Image: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has made comprehensive reform of aged care the centrepiece of his budget reply delivered on Thursday night.

His “plan to fix the crisis in aged care” is costed at $2.5 billion over four years. But this doesn’t include the cost of a wage increase for workers, which a Labor government would urge and fund.

Labor’s five point plan promises registered nurses on site 24/7, more carers, a pay rise for the sector’s workers, standards to ensure better food for residents, and greater accountability imposed on providers.

“Labor will deliver new funding, more staff and better support to the aged care sector,” Albanese said.

Attacking Tuesday’s budget, the opposition leader said Australians knew the difference between reforms that improved people’s lives and “cynical one off payments designed for an election.

“This government might as well have stapled cash to your ballot paper,” he said.

Nevertheless Labor would “deliver those payments as well, because we know the pressure Australians are under.

“But if you vote Labor in May our work on cost of living won’t stop when the votes are counted.”

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“The truth is if you want real, permanent, meaningful help with the cost of living, you need a plan to get wages growing again. And you need a Labor government to do it.”

Albanese said the budget was “as it always is with this prime minister, long on politics, short on plans. All announcement, no delivery. Far too little, way too late”.

This was a government that left Australians behind. “If you vote Labor in May, I can promise you this will change.

“If I’m prime minister, I won’t go missing when the going gets tough – or pose for photos and then disappear when there’s a job to be done.

“I’ll show up, I’ll step up – and I’ll work everyday to bring our country together.”

Albanese said the Coalition was asking voters “to trust them that somehow they’ll be better in their fourth term.

Read more: Budget package doesn’t guarantee aged-care residents will get better care

“After all the waste and rorts and scandals, can you imagine how arrogant and dismissive they will be if they enter a second, long decade in office?”

Much of the Labor aged care plan involves tougher regulation of the sector, including giving the Aged Care Safety Commissioner new powers.

Aged care has been a hot button issue in the community with the royal commission, which gave its final report in 2020, finding the sector in need of drastic overhaul.

In the wake of Tuesday’s budget, aged care peak bodies have criticised the government’s lack of action to get improved wages for workers. The government has declined to intervene in the wage case to back a pay increase for workers.

Read more: View from The Hill: if money talks, the government has megaphone out

Albanese said Labor would require every aged care facility to have a registered, qualified nurse present around the clock each day. “This will save thousands of stressful, expensive and ultimately unnecessary trips to hospital emergency departments, for issues a nurse could solve on the spot,” he said.

Labor would mandate that everyone living in residential facilities received at least 215 minutes of care everyday, as the royal commission recommended.

“So, if you have a loved one in aged care, you can be certain they will get more time with a registered nurse and more time with enrolled nurses and personal care workers,” he said.

Albanese reiterated a Labor government would support a pay rise for workers before the Fair Work Commission, and fund the outcome of the case. But once again, he did not indicate any amounts Labor believes is appropriate.

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“We know if we want to recruit and obtain more carers to look after a population that’s growing older we need to treat their vital and essential workforce with respect and reward it with better pay.”

A Labor government would implement mandatory nutrition standards in aged care homes. It would also improve integrity and accountability, making providers give detailed public reports about what they were spending money on.

“Older Australians fear that the final chapter of their life will be an aged care facility where they are not properly cared for, let alone afforded real dignity,” Albanese said.

“Their children wrestle with the dilemma of sending them to a place that might not be good enough, versus the risk of leaving them at home when it’s becoming unsafe to be on their own.”

Albanese said if the Liberals were reelected “nothing will change – and the bleak present they have created will be the bleak future awaiting so many Australians”.

“If we want to change aged care in this country for the better, then we need to start by changing the government.”

This article was written by:

Disclosure statement

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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