Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt speak to the media in Sydney, Tuesday, October 9, 2018.

Press Conference with the Minister for Health and the Minister for Senior Australians & Aged Care

09 Oct 2018
Prime Minister
Aged Care Royal Commission; Population and infrastructure; Climate change; Opera House
Health and Social Services

Photo: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

PRIME MINISTER: I’m very pleased to be joined by the Minister for Health Greg Hunt and the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt. We’re here to announce today the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Just over three weeks ago, I announced together with Greg and with Ken our intention to go forward to establish this Royal Commission. Since then, we have undertaken a very extensive consultation process and I want to thank the more than 5,100 Australians who have engaged with us over the last several weeks as we have worked together, together to form this terms of reference to drive this inquiry. I also had the opportunity, as Ken and Greg did, to meet with many of the sector representatives and many of those stakeholders right across the sector to ensure we had a very keen understanding of the priorities that needed to be addressed as we brought this Royal Commission together.

So I am pleased today to announce the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has been formally established by the Governor General. I am also very pleased to announce that the commissioners, the Honourable Justice Joseph McGrath and Ms Lynelle Griggs AO have been appointed by the Governor General to lead this important task. Both these individuals have had an enormous volume of experience, an exemplary record of Australian public service throughout their careers, in their respective fields and I am very grateful that they have taken up the invitation to undertake this very important task. They will need to determine the full extent of the problems in aged care and to understand how we can meet the challenges and the opportunities of delivering aged care services now and into the future. This is very much looking at what has happened, but it is also very much about understanding what needs to be done into the future. It is a very future-focused Royal Commission, but we are going to learn from the mistakes and the problems of the past as well.

The Commission will be required to submit their final report to the Governor General no later than, and I stress no later than, the 30th of April 2020, and to provide an interim report no later than the 31st of October 2019. Of course, if the Royal Commission is in a position to provide an earlier report if they believe that they are in a position to do so.

Our Government is committed to providing older Australians with access to care that supports their well-being, the dignity that they deserve, the choices that they are seeking, the comfort and the assurance that their families demand when it comes to making the biggest decision, often, that they have to make about the care of someone they love so deeply. And we need to do it in a way which recognises the contribution of those Australians who are being cared for. Their commitment over a lifetime as an Australian to our community and the service that they have provided. The Royal Commission will be the first step in re-establishing the trust that loved ones will be treated with dignity and respect.

The Royal Commission will be based in Adelaide, but it will also undertake hearings around the country. It will also have the opportunity to take evidence over video and other formats to ensure that people have the opportunity to participate in this very important Royal Commission. We will also recognize, at the end of the day, this is what it is really all about, and this is the major feedback that we have had over the last few weeks as we have consulted, as I said, more than 5,100 Australians. And that is that we need to establish a national culture of respect for senior Australians and Australians as they age. It’s that culture of respect that actually ensures that people are treated with dignity and the care that they deserve.

Now I know right across the sector, as does Ken and as does Greg, we have people working in aged care facilities, caring for young Australians with disabilities living in a residential aged care environment. Those providing in-home care services which are all covered by the terms of reference that we released today. We know that they work hard to provide exactly that care. But we also know that there are too many instances where that has not occurred. So we want to commend those who get up every day and work in our residential aged care facilities and provide that deep loving care that they do every single day they go to work. And I know that they would want, they would want, that all those who they support can have the confidence that all of their friends and all of their families can have confidence about the level of support and care that is provided in our aged care facilities.

So this is an important inquiry, we are very pleased to be in a position that we can do it. I think the country is going to have to brace itself for some difficult stories, some difficult circumstances, some difficult experiences. But that’s part of this process of the Royal Commission, to confront these stories honestly and to confront them in a way that helps us learn, to ensure that they are not repeated in the future. And at the end of the day, the national culture of respect for senior Australians and Australians as they age can become something that as a key outcome, a key product, a key deliverable of undertaking this very important task. I’m going to ask Greg to make a few points about the terms of reference. It mirrors very much what was first outlined a few weeks ago, but there are important additions to that as we have gone through the consultation process and I will also ask Ken to make a few remarks. Thank you. Greg.

MINISTER FOR HEALTH, THE HON GREG HUNT MP: Thanks very much, Prime Minister. This Royal Commission is about respecting and protecting older Australians. As Scott said, ultimately, it is about helping to build a national culture of respect for ageing and our senior Australians, and if we can achieve that, then everything else will follow. So in a way, this could be the most important legacy of everything that we do. By helping to build and helping to foster that culture of respect. In terms of the Royal Commission itself, the commissioners, Justice Joseph McGrath from the Supreme Court of Western Australia, and Lynelle Briggs, former public service Commissioner, former head of Medicare, distinguished career in public service but also now operating within the private sector as well, will bring a fearless and a frank approach. They have been selected, not just because of their history, not just because of their capabilities, but because they will bring a culture of caring and concern, but a frank and fearless approach to the findings that they will make. So now it falls to them to hear the stories, to listen to the concerns of families, to be the custodians of care and concern and future protection for older Australians.

