Dr Lucy Morris
Dr Lucy Morris

The view that one voice speaking to governments and communities would be stronger misses a fundamental point – diversity and inclusion is far more powerful than homogenised, single monopolies, writes Dr Lucy Morris.

The character and diversity of the community benefit sector delivering services to elderly Australians, and to the wider community would be significantly disadvantaged by the establishment of a single peak body, through the amalgamation of both commercial and community benefit voices, with Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) and Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA).

There is a view that one voice speaking to governments and communities would be stronger and more clearly heard and such a move would be welcomed by government – a premise that misses a fundamental point – diversity and inclusion is far more powerful than homogenised, single monopolies. The current situation might be messier, apparently more chaotic and uncontrolled, which I suspect unnerves and frustrates those who want to direct and establish a single powerful entity, but the richness of voices coming together to sing in harmony is a far more enriching and engaging experience and requires a different skillset to directing and controlling. A different type of leadership is required – perhaps this is the issue?

I find it extraordinary we continue to seek to create oneness, when the complexity and intensity of opinions and views find expressions more easily when living and working in communion. It allows for a greater transparency, visibility of power and accountability and enables our services to the elderly to be delivered locally where local solutions can be reached. It requires large providers to be equal to small providers, understanding the different pressures each other faces, and facilitates the different experiences to be heard by governments and communities. Prioritising large organisations’ needs over smaller providers shows a lack of awareness and reveals a version of the future being envisioned.

The reality is we should be wary of any accumulations of too much power where they are evidenced. When single groups claim too much, whether governments, corporations or institutions, all stifle human flourishing and people become divided. Adam Smith, the recognised instigator of market economics, understood the market is unable to protect itself against its in-built tendency to generate cartels and monopolies which undermine the principles of the market itself and which kills competition and silences dissent. It seems to me this constant hankering for a single voice undervalues the many and is seeking to create a monopolistic voice.

My view is the desire to become one comes from a lack of willingness and capacity to deal creatively with the diversity in our community, which is reflective of the broader community and the easier solution is to create a single entity without actually dealing with the issue: enabling the performance of the many voices singing in harmony. This speaks to lack of communication, lack of understanding and a willingness to override the smaller, quieter, less powerful, less visible organisations and their needs. It misreads the motivations for the different entities and the difference is important as both are critical to a healthy civil society.  Finally, determining our profile, structure and reason for ‘being’ against the government desires, undervalues the breadth of the membership needs and expectations.

I honour the existence of LASA and ACSA.  I’m glad both exist because both are needed.

Reverend Dr Lucy Morris is chief executive officer of Baptistcare Inc.

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  1. While I undersand the comments made by Dr Morris, I am not sure that diversity and inclusion, preclude ‘solidarity’ between these peak bodies. Having worked in government, and taught social policy and ageing it has become apparent, to me, that in a society, like Australia where their are competing demands on health and aged care resources – disunity is death.

    Ageing services are critical to our society, but they cost a lot of money, and most of us hope we will never have to use them. This makes advocacy in this area difficult. My question is – what do consumers, older people themselves want and need? This is what should drive the work of both organisations – and speaking and finding common ground around this is critical.

    I would encourage LASA and ACSA to resist this ongoing ‘conflict’ – as it does not serve the best interests of older people.

    Ralph Hampson
    The University of Melbourne
    Department of Social Work

  2. I don’t agree that disunity is death. Not only is the term offensive; it implies that anyone who disagrees is wrong.

    It belongs with that other inappropriate term so often used to try and silence dissenters – ‘UnAustralian’.

    You will not ‘find out what consumers want’ by relying on those who have a vested interest in silencing them.

  3. Dr Lucy Morris is absolutely correct in saying that there is sufficient reason for both ACSA & LASA to co-exist, each representing their members ‘similar’ though ‘different’ issues in keeping with the varying values and issues. We need them both. Both organisations will be stronger if they hold onto their values and mission. It is possible to have strength in diversity.

    There will always be issues that the two bodies will differ on. To unite will demand a level of compromise that will erode the very essence of the reason for existing. Government will just need to cope with the demands of having two distinct industry peak bodies who from time to time have common issues that require addressing.

    Again there is a good reason for having peak bodies representing the consumers such as National Seniors and COTA

    Diversity is not a bad thing!!! On the contrary we need to celebrate that we have these (and other) groups representing both the aged care industry and the aged care consumers

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