Anika Wells MP on ABC Afternoon Briefings

Topics: Aged care workforce, 24/7 nursing, Saudi Arabia sponsorship, multiple birth awareness week

GREG JENNETT, HOST: We covered a few other matters as well that Anika Wells has responsibility for. Perhaps the two most important being her own twins. That can present some difficulties, as I'm sure you'd appreciate, in an interview.

And sure enough, it did, when our producer issued ABC-approved Bluey Snack Packs, they’re noisy I can assure you, to the young boys moments before we started our chat with the Minister.

Well, Anika Wells, it's multiple birth awareness week and if nothing else, you are bringing awareness. Is this situation normal for you in a parliamentary sitting week?

ANIKA WELLS, MINISTER FOR AGED CARE AND SPORT: They come sometimes when we can manage it. It's obviously a complex logistical arrangement, but I do think they bring more humanity to the building when they're around. They certainly give you a bit of context about what you're doing it for. But I said I came to Parliament to be a good ancestor. They certainly remind you of that and are good for cuddles.

JENNETT: They certainly bring an injection of normality because there's not much else about life in Parliament House that grounds you in family in the way that visitors like Oshie and Dash do.

We might talk more about multiple Birth Awareness Week and some of the ideas that have been put forward by the association there. Why don't I take you now, though, to aged care, your biggest area of responsibility at the moment beyond Oshie and Dash.

1st of July is approaching. It's only six weeks after the May budget. Will you make the commitment of access 24/7 to nursing in every aged care facility?
WELLS: We are hopeful Greg, that we're going to get there by 1 July. You can't achieve what you can't measure. I won't apologise for being ambitious for aged care, and I think the sector has really lifted to that.

We've got more than 80 per cent of facilities now who are meeting 24/7 nursing requirements. About another 9 per cent who are nearly there or very steadily working towards making it.

We also acknowledge that there's probably about 5 per cent of facilities, particularly in our rural and remote areas, who will not be able to get there and we're working closely with them to make sure that they get the exemptions and support, as do their residents that they need.

JENNETT: So those measurements, as you say, get you close to 90 per cent of facilities. Is that the full picture though? What about actual human beings, staff members, nurses who will be required?

What's the current reckoning on the shortfall?

WELLS: Workforce is the biggest issue for us in aged care and any report will tell you that we are thousands short of where we need the sector to be, particularly if we want to lift the standard of care, which is what the Royal Commission asked us to do.

That's why come one July we're doing the 15 per cent pay rise for award wages. The biggest pay rise in the history of federation when it comes to aged care. Because we know the number one thing you can do to address workforce issues is to pay people better.

JENNETT: That doesn't come in until the 1st of July, which just happens to be when this commitment takes effect as well. So, there will be a shortfall.

WELLS: The workforce shortages, we will not be able to stop overnight, just in the same way that any issue that's come up across decades, you're not going to stop overnight.

But I would say also, I'm working really closely with a number of other ministers. Across every portfolio, we're looking at how to address the care economy and how to fix the workforce shortages in the care economy.

So, I'd point you to like the palm scheme, the Palm Pilot, it's running successfully. I work closely with immigration, home affairs ministers about what we can do in their patches.

Obviously, fee free TAFE places is going to help us train up people. We're pulling every lever.

JENNETT: But the shortages that, you know, you're acknowledging here are numbering, what, 5000, 8000? Do you have a ballpark?

WELLS: Well, it depends what measurement you're looking at. I acknowledge we are thousands short and that's something that we have inherited and we're pulling every lever to address.

JENNETT: So, in government documentation, this is called not an obligation, but a responsibility. What consequences will there be for service providers if they don't have a registered nurse or enrolled nurse providing this care 24/7?

WELLS: Well, a couple of things. Firstly, we're paying for it. Taxpayers are paying for this to happen. We're not asking providers to pay for it. Taxpayers are paying for 24/7 nurses and care minutes to come in. We're paying for care.

But I welcome the opportunity to address the scare campaigns. We are not shutting centres down on one July. I’m not wearing a Go-Pro and Blundstones and kicking down the doors of facilities come one July if they haven't met the requirement.

We are working with the commission and with facilities that have the opportunity come forward and say we don't think we're going to get there, to make sure that they have arrangements in place that mean that residents do get the care they need if they need an exemption to mean that it's not a registered nurse on site 24/7.

JENETT: So, there's no threat or perhaps I should make it a question. Is there a threat to their accreditation or some financial punishment that would go with the failure to meet the requirement?

WELLS: Well, basically, they if they can't meet the 24/7 requirement, they won't get the payment for meeting the requirement because we're paying for it. So that's I think I would say a carrot rather than a stick.