We know, as the Prime Minister says, there will be some difficult times and some difficult stories, but above all else, this is about the future and laying out a foundation for the years to come. That is why the terms of reference are deliberately broad. They deal in particular with the quality and safety in relation to any examples of substandard care, how best to deliver care services, how best to deliver for the increasing number of Australians with dementia. The future challenges and opportunities for delivering accessible and affordable high-quality care. What the government and the aged sector community can do in relation to ensuring quality and safety, allowing people greater choice and control, best delivering services through innovative care and investment and in particular noting the importance of providing options for young people with disabilities who have been placed in an aged care environment and there is also the broad power for the commissioners to examine any matter that they believe are relevant to their inquiries. So they have an area of focus, but they are not constrained in the areas that they can examine as part of that.

So ultimately, this Commission has come about because of the concerns of the Government and the public because of the needs of the present and the importance of planning for the future, but if, at the end of the day, it contributes not just to better care, but a stronger national culture, then it will have been an abiding legacy of decades and generations to come.

MINISTER FOR SENIOR AUSTRALIANS & AGED CARE, THE HON KEN WYATT MP: Thank you very much. This Royal Commission has come about because our Government has listened. We have listened to the families who have been affected, we’ve been listening to those on the ground who have expressed their views. What we want is an aged care sector that is viable and is strong well into the future. A workforce that is trained to meet the needs of people who live not in residential care but in their homes, who have the level of support that is provided.

Geographically, we are a diverse nation. We are a nation of diverse people and in the context of the work that the Royal Commission will undertake, then they will consider the matters that are raised with them by the public during the consultation process. Our Government has been committed to building a stronger and better aged care sector for those who choose to live at home and for those who choose to go into residential aged care. And working with the structures and the structural reforms that are needed, this will give all Australian families a high degree of certainty that the quality of care that is provided in any setting in which they find a loved one will give them the assurance that they will live a quality lifestyle but live with the certainty of knowing that the wrap around services that they need to give them a safe sense of living will be provided into the future.

So I’m looking forward to the work being undertaken, and I certainly thank the Prime Minister for announcing this Royal Commission, which will give Australians greater certainty around aged care.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you Ken. Well thank you also to Greg and Ken for the great job they’ve done in pulling this together and now the work gets on with it. Happy to take questions on this, let's stay with the Royal Commission at first. I'm sure there are a few other items of the day that we can cover on politics but on aged care?

JOURNALIST: This interim report by 31 October next year, is that enough time?

PRIME MINISTER: I would think so, but again, as is the case with any of these matters, if more time is required, more time will be given. That will be something that will be determined by the Royal Commissioners themselves. Having just announced it, I wouldn’t want to be prejudging those sorts of things. I think that they will get about the task and as is the case always with these sorts of inquiries, if more time is needed or requested, more time is given.

JOURNALIST: Does the Government anticipate that it will implement all the recommendations that are made by this Commission?

PRIME MINISTER: Well again, I’m not going to prejudge the inquiry I think it’s important- I mean we wouldn't be commissioning such an inquiry, if we didn't have such an intention to listen carefully as to what the outcomes and recommendations of the Royal Commission are. That’s why you commission a Royal Commission of this nature.

So, I look forward to it. I look forward to it because I think this will be a watershed in dealing with one of those most difficult of challenges that we have as a society. We are an ageing society like many other countries around the world and demands on our aged care system are changing. This as an important part of the inquiry, I really want this point to be made; it isn't just about the terrible incidents and the neglect and the abuse that have occurred, it’s about how we are going to deal with this problem and this challenge into the future.

More people thankfully are being able to make decisions to remain in their home for longer. That means as they enter into the residential aged care system, their needs are more acute. Last week I was with David Coleman, down in Hurstville and I was talking to leaders of the Chinese community. We are seeing whole cohorts of people from different ethnic groups in Australia now, who have come out in their 20s and 30s and helped build this country and they are now very much moving into the aged care sector. There are particular needs for those types of communities. So, you know, our country is ageing and that brings with it great challenges. What we need to ensure is that culture of respect and that dignity is provided to those senior Australians as they age.

JOURNALIST: There have been some concerns that some of the current reforms will be put on hold or delayed? For example the establishment of the Quality and Safety Commission.

PRIME MINISTER: No they won’t be. We’ll be moving ahead with all of those.

JOURNALIST: So the Commission will be established on the 1st of January next year?

