ABC Brisbane Drive 01/03/21

SUBJECTS: Royal Commission into Aged Care report; Proposed Aged Care Act; Aged care staffing and funding; Allegations of sexual assault



SUBJECTS: Royal Commission into Aged Care report; Proposed Aged Care Act; Aged care staffing and funding; Allegations of sexual assault

STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Jim Chalmers, good afternoon.


AUSTIN: So, what's Labor's response to the 143 recommendations of the Royal Commission report released today?

CHALMERS: I think as you'd expect Steve, we only got it a couple of hours ago, so we’re still working our way through it. My colleague Clare O'Neil, and a heap of other colleagues, are going through it to make sure that we understand it all. But the directions in it have been clear for some time now. It's clearly been unacceptable that there have been reports about maggots in wounds, there's been reports about people not receiving meals. Each day there's been horrific stories about physical and emotional abuse and so the system is in crisis.

I don't like listening to Scott Morrison, just then, pretending he's some kind of observer of this system. The feds are in charge of the aged care system and they've been overseeing it now for almost eight years. So, we want to see proper action. We also think it's time that he ‘fesses up to the fact that he pulled $1.7 billion out of the system as Treasurer and that's had consequences, too. So, we’ll I'll work our way through the report. We'll be as constructive as we can. But I think it begins with Scott Morrison actually taking responsibility for this crisis and for these horrific stories. There's a lot of work that needs to be done. We’re prepared to be part of that.

AUSTIN: They've announced a new Aged Care Act, to be created. Does Labor support that idea, generally?

CHALMERS: Whatever form it takes, clearly, there needs to be wholesale change here. We can't continue to be a self-respecting nation that treats its old people so poorly.

AUSTIN: It also recommends quality standards need to be reviewed across the board in aged care?

CHALMERS: Oh, absolutely. And quality staffing, training, safety, there'll be a conversation about funding. All of these things are terribly important. I actually had a meeting today with about 30 people who represent the nurses in the aged care system. They are exhausted. They are stretched. There are serious issues around staffing and resourcing there. So there's a lot of work to do. And we need to acknowledge that the federal government has responsibility for it. There have been mistakes made in the last eight years, including those cuts, which have had consequences. And it's time to fix them. Because we need to give older Australians the care that they need and deserve after a lifetime of contributing to this country.

AUSTIN: These are the nurses that were protesting outside your office because you haven't yet signed the Queensland Nurses Union request to have staffing levels made federal law in private aged care centres?

CHALMERS: Well, as I explained to them - and we had a good conversation about it - actually, I want to make sure…

AUSTIN: So, have you signed it? Have you done what they wanted?

CHALMERS:…no, I want to finalise our policy. I want to work with Marl Butler, and Clare O’Neil, and Anthony Albanese, and Katy Gallagher and all of my colleagues, to come to a settled policy that we take to the election, which takes into account whatever the response is from the federal government. I was upfront about that at the conversation today. We actually had a really good chat about the issues there. And I've had other meetings with workers in the healthcare sector. I actually appreciate them coming to my electorate for that conversation, and we'll continue to talk about it, as we see what the Morison government does, and see what, if anything, needs to be done in addition to that. I think that we do need to listen to the workforce, we need to listen to the residents, first and foremost. But the workers are really key here because, as I said before, they're exhausted, and they're stretched, and they want proper staffing standards, and proper training, and proper safety, and proper PPE. And all these things, I would have thought, are not too much to ask.

AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers is the federal Labor Member for Rankin. He’s the Shadow Treasury spokesperson, and seen by many as a future leader of the ALP. This is ABC Radio Brisbane, it’s a quarter to five. Steve Austin's my name. Let's move to the other issue that's angered many Australian women about the environment and the atmosphere and the treatment of women in Canberra. The lawyer who was acting for a woman who alleges – or who had alleged - she was raped by a now federal government minister has called for that person to be stood aside. So, let me ask you, what do you think the Prime Minister's role is in dealing with this issue, Jim Chalmers?

CHALMERS: I mean, first of all, whether we're talking about the Brittany Higgins case, or this case that you're asking me about, we are talking about deeply disturbing allegations of horrible crimes and we want to make sure…

AUSTIN: Everyone knows that. So what do you think the Prime Minister's role is in dealing with it?

