By Yasmin Noone
One of the most powerful politicians in Australia’s hung parliament, Independent MP Tony Windsor, has thrown his weight behind the push for aged care reform and raised a question about the wages and working conditions of aged care nurses in Parliament.
Mr Windsor publically backed the Australian Nurses Federation (ANF) and the NSW Nurses Association’s Aged care can’t wait campaign when he asked the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, about wages reform in Question Time, late last week.
The question from the key Indepenent was raised in the House of Representatives just one week after 140 aged care supporters gathered in the public gallery during Question Time in the hope that an MP would ask a member of government about reform.
“Minister, do you acknowledge that aged-care workers are paid significantly less than aged-care workers in the public health system and that nurses are paid up to $300 per week less?,” Mr Windsor recently said, addressing Minister Butler in the House of Representatives.
“Furthermore, Minister, do you recognise that there are no minimum staffing levels in any aged-care facility in Australia?”
Minister Butler answered Mr Windsor by talking about the value of older people to the prosperity of Australia; the recent Productivity Commission inquiry into aged care and even the government’s national conversations on ageing, conducted after the PC released its report last year.
But the Minister did not directly answer Mr Windsor nor provide any new information about the government’s PC response as he ran out of time.
According to the House of Representatives Hansard, Minister Butler’s final sentence on the matter was: “…The Prime Minister committed her government last year to starting the process of aged-care reform in this term of government and we remain committed to that commitment. (Time expired)”.
The ANF and NSW Nurses Association presented Mr Windsor an Aged care can’t wait campaign petition of 4,000 signatures at a recent forum in Tamworth.
The key New England (NSW) MP, whose support could prove crucial to getting aged care reform legislation through parliament and securing sector funding in the upcoming budget, promised to deliver the petition to the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler.
“[I am] pleased to report that the Minister is very aware of their campaign and is working towards addressing the inequities that exist,” Mr Windsor said.
“Balancing the Budget is not easy however I am hopeful that the aged care sector will receive some attention come May when the Budget is handed down.
“…As I said at the recent forum in Tamworth, aged care is a reflection of our society and it is important therefore to be able to attract and keep people in the aged care workforce by recognising their value through better wages and not just relying on their compassion and goodwill.”
Shadow Minister for Ageing, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells released a statement, which called on the Gillard Government to stop playing politics, shortly after Mr Windsor raised the aged care question in Parliament.
“There has been no public response from the Gillard Labor Government to the Productivity Commission’s 58 recommendations. This is the necessary immediate next step,” said Senator Fierravanti-Wells.
“…The government asked the Productivity Commission to conduct this report – the ball is now in the government’s court.”
The Australian Greens party has also publically supported the aged care nurses’ campaign and the need for sector-wide reform. The Greens Federal Member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, was the first MP to sign the ANF petition and planned to raise a question about aged care during Question Time when the Agewell supporters were in the public gallery two weeks ago (read full AAA news article).
The ANF is one of the three aged care unions involved in the National Aged Care Alliance (NACA) campaign, Australians deserve to agewell, to get aged care reform included in the upcoming 2012/13 Federal Budget.
Just like the other two unions involved in NACA push for reform – United Voice and the Health Services Union – the ANF has agreed to use the sector-wide campaign to address the large gap in rates of pay between those involved in aged care and those in other health services.
Almost 30 aged care-related organisations, including unions, employer peak bodies, providers and consumer groups, have put their name to the NACA campaign.
ANF federal secretary, Lee Thomas, congratulated Mr Windsor for standing up for older Australians.
“Aged care is in crisis and quality of care for vulnerable older Australians must be a priority for the Federal Government in the upcoming Budget,” Ms Thomas said.
“…Unless the Gillard Government closes the wages gap with an urgent injection of $500 million in funding, there will be no workforce left to care for the increasing number of elderly Australians in nursing homes, particularly in regional areas like New England, Mr Windsor’s electorate.”
Ms Thomas added that a recent survey conducted by the ANF showed that an overwhelming number of nurses and assistants in nursing (AINs) would support Mr Windsor demanding more funding for Australia’s under-resourced aged care sector.
The online poll, conducted by the ANF posed the question: “Do you support Tony Windsor MP demanding more funding for aged care in Budget 2012?”
A majority 82 per cent said reforming aged care was a priority. Just over 15 per cent said it wasn’t of top importance, while one per cent was unsure.
“The results of the survey yet again proves that nursing and care staff are extremely concerned about the wages gap experienced across aged care, which is hampering the recruitment and retention of staff in the sector,” Ms Thomas said.