The Health Services Union has called for a Medicare levy hike to pump up to $20 billion into Australia’s crisis-hit aged care sector.
HSU modelling shows lifting the levy from two per cent to 2.65 per cent would transform the sector over four years.
“Australians have a clear choice,” the union’s national president Gerard Hayes said on Monday.
“We can provide dignity and decency to the generation that built this nation. And we can do it for a reasonably modest outlay.”
The plan would create 59,000 jobs across the sector, which has come under immense pressure during the coronavirus pandemic, with hundreds of resident deaths.
Lifting the levy would also improve standards for residents who would receive an extra 89 minutes of daily attention from carers, allied health therapists and registered nurses.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was quick to pour cold water on the union’s plan.
“We have no plans to do that. Our focus is on lower taxes,” he told Sky News.
“We do commit to spending more on aged care by the tune of $1 billion a year.”
Mr Hayes said coronavirus ripped through aged care homes like wildfire, leaving families grieving the premature deaths of loved ones they often had no chance to farewell.
“But we knew our aged care homes were running on the smell of an oily rag well before COVID,” he said.
He said the royal commission revealed food budgets in some facilities were as low as $6 a day per resident, while sanitary pads were being rationed.
It also showed carers rarely had time for basic activities like taking residents to local parks, while catering and cleaning were outsourced, leading to horrendous wage theft.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil stopped short of backing the proposal but agreed the sector needed a major funding increase.
“We know there needs to be a massive increase in funding to aged care to make sure we have the right mixture of workers and skills,” she told ABC radio.
Ms O’Neil said any funding increase needed to be linked to minimum staffing levels, the right mix of skills and accountability for government spending.
“At the moment billions of dollars go to that sector with no guaranteed link to the quality of the care that’s being provided,” she said.
“Quality care is delivered by good quality jobs.”