PRIME MINISTER: We will be pushing ahead with all of those, it’s important. Look, the Royal Commission is of course important and it is in addition to all of the things we have already initiated. All of the additional funding we’re already providing and we will be getting on with our job as a Government to deliver quality aged services around the country. The Royal Commissioners will be getting on with their job independently, looking into these issues now and how they’re going to  apply into the future.

MINISTER FOR HEALTH: And in fact, we have just passed legislation to review standards as well as having introduced legislation for the quality and safety commission.

JOURNALIST: If you wanted to encourage good people to join this workforce, is there going to be any financial incentives to help people work in the aged care sector?

PRIME MINISTER: I think these are one of the many issues that will be canvassed by the Royal Commissioners over the course of the inquiry. It’s workforce issues, it’s capability, it’s training, it’s sustainability. They have been the subject of previous inquiries and there have been some mixed recommendations that have come from those. So this is another opportunity I think to test what is really needed here and I’m looking forward to those outcomes as well. Anything else on aged care?

JOURNALIST: Just one last one, will the commission be looking at staffing ratios as part of it’s-?

PRIME MINISTER: Well the general issues of the workforce and how it’s engaging in the sector are covered in the terms of reference. So to the extent that the Royal Commission wants to address those issues, they’re able to do that through their terms of reference.

JOURNALIST: Just on banking today Prime Minister, they’re talking about additional compensation as well as repayment for customers who are mistreated or overcharged. Can you just expand on that and how you expect any compensation will work?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I can’t because they’re not sources from the Government. They’re not reports from the Government, that’s industry scuttlebutt. What the Government has done is set up the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, we have legislated it and its terms and it’s powers and what it plans to do is set out in the legislation. So I must admit, I’m a bit of a loss as to what the source of that other commentary is, because we’ve got another Royal Commission going on into the banking and financial industry currently and if there are reccomendations to come from that that deal with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, then well and good. But I can’t really comment on something which has not come from the Government and is not currently under consideration by the Government.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about population and infrastructure? In 2010 you said it would be disingenuous to suggest keeping migrants in regions would ease congestion in Sydney. Do you still have those views?

PRIME MINISTER: At the time the policy that was being put forward by the Labor Party, I don’t think was really what is being contemplated here by our Government. On the impacts that population has across the country, there are many levers that you can pull. Your migration programme is just one of those.  What I was referring to was migration in isolation being the solution to the system and it’s not, migration is part of a suite of policies that deal with congestion in our cities. That’s why I established a Minister for Population, which was also sitting alongside his responsibilities for Urban Infrastructure, because that is where the solutions to these challenges lay.

The policies that we are looking at carefully, which have been flagged today by Minister Tudge are all about how we align our migration programme with the economic and infrastructure policies of towns, regions and states all around the country. I was down in Tasmania on the weekend and in Tasmania, Premier Hodgman has a population plan. And how we can work in with his plan with the migration programme and our infrastructure programmes and our other policies, is what we are seeking to achieve as a Government. It’s equally true that what we’re talking about here is a very targeted use of our migration powers and our migration programme to ensure that we can direct and encourage those who are coming to the country, initially on a temporary basis and through those nonpermanent visas, to be able to go where there is a need for this labour, where there is a need for population growth and where there is receptivity to it.

I mean this is about actually trying to support, on the ground, the economic and population policies of local communities. It’s about working hand-in-glove with those communities and following their lead and backing them in on the programmes that they have.

JOURNALIST: Will there be extra spending on infrastructure in those regions to accommodate this?

PRIME MINISTER: There already is, that’s the point.

JOURNALIST: More to come?

PRIME MINISTER: This is the point, it’s about ensuring our migration programmes mirror what we’re doing without our infrastructure policies. Now, we’ve got a $75 billion rolling infrastructure program over 10 years, which is rolling out infrastructure all around the country, whether it’s the Midland Highway down in Tasmania or it’s the Northlink over in Perth or wherever it happens to be. And we’re not just talking about regional areas, we’re talking about cities like Adelaide where I know Premier Marshall is very keen, very keen to see population growth increase in South Australia and in Adelaide. I know up in the Northern Territory where Chief Minister Gunner when he was recently in Canberra, was announcing his very strong policy to encourage population growth in the Northern Territory. What we’re seeking to do as a Federal Government, as a national government, is to back in these local state and territory plans. To use the levers we have to realise the objectives which are being set at a local level.

So it’s very targeted, it’s very cooperative, it’s very consultative and it’s using the tools we have to achieve these broader objectives; to reduce congestion in the places which have a congestion problem and to increase economic opportunities in places that are seeking them.

JOURNALIST: If the policy though is going to apply to 45 per cent of the migrants at the most, would you consider introducing caps on say, international students, which does lead to some congestion.