CHALMERS: Well, our view is that the Prime Minister has to take it seriously. He needs to respond by finding a way to have the allegation properly examined. It's still not clear to many of us what role there is for the police, if any, given that the woman involved is no longer with us.

AUSTIN: So what should he do? That’s what I'm trying to get to the bottom of, I'm trying to find someone that can give me a clear answer as to how it should be handled?

CHALMERS: Well, first of all, we need the police role clarified. And secondly, I think the Prime Minister needs to find a way to have the allegation properly examined. I don't think it's going to be enough for the Prime Minister to say it's the end of it. I think not just Australian women, but Australians more broadly, when we're dealing here with these allegations of criminal acts, they want to know that they are properly investigated. And so the Prime Minister needs to find a way to make that happen.

AUSTIN: What minister can or should have responsibility for carriage of this matter, through its proper processes?

CHALMERS: Well, I think, ultimately, it's a matter for the Prime Minister. He’s the one that has responsibility for ministerial standards. And it is, at the end of the day, his cabinet that we're talking about. The allegations have been made against a member of his cabinet. So I think it's right and proper that he's the responsible person. We are, on our side of the parliament, we are trying to ensure that this is investigated properly. We are not trying to go over the top in a partisan fashion. I think every Australian would like to know, or would like to have the comfort, that when these allegations of criminal acts are made that they're properly examined. I think that begins with clarifying the role of the police, if any, but it also includes some kind of proper statement from the Prime Minister about how he's going to respond in a more serious fashion than he has today,

AUSTIN: If you were the CEO of an organisation or company, what would your responsibilities be in this area, if one of your employees had alleged rape, by one of the board of directors or managers of the company?

CHALMERS: I think, first of all, to see that the victim is supported, and their interests are supported, first. And secondly, to ensure that the police are involved when there are allegations of criminal acts. And I think, you know, what people have concluded, certainly from the Brittany Higgins case, is that there is something seriously wrong when a couple of years elapse between people knowing about this alleged crime, and it being properly progressed. I think that the AFP was right to remind all parliamentarians, and all people, of their obligations to report these kinds of allegations of serious and disturbing crimes, like the ones that we're talking about. And I think that applies equally to the private sector as it does to the public sector.

AUSTIN: My guest is Jim Chalmers. Jim Chalmers is the federal Labor Member for Rankin. Does the ALP have a code of conduct in an area like this? A way that staffers can, or should, be treated? Do you have one?

CHALMERS: We do, and we've just updated it.

AUSTIN: And what does it say? What are the ethics around something, an incident, like this?

CHALMERS: Well, what it does is it defines the issues. And then it says, it provides an avenue for people to make complaints, if they'd like to. And what that recognises, is that there's really, there needs to be something done at two levels here. Firstly, there needs to be a better process within parties. And I think all sides have acknowledged that these are not necessarily issues that are confined to one party or another. When it comes to the cultural issues, leaving aside the criminal issues that we were talking about a moment ago. We can…

AUSTIN: So you don’t think it’s a problem just on the side of the coalition, Jim Chalmers?

CHALMERS: I think everybody has acknowledged, Steve, that there are cultural issues in our politics that aren't confined to one side or another. And what we've said on our side, on the Labor side, is that we need to update our procedures, and our processes to make sure that we are acknowledging that and giving people the right avenues. But in addition to that, that's the process within parties, and that's important, but I think it is a good step that when Anthony Albanese suggested to Scott Morrison that there be an external review of what's happening here, which is founded on expert views and conducted at arm's length from the parliament, that's a good idea, too. And Anthony proposed that to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister has said that we will go down that path. That's a good thing as well.

AUSTIN: Is there a fear that more of these cases are going to emerge, that more women are going to come forward, who've been working in and around Parliament House in Canberra, or in politics in Canberra, and that similar things have happened to them?

CHALMERS: I think when it comes to some of these allegations we’ve seen recently, particularly as they relate to criminal acts, I think that the key there is to have those properly reported. To have the victim's interest paramount. And to have the police involved, where there are allegations of a serious crime. I don't know if there will be subsequent allegations made, but we need to make sure that the process that people follow is well known and puts the victim’s interests first. And, hopefully, we can clean up what has been
a really unedifying period for the parliament in these considerations.

AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers, thanks for your time.

CHALMERS: Thank you, Steve.