With the federal election date set, aged care is looking likely to play in a crucial role in each party's campaign, elevating calls from advocates to commit to sector wide reform.
Announcing a May 21 poll, prime minister Scott Morrison told voters that over the past four years his government had not been “perfect” but had acted "upfront".
“You may see some flaws but you can also see what we have achieved for Australia in incredibly difficult times,” he said.
“Above all, this election, as all elections are, is a choice.
"It's a choice between a government you know and a Labor opposition that you don't.”
In his budget reply speech, opposition leader Anthony Albanese made 24/7 nursing in aged care the centrepiece of Labor's election pledge.
He said within a year of being elected, every aged care facility in Australia would be required to have a registered nurse onsite "24 hours a day, 7 hours a week".
“This is just common sense – and it is common decency," he said.
Last week, a federal Labor spokesperson backtracked on this pledge, telling SMH this policy would rely on workforce numbers and "flexibility” for staff-stricken providers.
The sector is facing shortages of up to 110,000 direct care workers by 2030, according to a CEDA report.
The Australian College of Nursing has called for both parties to commit to more funding to address the "workforce crisis".
"There needs to be investments on multiple fronts to ensure our workforce is sustainable and optimally utilised for generations to come," said chief executive Kylie Ward.
“I constantly hear stories from my colleagues sharing the exhausting toll of COVID-19 on their physical and mental health as they care for the sick and vulnerable.
“I urge political leaders to listen to the concerns of Australia’s largest health profession, as the health of our nation will suffer without nurses.”
Aged care services minister Richard Colbeck said the Coalition supports 24/7 nursing but only under the time frame "recommended by the royal commission”.
Under the Liberal's plan, 24-hour nursing care would be implemented across the sector by 2024.
“Rolling out the strategy any sooner risks the closure of aged care facilities with a serious risk to residents,” Colbeck said.
Both major parties have committed to funding a 25 per cent wage increase for aged care workers, with only Labor endorsing the union's case with the Fair Work Commission.
Last week thousands of NSW healthcare workers walked off the job across the state to demand higher pay and safer working conditions.
Health Services Union president Gerard Hayes has said the union will continue to support Labor's wage commitment.
"For too long aged care workers have risked poverty or homelessness just so they can do their job and care for the elderly," he said.
"We have first hand accounts of our members skipping meals and finishing the fortnight with only a few dollars in their bank account.
“How any politician thinks it’s okay to pay workers as little as $22 an hour to care for people suffering dementia is astounding."Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]