner Richard Tracey calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a better system of care for elderly Australians.
‘The hallmark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable people and our elderly are often amongst our most physically, emotionally and financially vulnerable,’ he said at the formal opening of the commission in January.
‘Frail and elderly members of our community deserve to, and should, be looked after in the best possible way and we intend to do our best to see that happens.’
Two royal commissioners – Mr Tracey and Lynelle Briggs – will examine the extent of sub-standard care and consider how services can be improved. The royal commission will be based in Adelaide but hold hearings in other states
It was sparked in part by the revelations of abuse and poor treatment of dementia patients at Adelaide’s state government-run Oakden nursing home.
The prime minister announced the royal commission last September, warning it would be confronting.
‘I think we should brace ourselves for some pretty bruising information about the way our loved ones, some of them have experienced some real mistreatment,’ Mr Morrison said at the time.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday the new funding was part of the coalition’s commitment to ‘continuous improvement’ of aged care, even while the year-long royal commission was underway.
‘Our sacred task and trust is to continuously improve aged care services in Australia,’ he told reporters in Melbourne.
‘We’re taking steps now but we’re also taking the opportunity of planning for the next decade and the next generation.’
The nation’s leading advocacy group for seniors, COTA Australia, believes the new home-care funding will reduce the time people are waiting to receive subsidised services.
It is also glad about the extra $320 million to be paid to residential facilities by mid-2019 to help improve services for people in the centres.
But it wishes the funding was tied to lifting the number of staff at the centres and improving training.
‘It is disappointing there are no conditions attached,’ COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates said.
Labor aged care spokeswoman Julie Collins said the latest funding did not make up for what the opposition says has been a series of cuts from the sector under the past five years of coalition government.
‘Scott Morrison’s election eve announcement on aged care funding is too little too late,’ she said.
‘The waiting list for home care has grown to 127,000 older Australians, with many waiting more than a year to receive the care they have been approved for.’
The latest funding boost comes after the government announced $550 million in new funding in December.