Health | Ageing

Federal Budget will “set the path” for the next decade of aged care

An "adequate response" from the Federal Government to the findings of the aged care Royal Commission will allow the industry "to move from a focus on compliance to a focus on excellence”, the CEO of Leading Age Services Australia, Sean Rooney, told a CEDA audience.

“We believe this budget will set the path for determining the future of the aged care system for the next decade or so,” he said.  

Mr Rooney was joined by Anglicare Executive Director Kasy Chambers and HESTA Chief Executive Officer Debby Blakey to discuss the challenges facing the aged care workforce following the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report.

Nous Principal and Event Facilitator Ian Thompson began by highlighting the scale of the challenge facing the aged care sector, noting that "over 360,000 Australians work in the aged care sector, and this will need to grow to almost one million by 2050 to meet growing demand".

While acknowledging the challenges facing the aged care sector, Sean Rooney also drew attention to the hard work that aged care sector employees perform under difficult circumstances, highlighting that their roles put them on the “frontline in the battle against COVID-19".

“More often than not, in lots of discourse around workforce, their effort and commitment is often lost.”

Mr Rooney said the Royal Commission’s final report provides an “opportunity for ambition in a sector and system that is far too often focused on compliance".

Anglicare Executive Director Kasy Chambers spoke of the difficulties involved in attracting and retaining workers to the aged care sector, with too few seeing the work as a career.  

“We need to think about training, ongoing development," she said, "and we really need to think about pay." 

While Australia has “traditionally grown the workforce from overseas”, Ms Chambers argued this is not fair to the countries these workers come from.

“Most of the workforce that comes in is from poorer countries. This means that these countries have trained those people, got them ready for this work and we have then taken them. That doesn’t seem very fair to me.”

Instead, she said, underemployed Australians and workers “looking for more meaningful work” could boost the national aged care workforce.

Picking up on the theme of attracting and retaining aged care workers, HESTA Chief Executive Officer, Debby Blakey, detailed the findings of some of her company’s recent member surveys of those in the sector.

“Despite the challenges of the Royal Commission, our research shows that members were prouder to work in the sector, feeling more valued by their employers and the community, and were stronger advocates for working in aged care.”

She noted, however, that not all the responses were positive.

“Even though there was a good overall result, the aged care workforce is highly polarised and there were significant numbers of unhappy and dissatisfied employees,” she said.

“The unanimous opinion of the workforce we surveyed is that the three primary things that need to be addressed are: low pay; lack of skill development opportunities; and wanting to try something different, because at times they saw their work as really repetitive.”

Ms Blakey highlighted the risks that the recovering economy poses to worker retention in the sector.

“Over 40 per cent of HESTA’s members in aged care are estimated to earn less than $50,000 per year before tax. As the economy looks to pick up, we expect employee turnover to increase: as people feel more confident to look at other opportunities, we need to think about how we are going to support this sector so we have outstanding quality of care for Australian seniors.”