PRIME MINISTER: We’re looking at all of these issues but we’d have to be very careful when it comes to the international education industry, it’s a very significant part of our national economy. It’s a very big part of the Victorian economy as Greg knows in particular.  You carefully consider all of these options but you don't engage in policies which will actually hold our economy back.

We’re for driving our economy forward. The reason we can invest $1 billion and more extra, every year, in aged care, is because as a Government, we’re leading an economy that is growing. An economy, when you grow your economy, when you keep your economy strong, you can afford increases in aged care, you can support additional investment in education and in hospitals, in Medicare. You want a guarantee on Medicare?

The reason we can provide a guarantee on Medicare is because we can grow a stronger economy. We have demonstrated that over the last five years; More than a million Australians have got a job under this government, as we promised they would. We did it before we said that would be achieved, when we first promised it. So whether it’s on jobs or whether it’s on the growth of our economy, that is what is enabling us to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on. That’s what we will continue to deliver as a Government.

JOURNALIST: In 2010 you said it was false hope to expect immigrants would go to the regions, what has changed?

PRIME MINISTER: That was in terms of permanent residents, and permanent residents can’t, you have no powers under the migration program to direct permanent migrants to live anywhere in the country. But for temporary residents, those on temporary visas, non-permanent visas, then the powers the Commonwealth have are very, very different. I’m sure, I mean I’ve been in this space a long time so I am sure people will look over what I’ve said in the last 10 years. I’m no stranger to this debate, I’ve been part of it for a very long time and I’m very passionate about it. I want us to see our immigration programme work for the strength of Australia. I want to see an immigration programme in Australia that keeps Australians together. I want to see an immigration programme in Australia that Australians are passionate and confident in.

Why did I stop the boats? I stopped the boats because I was concerned not just about the loss of life we had seen, but because the failure of the previous government to control our borders was crashing confidence in immigration in this country. Now our Government changed that. We secured those borders. We have the immigration plans that I believe Australians can be confident in, because we’re listening carefully to those who are being impacted by strong population growth in cities like Melbourne and Sydney. But we are also hearing the voices of those in Perth, in Adelaide, in Darwin, in Hobart, in Devonport or anywhere else around the country, in Wagga for that matter. I was speaking to the Deputy Prime Minister about this only today. Where they have a plan where they believe they can have additional population in those areas and they see it as good for their local economies. So that is the plan we are advancing.

JOURNALIST: Melissa Price says that 90 or so scientists have drawn a long bow in calling for the end to coal power. What’s your interpretation of the report, do you endorse it’s findings?

PRIME MINISTER: We take all reports seriously and we consider all of them and assess those, as you would be expect us to. That report was delivered not to Australia, it was a global report. It didn't contain any recommendations for any actions by Australia. It was making broader observations and Australia is part of that process. But I tell you what I’m about and what our Government’s about; our Government is about keeping our commitments. We have kept our commitments on Kyoto 1 as Greg as the Environment Minister at the time, knows all about. We will complete our commitments and beat them when it comes to Kyoto 2. We will meet our targets out to 2030 as well. We will meet the commitments that we have made. We have the lowest level of emissions per capita now in more than two decades and that is a good result. We had been working to achieve that and we will continue to do that.

But I tell you the other thing we’re going to do; that is we’re going to do everything we can to get electricity prices down. That is what the Minister for getting electricity down, is focused on and that’s Angus Taylor. The Minister for keeping the commitments that we’ve made on the environment is Melissa Price and that’s the job she’s doing. They’re going to do those jobs and they’re both going  to do those jobs as part of our government. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government considering nuclear energy as part of - ?

PRIME MINISTER: All I said yesterday was that I’ll consider options if they can stand up from an investment point of view. I said nothing, frankly, much further than that. What I would find surprising is the Labor Party would not consider something that if it stacked up on an investment basis and did lower electricity prices, they apparently wouldn’t consider it. I found that actually more amazing.

All the work that has been done on that issue to date has shown that the investment proposals haven’t stacked up and don’t stack up. So that’s where that issue rests from my perspective. But I’m not going to rule out things based on ideology, I’m not going to rule out things based on advocacy. I’m going to consider things that I think will  ensure that we get electricity prices down when it comes to energy and I will always consider things that will help us practically we meet our environmental targets which is incredibly important to all Australians as well. Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Opera House very quickly, 260,000 people have signed a petition against the display of the race. 


JOURNALIST:  Have you misread the electorate on this?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I respect everybody having their say on this. I had mine, they’ve had theirs. I'm sure we can all respect each other's views on this and I’m sure the Premier, as they considered all that, will ensure that how they go forward with this will the done sensitively and respectively. I suspect in a few weeks’ time we’ll all look back on this a little differently. But look, it’s a free country, we all get to say our piece, I said mine. Everybody else has said theirs. We respect all those views and I’m sure Gladys Berejiklian will handle the issue with the sensitivity it deserves. Thanks very much.