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Friday, December 8, 2023

Frustration as Government’s religious bill debate prioritised over aged care crisis

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Aged care is on the Government agenda this week, however cynicism abounds, with claims from advocates that aged care has been left on the back-burner yet again.

Taking precedence is the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021, to be debated first and foremost as Government resumes sitting today, with the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 2) Bill 2021 scheduled as third on the agenda for Thursday, February 10.

Senator Rex Patrick, a South Australian independent, has claimed that the Morrison Government’s priorities “are totally wrong”, as he took to twitter to vent his frustrations.

Members of the aged care advocacy community echoed the senator’s sentiment.

Alwyn Blayse, physiotherapist and campaign lead of the Stop the Death of Allied Health campaign, also lamented the push-back.

“Hundreds of deaths, residents in lockdown, staff exhausted and given a chicken feed handout (two $400 payments) instead of the 25 per cent pay increase they need,” he said.

“Mustn’t be that important though… the aged care royal commission bill has been pushed back in the Senate until Thursday which they often don’t get to.

“The religious discrimination bill is considered more important than older people and the needs of those who look after them.”

Alwyn Blayse, physiotherapist and head of the Stop the Death of Allied Health campaign, is concerned that the Government has prioritised passing a religious discrimination bill over much needed aged care reforms.

The hearing will pick up from the previous sitting in November last year, which took hours of submissions from concerned stakeholders such as Blayse, as well as industry bodies including, but not limited to, the Australian Human Rights Commission, Australian Aged Care Collaboration, Older Persons Advocacy Network, and the Health Services Union.

The policy solutions that these bodies are contending for align with the main points of crisis highlighted by the Royal Commission (RC) into Aged Care Quality and Safety, including:

  • Minimum qualifications for personal care workers (such as a certificate III and/or IV), as well as screening protocols and professional registration of said workers with AHPRA.
  • Registered Nurses employed 24/7 (as opposed to the RC’s recommendation of 16).
  • Support for the proposed shift from the ACFI funding model to the AN-ACC, but suggestion that assessments should be independent from government to prevent under-resourcing.
  • Minimum care hours for allied health services (such as physiotherapy, podiatry, dentistry).
  • Expansion of the Serious Incident Reporting Scheme (SIRS) to include home-care settings.

The previous hearing also heard dissent from legal experts and advocates over the proposed addition, Schedule 9, to the Aged Care Act 1997, which will provide legal immunity to residential aged care facilities and their staff administering restrictive practices (such as physical restraints, sedatives and enforced seclusion) to residents where consent has been sought from a power of attorney.

The move has prompted concerns over the human rights of vulnerable aged care residents, as they, as well as other carers not in a position of authority over the elder’s affairs, would be deprived their day in court if abuse is suspected.

Rodney Lewis, a senior solicitor at Elderlaw in Sydney, made a submission to the inquiry suggesting that the amendment violates the foundation, democratic legal tenant habaeus corpus: one’s right to be brought before a courts to determine if their detention is lawful or not.

“The vulnerable or frail aged who are subject to the Bill are the only cohort subject to the removal of the civil and criminal protections which protect all other Australians,” his submission read.

“The result is a need to confront a serious obstacle in the way to seeking redress and justice … not required of any other litigant for the same or similar legal issues.”

Aged Care Reform Now (ACRN), a grassroots national advocacy network, supported the submission.

Perth member, Amina Schipp, told Aged Care News that the Government’s priorities are “obscene”.

“It’s an insult to all citizens,” she said.

“We (ACRN) cannot believe that with the unfolding crisis, the politicians are not prioritising aged care reform but are still pushing ahead with a bill that provides immunity to providers who use restrictive practices.

“We have been participating in health department workshops and engaging with politicians to try and influence the process… we can’t come to grips with the fact religious and gender discrimination are given a priority.”

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