On Tuesday 1 March 2022, the one-year anniversary of the release of the aged care royal commission’s final report, ANMF (Vic Branch) members and staff held rallies outside the offices of Federal Member for Chisholm Gladys Liu and Federal Member for Monash Russell Broadbent to call out the Morrison Government’s failure to fix aged care.
The rallies were part of a national day of action that also included protests outside the Devonport office of aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, who infamously attended an Ashes test match for three days in January instead of a Parliamentary Inquiry into the COVID outbreak sweeping through Australia’s aged care facilities.
The day of action also included an online forum involving members of the workforce and a panel of advocates and experts, discussing what is required to ensure a quality aged care system.
Commenting on the day of action, ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said: ‘Our nurses and carers are telling us they’re disgusted that Mr Morrison and his Government have done nothing to fix aged care. A year since the royal commission delivered its final report, with one of its key recommendations for staffing ratios, nothing’s changed. There’s still not enough staff to give residents the basic care they need.’
In mid-February, ANMF (Vic Branch) surveyed 16,000 members working in private aged care. Their responses backed up Ms Butler’s assessment. Speaking to the crowd outside Ms Liu’s office in Burwood, Branch Assistant Secretary Madeleine Harradence explained that ‘We asked them to describe their worst shift and they said it’s a war zone. There’s people sitting in their own faeces and urine, it’s disgusting.
‘It’s a disgrace that our elders are being treated like this. We’ve been talking about this for a very long time. Scott Morrison needs to put action into place. Enough commissions, senate hearings, taskforces. We don’t need any more of that. What we need is action.’
Rallying to the cause
In Warragul, the rally outside Russell Broadbent’s office heard from ANMF Branch Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick and Assistant Branch Secretary Paul Gilbert, as well as Wil Stracke, Assistant Secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council. In Burwood, Ms Harradence was joined by ANMF Federal Assistant Secretary Lori-Anne Sharp as well as Luke Hilakari, Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary.
‘We want to make this an election issue,’ Ms Fitzpatrick told the Warragul crowd. ‘We have an opportunity to make sure that fixing aged care is a priority – whether it be a Morrison government or an Albanese government. We want the political parties to take us seriously in relation to aged care.’
Ms Sharp echoed these comments in Burwood. ‘This election must see change. We’ve had to seek army support because there simply aren’t enough staff to give people meals, to give people water. We’re seeing an increase in urinary tract infection in the elderly because they haven’t been given water. That leads to confusion, delirium. It leads to people falling in corridors. These are human rights abuses, and it should not be happening in our country.’
Enrolled nurse member Stacey also spoke to the crowd at Burwood, giving her experiences working in the Aged Care sector for the last 10 years, saying ‘nothing has changed’. She explained that, sadly, missed care is common as a result of poor staffing.
Speaking in his former Gippsland stomping ground, Mr Gilbert outlined the reasons for rallying outside Mr Broadbent’s office:
- on 14 February 2022, Mr Broadbent announced he’d been taking Ivermectin, and in spite of that – or because of it – he’d caught COVID-19. He also stated that he is not vaccinated and will not be vaccinated because he believes the risk from being vaccinated is just as high as the risk from getting the virus.
- on the same day, he spoke on Hansard and said “in my electorate, is there a crisis in aged care? No.”
‘What is occurring [in aged care] is shameful,’ Mr Gilbert said. ‘To have politicians just sit around saying “I’m not going to get vaccinated” when hundreds of people are dying of COVID in our aged care system; and then to say there’s no crisis is shameful.’
Mr Gilbert pointed out that one of the royal commission’s recommendations was 200 care minutes per resident per day by July this year. ‘If you apply that to Royal Freemasons at Moe,’ he explained, ‘every resident, every day, is missing out on 76 minutes of care. That equates to a total of 10,944 minutes. That’s the equivalent of 33 and a half full time jobs at that site alone, just to get up to the July 2022 recommended minimum staffing levels and skill mix.
‘This will never end without us getting ratios in aged care,’ Mr Gilbert concluded. ‘We’re absolutely committed to achieving that.’
Back in Burwood, Ms Sharp’s message was the same: ‘We cannot stand for this any longer. We need minimum mandated ratios in all aged care facilities with adequate skill mix. We need RNs 24/7 around the clock. We need a national law that enforces this. This government was warned for years, for a decade, about chronic understaffing, yet they did nothing. This is simply not good enough. Shame on you, Morrison Government.’
Paying tribute to the members, in Warragul Ms Stracke said ‘we know you have carried the burden of an incompetent federal government, of a botched vaccine rollout, and of the critical staff shortages in the sector. We also know that’s been very, very hard on all of you. And it’s been hard to watch as the government has failed to take responsibility for the losses.
‘We in the union movement are with you,’ she added. ‘We are with you because we care about what happens to our parents and our grandparents; we want to make sure that they get the care and support that they need. And that will never happen until we have ratios. We are also with you because that’s what solidarity is: we all stand together in the fights that need to be won. And this is absolutely a fight that needs to be won.’
Russell Broadbent and Gladys Liu respond
Addressing the crowd and media outside his office, Mr Broadbent dismissed workers’ concerns about pay by saying ‘there’s always an opportunity to go to the Fair Work Commission and put your case.’ Asked if the Federal Government would address the royal commission’s recommendations, he said ‘we’re addressing every one of the recommendations, but I want to make sure that there’s no unintended consequences. I think it has to be done carefully,’ he added before being drowned out by the booing crowd.
Introduced to aged care worker Michelle, Mr Broadbent dismissed her experiences by suggesting she was ‘about to make accusations’, and refused to engage because Michelle didn’t want to reveal her employer, and then walked off.
After the rally ended, Mr Broadbent met with ANMF officials and members to listen to their concerns about private aged care facilities in his electorate. Members sought an answer as to why the increased staffing recommendation identifying 1 July 2022 had been extended to October 2023 by the Morrison Government. ANMF has also written to Mr Broadbent advising that staffing levels are worse in March 2022 than they were in March 2021 when the commission’s report was released.
Addressing the Burwood crowd, Mr Hilakari noted that Gladys Liu was in her office when they arrived but as soon as ‘local residents turned up to join us’, she got in her car and drove away.
What can you do?
Tell your MP to prioritise aged care this election. The louder our voices, the less they can ignore us. See if your federal MP is supporting aged care reform this election and send them a message to thank them or encourage them to make aged care a priority. It’s not too much to ask.