The government needs to act on a number of workforce recommendations before the sector can improve employee attraction and retention, the workforce taskforce chair tells the royal commission.
However, the government has not even responded to the handful of the strategic actions directed to it including a social change campaign around ageing, says Professor John Pollaers, who chaired the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce.
In opening statements Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Rozen told the hearing in Melbourne on Monday that evidence presented to the inquiry to date was saturated with workforce-related issues.
He said challenges known and discussed included the difficulties providers and the sector have attracting and retaining high quality people to work in aged care.
Mr Rozen asked Professor Pollaers about his work leading the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce and the 14 strategic actions recommended in the taskforce’s 2018 report A Matter of Care (read our backgrounder here).
Professor Pollaers described the aged care sector as a highly fragmented industry in its adolescence where the voices of provider peaks don’t necessarily align or nor do those of the sector’s unions.
He said it was an all of government, an all of community and an all of industry responsibility to make aged care a more attractive industry for young people and others to want to work in.
However, he said there were several things government needed to get to before attraction and retention could be addressed properly, and those things map to the strategic actions in the taskforce’s report.
“But the first one is there has to be a very proactive approach to a social change campaign around ageing in Australia,” Professor Pollaers told the hearing.
Government has not responded to recommendations
Mr Rozen asked Professor Pollaers about the lack of response to the five strategic actions directed to government, which are:
- the creation of the social change campaign (strategic action 1)
- strengthening the interface between aged care and primary and acute care (strategic action 9)
- improving training and recruitment practices for the Australian Government’s own aged care workforce (strategic action 10)
- establishing an aged care centre for growth and translational research (strategic action 12)
- looking at current and future funding considerations including staff remuneration (strategic action 13).
Professor Pollaers confirmed there has been no formal announcement from government about implementing these strategic actions nor has he received a response to his personal enquiries.
“There has been no detailed response at all to each of those recommendations but for a pre-election commitment to fund the Aged Care Centre for Growth and Translational Research… [w]hich I haven’t seen any progress on.
“But with all others, I wrote to the minister asking for a point-by-point response to those and did not receive a response. I think they’re important because strategic action 1 is a co-commitment, if you like, between industry and government.
“It’s one that needs to be done together but essentially … the philosophy of the taskforce was let’s see how far industry can go on its own, and then what’s left is the work of government,” he said.
“And industry have been stepping up in this timeframe, they have responded in the main. But on these areas we haven’t had a sufficient – or a response at all from government.”
Commissioner Tony Pagone asked Professor Pollaers if his letter to government was acknowledged.
“So I got an email response that it was all of the past programs of government and I went back and said, “Look, that isn’t sufficient. I’m asking for a step-by-step response.” I didn’t get a response to that email … at all,” Professor Pollaers said.
Government using fragmentation to stall
Professor Pollaers agreed the lack of response was “profoundly disappointing” and said he took the view at the time to focus on working with industry to get progress there.
“I made the observation at the very beginning of the evidence today that I felt that in many ways the industry is undergoing a level of oppression, [which] may be not the right word.
“But I do believe that this is not a department that is resourced well enough, that has sufficient experience and/or weight within the current government department it sits,” he said.
His sense is that government has positioned itself to say these are industry issues and industry can deal with the unions. And the government uses the fragmentation as a reason to say it doesn’t know what the sector is asking because it doesn’t have one voice, Professor Pollaers said.
It has been “a reasonably successful approach,” he said. “And if not a strategic approach then [that’s] a real shame because the answers to many of these questions have been on the table for quite some time.”
Read also from this week’s hearing
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