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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 4 Hansard (3 May) . . Page.. 1149..

MS GALLAGHER (continuing):

employees and offer above-award rates and salary packaging in an attempt to attract and retain professional and competent staff.

This wage disparity is making it increasingly difficult to keep aged care nurses in the sector. There is already a high turnover of staff in the sector. There has been a national and international trend for up to 20 per cent of newly graduated nurses to leave the profession within their first year. To overcome the economic challenge of ageing, we need a healthy and productive work force. This requires a skilled and well-coordinated network of healthcare professionals armed with specialist knowledge, skills, resources and supports to deliver aged care services.

At a time when we are faced with the generational challenges of an ageing population, we are seeing younger nurses leaving the profession for which they have been educated. They are discouraged by what they perceive as being non-recognition of their knowledge and skills, which is clearly demonstrated by such a difference in pay compared to their public sector colleagues. This could be addressed if the federal government saw this issue, recognised it and gave it the priority it deserves. As Ms Porter's motion correctly points out, the federal government should immediately inject funding into the aged care sector to specifically address this lack of pay parity.

There are other issues which have been identified in the aged care sector that affect the retention of nurses. These include shortages of staff, declining skill-mix ratios, increasing workloads, low morale and emotional stress, not enough time to give basic care, exhaustion, frustration, burnout, a widely held view that the quality of care has been compromised by cost containment initiatives. So there are a number of areas outside of wage parity. But wage parity could address some of those issues, particularly around low morale and stress, I imagine, if the federal government prioritised this issue and recognised the skills and experience of nurses who are working in the aged care sector.

It is important that as a community we acknowledge that aged care nursing is a rewarding, appreciated and challenging career. Aged care nurses will only feel appreciated and the aged care sector will only be an employer of choice when its wages are competitive with the public sector. If equality of pay were provided, I believe the aged care sector would attract and retain a skilled and sustainable work force. We will continue to advocate for the federal government to support aged care nurses in the private sector and to provide targeted funding to allow the same rates of pay enjoyed by nurses in the public sector to be enjoyed by those in the private sector residential aged care work force.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella—Leader of the Opposition) (5.04): Mr Deputy Speaker, it is an important motion that we have before us, particularly for the ACT, which has the most rapidly ageing population in the country. This issue is something that all jurisdictions, as the minister just pointed out, are going to struggle with in years to come. Some, indeed most, of the responsibility falls to the federal government. I note that over the last couple of years hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars have been put into the aged care sector by the federal government. Because of their good economic management, they have actually been in a position where they can start to address these problems, but I think we would all acknowledge that more needs to be done.

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