The Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing has committed to working with the ANMF and representative groups to ensure that Labor’s policy on aged care staffing ratios incorporates the professions’ views ahead of the next federal election.
Speaking at the ANMF’s 15th Biennial Conference last Friday (15 October), MP Mark Butler, who replaced Chris Bowen in the Health portfolio at the start of this year, told delegates that while the Royal Commission into Aged Care made specific recommendations on mandatory staffing ratios, Labor would take a policy including ratios and an appropriate staffing mix to the next election. The Party is also acutely aware of both the ANMF and other organisations’ longstanding concerns regarding the embattled sector.
“We’ve not yet finalised the details of that particular policy commitment,” Mr Butler conceded.
“We know we’ve got the Royal Commission recommendations in two stages, but we’re also acutely conscious of the position of your union [the ANMF] and some others that those Royal Commission recommendations do not go far enough.”
“As we finalise those details we will work closely with your union in concert.”
While Mr Butler’s comments on aged care are not inconsistent with the broader , published earlier this year, it is among the first hints of what the broader public may be able to expect from ALP policy on aged care ahead of the looming federal election.
While parts of Mr Butler’s speech focused on the future shape of health and ageing services, he also critiqued the failings of past Coalition governments, linking many of the recent national struggles in healthcare back to a lack of workforce planning.
“We don’t have a strategy to meet our health workforce demands, and we certainly don’t have a plan to make sure that some of those strategic imperatives are met on the ground,” he said.
“We simply can’t muddle our way through what we are going to need to ensure we have a strong acute care sector, primary care sector and aged care sector into the future.”
Additionally, Mr Butler also addressed the ongoing stresses placed on the country’s health system by COVID-19, and the lack of pre-planning and active management of the country’s health services resources by the current Morrison Government.
“You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to work out as well that business-as-usual in hospitals and hospital funding, simply is not going to cut it at the peak of a once-in-a-century pandemic,” Mr Butler said.
“Hardworking nurses and doctors simply can’t afford for Scott Morrison, yet again, to pretend this is all someone else’s responsibility… as he’s done right through the critical phases of this pandemic.”
Although several politicians, including members of the ALP, the Greens and Senator Rex Patrick, sent messages of support that were streamed at Friday’s Biennial, Mr Butler was the only politician with a direct connection to the health portfolio at federal level to speak for an extended period at Friday’s ANMF conference.
“I know, in my time in the union movement, and my time in the Parliament, that a Labor government does its best work when its constantly pushed, constantly cajoled by organisations likes yours [the ANMF] to be braver and to be more ambitious,” Mr Butler concluded.
The absence of input from Mr Butler’s counterparts in the Morrison government was highlighted by the ANMF’s Federal Secretary, Annie Butler.
“You’ll see, throughout the day, who chose to accept that invitation, and take a moment to offer their respect for ANMF members,” Ms Butler said during her opening report to the conference.
“You may also notice who chose not to accept.”