‘Not good enough’: Albanese’s budget reply angers unions over aged care

Healthcare unions have attacked Labor leader Anthony Albanese's budget reply speech as a missed opportunity to pressure the Morrison government to do more to address problems in the aged care industry exposed by the Royal Commission.

The Health Services Union and Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, representing 65,000 aged care workers between them, have both criticised Mr Albanese for instead focusing on affordable childcare for middle Australia.

Health Services Union NSW secretary Gerard Hayes says Labor leader Anthony Albanese should have used his budget reply speech to outline a plan for aged care.Credit:Louise Kennerley

"I'm a bit perplexed as to how the pressure can't be put on in a budget reply speech to the government about something that is just grossly out of control," Health Services Union NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

"We've seen the Opposition Leader out there talking about aged care, talking to our members in aged care and our members are now saying, 'about what?' The time for talking's done. People are dying."

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation secretary Annie Butler said her members "would have liked him to make stronger commitments to aged care".

The nurses' union is Australia's largest union, with more than 290,000 members.

In his Thursday night address Mr Albanese said, "Too many older Australians are lonely prisoners of a broken aged care system … Let's fix our aged care system so that it's driven by dignity and care, not profit".

But Ms Butler said there was no detail about how this should be done.

"When you say you're going to fix the system, what are the fixes?" she said.

Ms Butler said Mr Albanese's aged care speech to the National Press Club in August, in which he backed the union's campaign for minimum staffing levels in the sector and called for "better training", was "a good start" – but a detailed reform package was needed.

The United Workers Union, which covers childcare staff, was also unhappy with aspects of Thursday night's speech saying the promise of a universal childcare subsidy did not address the main problem confronting the industry – wages.

"Our members are holding together a system that is broken, by working on low wages, by taking work home with them, by experiencing huge amounts of stress and job insecurity, and that's only been made worse by COVID," deputy director of the union's early childhood section Sarah Gardner said.

The federal budget, which included $1.6 billion for 23,000 new home care packages and $746 million in COVID-19 aged care funding, delayed serious reform of the sector until the Royal Commission's final report, due in February.

Mr Hayes said elderly residents would continue to suffer and more could die as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on.

"We've just kicked the tin down the road and basically said, in my view, 'I don't think you guys in aged care are as important as other parts of the budget," he said.

The HSU has called for the Medicare levy to be lifted from 2 per cent to 2.65 per cent to raise enough revenue to fund improved staffing and quality in the aged care sector.

Mr Hayes said the HSU proposal would give residents an extra 1.5 hours a day of care and expand the aged care workforce by about 59,000 people.

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