CANBERRA, AAP – Anthony Albanese has pledged $2.5 billion to help the country’s aged care sector, as the Labor leader made the case in his budget reply speech to become the nation’s next prime minister.
Mr Albanese laid out a five-point plan on Thursday night to overhaul aged care, including requirements for every aged care facility to have a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day, and new minimum care mandates.
“Our older Australians aren’t just a number, they aren’t a burden, they are people who deserve respect, courtesy and the best possible attention,” the opposition leader told parliament on Thursday night.
“We will bring the principle of universal, affordable and quality service … to aged care.”
While Mr Albanese said the measures were fully costed, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the proposal was a sweeping promise with no mention of how it would be funded.
“It is a hollow promise with absolutely no detail attached to it,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
“This is part of the false promise that Anthony Albanese is offering, pretending none of this costs anything and pretending that it’s all just easily done.”
Mr Albanese said he was prepared to be judged as prime minister on whether aged care and other vulnerable workers receive a new pay rise.
As part of the aged care announcement, Labor would also support a wage rise for aged care workers, as well as work with the sector to institute new mandatory food standards in residential facilities.
Mr Albanese pledged to work with multicultural communities to support culturally appropriate care, and give the aged care safety commissioner new powers.
“We will make residential care providers report, in public and in detail, what they are spending money on,” he said.
“The days of residents going without decent food and clean clothes will come to an end.”
It comes as the rising cost of living will be a cental issue in the upcoming election, with the government outlining a temporary cut to the fuel excise, as well as one-off tax cuts and payments in its budget on Tuesday night.
The Labor leader told the ABC’s 7.30 program on Thursday the pandemic had exposed vulnerabilities in the national economy.
“What we need to do is to be more self-reliant, we need to recognise that we need to make more things here,” he said.
“We need to recognise the opportunity that is there to grow new industries, to grow the economy, we need to address issues like skills shortage by having proper plans for the labour market.”
Senator Birmingham said there was little outline in the budget reply of other issues facing the country.
“There will be many millions of Australians who are worried about the fact that Labor’s promises, with no costings attached to them … would eventually result in them paying higher taxes,” he said.
“There were no commitments to keep taxes low.”
Aged care workers welcomed the announcement from the Labor leader, with national president of the Health Services Union, Gerard Hayes, saying the wage increase pledge was a commitment breakthrough.
“Aged care workers had their hearts broken by the Prime Minister on Tuesday. But tonight they have hope,” he said.
“For too long aged care workers have risked poverty or homelessness just so they can do their job and care for the elderly.”
The federal election is expected to be called in a matter of days, with Australians expected to go to the polls in mid-May.