We will not be shutting down facilities on one July on the basis they have not met 24/7. We will be continuing to work with them to make sure we lift everybody up to meet it.

JENNETT: And that's not the only moving path that you have in aged care. When you wind forward to the 1st of October, you also have the 200 minutes mandatory care quota.

Does that then exacerbate or make worse the staff shortage that the industry is facing?

WELLS: Look again, a lot of facilities are already meeting that. A lot of five star rated facilities now that we have our star rating system in place, were meeting well above that and for years before that, there's a lot of people who've been doing really great work. It's about trying to lift the standard and give government funding to facilities to help lift that standard so that everybody experiences a decent standard of care.

JENNETT: Anything further likely in the pipeline before we get to the 1st of July to further encourage both of these targets?

WELLS: Well, like I said, I'm working with a number of ministers across the government on workforce, in aged care and within the broader care economy. I'm working with Jason Clare and Clare O'Neil, particularly at the moment.

And I'd also point the sector and people that are worried about the viability of aged care towards IHACPA, which will also be coming in 1 July and further lifting the funding available to facilities.

JENNETT: And you've already referenced Immigration and Home Affairs. How many visa applications are outstanding awaiting approval? Specifically with reference to the aged care sector.

WELLS: Look, the exact figure would be a question for Andrew Giles, but I know that we have really put aged care at the focus in trying to get those things sorted first.

Like I said, aged care was the first of the Palm Pilots because we know how critical it is for the whole of government to try and fix aged care.

JENNETT: Anika Wells, I might get you to change hats now to the sport side of your portfolio. We've recently seen soccer's world governing body, FIFA, abandon those plans to put Visit Saudi as a sponsor over and above Australia and New Zealand's Women's World Cup.

What sort of Australian intervention did it take or government intervention to achieve that decision?

WELLS: Well, look, I raise my concerns directly with FIFA, as did our football association, as did the New Zealand Football Association. I worked closely with the New Zealand Sports Minister, Grant Robertson, several of my state ministerial counterparts because of the concerns about this as a potential agreement.

I'd note that this actually isn't a U-turn. There was never a formal agreement to Visit Saudi and to proceed as a sponsor. They've just clarified that they won't be.

My concern was that if that happened, it would be a real missed opportunity for our tourism and trade organisations here and New Zealand's not to have those opportunities to promote Australia and New Zealand as co-hosts.

This is the first time the Women's World Cup ever come to the Southern Hemisphere. We don't want to squander this opportunity and we don't want to distract from all the possibilities that arise from that.

JENNETT: Well, there was definitely a promotional investment to protect public and private. But what about the human rights aspect, which certainly aggrieved others, players in particular?

WELLS: Yeah. I mean, I think it was obvious that players were concerned. They were talking to their associations about it. The football associations, I think, did a really good job of lifting those voices up.

Players have a right to a voice. I guess as the federal government, we obviously have existing bilateral trade agreements with Saudi Arabia. It was more a case of, you know, Sam Kerr scores a goal on home soil. We want the billboard behind it to have a kangaroo swimming through the Great Barrier Reef and saying come and get more of this. We don't want the sign saying visit a different country.

So, I'm really glad that FIFA has I guess have managed to land in a way that allows Australia-New Zealand to do that.

JENNETT: And that's rock solid? There's no suspicion in your mind that this would resurface?


JENNETT: Alright, OK, move on to where we started, Anika Wells – Multiple Birth Week. It's why you've got Oshie in here, among other reasons.

WELLS: You’ve got Dash left. Oshie’s made off for the water feature.

JENNETT: A few suggestions coming forward from the association advocacy ideas. One off payments up to $15,000 for twins, 30,000 for triplets. Is this something… you can't put a price on them?

Of course. But is this something you push for within the Albanese Government?

WELLS: Look, I think I've been making those representations for, this is our third year now as a multiples family and I have made those representations to the Government again. As a multiple mum you wouldn't expect anything else.

But I also appreciate, as a minister of the Government that we can't fund all good ideas and we're currently going through a budget process, so we've got to keep working on it.

JENNETT: Is there something almost perverse that if governments went there, any government it could actually be an incentive? Is that an argument against this, an incentive not to have or to have multiple birth children?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

WELLS: You don't order two, you just get one with purchase. And as my obstetrician used to say, twins are two for the price of one until they come out and then they're double.

JENNETT: Well, it's probably a hard argument to run at any time, but particularly with the state that the budget's in at the moment.

Anika Wells, go well. Thanks so much for joining us.

WELLS: Thank you, Greg.