Aged Care Act needs strengthening, say peaks

Further amendments called for before the Act can be introduced later this year.

Significant changes need to be made to the new Aged Care Act to ensure it has greater teeth and older people shouldn’t have to wait any longer for their rights to be respected, according to a paper released by national advocacy organisations.

The new Aged Care Act is due to commence on 1 July 2024 – and the organisations will be holding the government to account if the deadline is missed.

Craig Gear

“Older people are telling us they want their rights and they want them now,” said Craig Gear – chief executive officer of the Older Person’s Advocacy Network. “They can’t wait any longer. It has been three years since the aged care royal commission delivered its final report recommending the creation of a new rights-based Aged Care Act.”

Other demands contained in the Key Issues Paper: aged care residents must have an absolute right to visitors at all times, the rights of residents must be enforceable, and an independent and effective system for dealing with complaints from residents and their representatives must be enshrined in the new Act.

Published in response to the federal government’s Aged Care Act exposure draft, the 28-page document has been signed off on by the following 12 bodies:  

Source: Key Issues Paper

While the exposure draft advances the current legislation – implemented in 1997 – Patricia Sparrow, chief executive of COTA Australia, said further changes need to be made before the new Act can be introduced on 1 July.

Patricia Sparrow

“The exposure draft released by the federal government is clearly an improvement on the current Act and shows the federal government has been listening to the concerns of older Australians and their carers but there are still significant changes that need to be made to ensure the rights of older people are protected.”

Released earlier this month, the paper contains 23 possible solutions on how the new Act can be enhanced and strengthened so that the legislation delivers more choice, control, and transparency.

Solutions include:

  • the new Aged Care Act must take a human rights approach with a focus on wellbeing, reablement and quality of life
  • eligibility for early access to aged care services must be expanded
  • the role of independent professional advocates must be recognised in the Act
  • carers must be included in the Act
  • better protections included for older people on the use of restrictive practices
  • providers need to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to service improvement.

The paper’s authors also acknowledge a widespread concern that the consultation period for the exposure draft has been short and is based on an incomplete version of the proposed Act.

As they note, the exposure draft does not include information on fees and charges, critical powers, review of decisions, some parts of banning orders and the use of computer programs to make decisions. “We welcome the opportunity to provide feedback to the Australian Government before final decisions are taken on these matters,” they say.  

“Older Australians want and deserve an Aged Care Act that genuinely protects their rights,” said Ms Sparrow. “That means the new Act needs to not only include detail on how the rights of older people will be protected but also how they will be enforced.”

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