Just a few weeks out from Christmas, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has given the aged care sector a gift that keeps on giving – the promotion of the ageing portfolio to cabinet.
Yesterday Gillard announced the results of her ministerial reshuffle, which included the appointment of Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, as the new Minister for Social Inclusion and the elevation of the mental health, ageing and social inclusion portfolios to cabinet.
Many sector commentators predict that the promotion is a precursor to widespread and meaningful aged care reform, with the move symbolising the importance the PM places on ageing issues (read AAA article on the minister’s appointment by clicking here).
Minister Butler addressed the media on his promotion during a doorstop at Parliament House (Canberra), yesterday.
Here is a transcript of his speech, the media’s questions and the minister’s responses.
MARK BUTLER MP on his promotion to cabinet:
Earlier today, the Prime Minister set out an agenda for the next year based on the themes of growth, jobs and fairness. I am delighted to have been appointed to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, particularly with the focus on fairness. I am also delighted that the Prime Minister decided to elevate the portfolio areas of Ageing, Mental Health and Social Inclusion to the Cabinet table.
If I can deal with ageing, first of all.
2011 is in many ways a watershed year for ageing policy; the first year when the baby boomers start to turn 65.
We know that for many years to come now, the number of older or senior Australians will grow very dramatically, bringing with it some serious policy challenges, but also some great opportunities.
Our government regards the ageing of Australia’s population as an extraordinary achievement, reflecting 25 years that we have been able to add to average life expectancy in Australia, over the past century.
The challenge of course for the community but also for governments is to ensure, as far as possible, that those years are good years.
They are during which people as far as possible remain healthy, active and connected to their communities and their families. There are many policies that bear on this question, many of which are already underway, such as Jenny Macklin’s 2008 pension reforms, Bill Shorten’s ongoing work to increase the superannuation guarantee charge from 9 per cent to 12 per cent, expanding opportunities for older Australians to continue to work after 65, and if they do so, to keep more of their wage and more of their pension under the government’s revised Work Bonus.
The government’s new stand alone Aged Discrimination Commissioner who is already working, particularly to stamp out discrimination against older Australians in the workplace. Obviously health reform is important and most obviously, perhaps aged care reform, which will be my principal focus in the area of Ageing.
I am also delighted that the Prime Minister has decided to elevate Mental Health as a policy area to the Cabinet table, reflecting our government’s commitment to delivering better mental health services for the millions of Australians who every year experience mental illness, and to their families.
My principal role in this area will continue to be to roll out the range of initiatives, included in this year’s Budget, $2.2 billion dollar package of new mental health initiatives, a record package in Australian history.
Finally, can I say that I am delighted that Social Inclusion has also been promoted as a policy area to the Cabinet table. I have a significant history in this area, being a member of the South Australian Social Inclusion Board for several years before coming to this place, but I also understand the parallels between mental health policy and social inclusion, given the extraordinary social exclusion that many Australians, particularly with severe mental illness experience every day.
Before going to questions can I say a few more things?
Firstly, how grateful I am that the Prime Minister has shown this faith in me, in appointing me to her Cabinet.
Secondly, how delighted I am at the prospect of working closely with Tanya Plibersek as the Minister for Health, a person I have known for many years and a person for whom I have the highest regard.
And finally and certainly not least, can I place on record my gratitude for the time I have been able to work with Nicola Roxon, firstly as her Parliamentary Secretary, and more recently as her Junior Minister. I think, as Nicola’s very ambitious health reforms begin to bear fruit over this year and the coming years, she will rightly take her place as one of Australia’s great reforming Health Ministers. I am sure she will take the same vigour and capacity to her new role as Attorney General.
Over to you.
QUESTION: Minister, what does social inclusion mean?
BUTLER: Well, social inclusion means different things to different people. For me, and I have only been appointed in this role in the last couple of hours, I will take time to get briefings on this area obviously, but to me social inclusion is about government delivering services and support to people experiencing social exclusion in a different way.
Too many times, people who are experiencing social disadvantage find different portfolios and different agencies deliver their services very much in a siloed way.
One of the things we tried to do in this year’s mental health reforms was to get different portfolios, different agencies working together. The most common complaint I have got from people experiencing mental illness and their families, was that they would often be dealing with 8 or 10 or 12 Commonwealth and State government agencies who didn’t talk to each other, who weren’t working off the same song sheet. They complained about having to constantly tell their stories over and over again.
So for my part, social inclusion is not necessarily about coming up with brand new ideas to deal with social disadvantage, because there aren’t many brand new ideas, it is about delivering government services in a different way, in a way that is much more centred around the person for whom those services are intended, rather than around particular bureaucratic walls.
QUESTION: Does the elevation of Aged Care to Cabinet mean the government is about to grasp the nettle on the Productivity Commission’s reforms for aged care in 2012?
BUTLER: Well as you know Sue, we’re still in the process of working through the very substantial 750 page report that the Productivity Commission delivered us a few months ago. I am in the process of finalising forums with older Australians around the country – almost 4000 older Australians have attended those forums and given me the benefit of their experiences but also their expectations of the aged care system. We are working methodically through the recommendations for the aged care sector with aged care providers, with consumer groups and with aged care unions.
Now, the Prime Minister has committed on a number of occasions that aged care reform would be a part of this government’s second term. She remains committed to that, quite when that response will be delivered and quite when that process will start has not been a decision yet made by the government.
QUESTION: Is real, concrete aged care reform achievable without bipartisan support? Do you think you can win over that bipartisan support?
BUTLER: Well that ultimately is a matter for Tony Abbott and for his team but I can tell you that time and time again as I travel the country, older Australians recognise that aged care reform is difficult, and it takes time. It is not something that is going to be completed with any one term of government.
They also understand the dynamics in this Parliament. They do ask me, time and time again, what is the attitude of the Coalition to aged care reform? How likely is it that Tony Abbott won’t try to scuttle aged care reform in the Parliament? Now ultimately, these are questions that needed to be directed to Tony Abbott, but we do hope that the Opposition would understand, the particular sensitivity of aged care reform.
For older Australians, it is often about their plans for the future, the way in which they manage their affairs, and I do hope that the Opposition, from Tony Abbott down take a constructive and mature approach to this policy challenge. It is not particularly a policy challenge for Labor, it is a significant policy challenge for the whole nation.
QUESTION: But if you don’t include it in next year’s Budget, aren’t you cutting it a bit fine to get it done in the second term of your government?
BUTLER: Well those are matters still to be decided in government and speculation about next year’s budget is not something really you should direct to me, it is far too early.