Fighting for the Elderly

Aged & Community Services Australia

Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) is the focal point for more than one thousand church, charitable and community based organisations right across the nation that care for more than 700,000 elderly or disabled people – and for those who care for them.

As the peak organisation for the industry, ACSA is used to being asked its views on all manner of topics concerning ageing in general and the rapidly changing demographics of the Australian population in particular.

Adjunct Professor John G Kelly, AM, is ACSA’s CEO and the man charged with the industry’s representation not only in public but in the corridors of power in Canberra. We asked him what progress had been made in advancing the cause of older people since the federal election. Last time we talked, in the run-up to the election, Professor Kelly said he was “not quite certain whether the baby boomers are ready to assert their position. I think we may have to wait for one more election cycle. By the next federal election every political party will be lining up to have an ageing policy. At this stage I don’t think the discussion is vocal enough for politicians to either hear or listen to the messages.”

Business in Focus: What is the post-election take on the situation and the prospects?

Professor Kelly: Aged care was not part of the election campaign until the first campaign debate when ABC journalist Lyndal Curtis asked a “surprise” question.

The question: “Firstly to Tony Abbott and then to Kevin Rudd about aged care. About 6 million voters in this election are aged 50 and over, 2 million aged 70 or over, that’s lot of people who are thinking about care for themselves or their parents. The Government made a change in policy legislated earlier this year with almost no publicity. Mr Abbott, you don’t have a detailed aged care policy in your Real Solutions booklet, I think your aged care statement ran to about a paragraph. What would a Coalition Government do? Mr Rudd, can you explain what the central changes are and whether there would be any more?”

Mr Abbott replied that Australians accepted and understood that we need better aged care systems but the only hint he gave of change was to say the Coalition’s policy would be “about reducing the paperwork that aged care providers face, because if they’re spending less time doing bureaucracy they’ll have more time and more money to spend on providing better care”. Asked by Sky News journalist David Speers if the Coalition would implement the Productivity Commission’s recommendations, Mr Abbott said, “we have no plans to make significant changes to the system that the Governments put in place”.

Mr Rudd said aged care is a vital issue and a growing challenge for the country as the population ages. Aged care will be a beneficiary of the National Broadband Network in terms of monitoring and treating people. He added that aged care must be kept under constant review. “It’s only fair to seniors who have served our country so well, that they are guaranteed proper care into the future.”

Soon after the election the Government suspended applications for the Workforce Supplement, a move ACSA supported as wage increases were tied to enterprise bargaining agreements, which meant that not all workers would receive improved pay and conditions. This money has not been redirected, as yet.

I have been appointed with other sector representatives to the new Aged Care Sector Committee, to be chaired by Professor Peter Shergold. The committee will provide guidance to help the aged care sector adapt to new demands and a greater consumer focus.

One of our first tasks, according to the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield, is to develop the Aged Care Sector Statement of Principles to set out the way in which government and the aged care sector will work together to progress reform.

BIF: How urgent or necessary is reform of the sector?

Prof Kelly: As far as the general community is concerned, Australia is overdue to have a conversation about its changing demographics. Every week 2,000 Australians turn 65 and in the next 40 years the number of people aged 85 years and over will quadruple to 1.8 million.

As the population ages, the taxpayer base dwindles so any aged care services in the future will require greater co-contributions. Australians are financially literate about their retirement years but many treat their possible accommodation needs as something to be dealt with only after a health crisis or death of a spouse. The Baby Boomers are trying to care for their elderly parents either at home with help from community care or in residential care. Often now adult children are staying at home with parents.

BIF: Does ACSA have a view on the possible hike in pension age that has recently been proposed again?

Prof Kelly: If the pension age is to be lifted to 70, it would be better done over a long period. If, for example, the pension age were to be lifted to 70 in 2030, it would give a generation the opportunity to plan their working life and superannuation arrangements. There would need to be clarification at what age people could access superannuation as there would be little point increasing the pension age when people in their fifties and sixties cannot find work. No one would ever say there is age discrimination at a job interview, but there are plenty of well-qualified people who are overlooked for jobs.

People who work in manual jobs do not need to be made to work any longer than they do now. Bodies age and it can be quite a strain for people to be expected to do the tasks they did as a fit 20-year-old.

As former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry said recently, the GST will have to be raised in the future. He cannot see how the Government can fund new, large social programs from budget cuts alone so it will have to look at alternative revenue sources.

BIF: How real are the fiscal dangers for regional and remote assistance providers?

Prof Kelly: The fiscal reality for regional and remote providers is challenging. It is difficult now for them to get bonds as house sales are not as successful or achievable as in urban areas.

One of the major aged care reforms is the new Residential Accommodation Deposit (RAD)/Daily Accommodation Payment (DAP) scheme which will apply to new residents from 1 July 2014. The new fee arrangements will apply to new residents.

It is expected that the RAD/DAP system will cause some concerns for both providers and consumers, especially for part-pensioners and self-funded retirees. Opening up the market to choice means the consumer can choose whether they want to pay the full RAD (a bond in current parlance) or a DAP or the combination they choose.

Providers, for a significant amount of time, have relied on the level of bonds held to provide certainty to lenders that there is a capacity to pay for capital works.

There is great uncertainty about how consumers will respond. The challenge for providers in terms of annual turnover of residents and bonds means any major reduction in funds being held creates uncertainty for lenders.

The new committee referred to by Professor Kelly will be an important indicator of how serious this and future governments are about ensuring the aged care sector is strong enough to support the burgeoning elderly population of Australia. But whether you are already old or just feeling it, you can rest assured that ACSA is on the case and constantly lobbying for the best for its members, its members’ members, and elderly people and their carers everywhere.

For more information about Aged & Community Services Australia, please visit http://www.agedcare.org.au/

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March 24, 2017, 1:11 AM AEDT

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