At last, a policy on ageing

At the final hour, the Coalition has come good with an ageing policy that has been welcomed by the providers of aged services but still lacks many details for the wide range of stakeholders in the sector.


By Keryn Curtis

Just when stakeholders had all but given up hope of seeing a formal ageing policy announcement from the Coalition, there it was.

With no fanfare, the office of shadow minister for ageing, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells issued its ‘Policy for Healthy Life Better Ageing’ to key stakeholders and advocacy groups yesterday afternoon.

The emailed document wasn’t quite what people had expected. Earlier in the election campaign a spokesperson from the Senator‘s office told Australian Ageing Agenda that aged care had not been acknowledged within the Coalition’s health policy announcement because it was considered important enough to deserve its own announcement, which could be expected ‘before the election’, probably in the final week.

But as the final days and hours of campaigning drew to a close, any formal announcement seemed increasingly unlikely.

The policy contains no big surprises and also bears only a general resemblance to some of the specific details mentioned in last weekend’s Australian Financial Review – notably “20 measures to reduce red tape” and discussion about possibly rewriting of the Aged Care Act – which were reported to be from a leaked ‘draft policy document’.

It includes as its centrepiece, a commitment to a five-year industry agreement, to be known as the Healthy Life Better Ageing Agreement, which it says will define reform implementation priorities over a five-year period and afford more security and confidence to the sector.

While there is no detail, the policy promises further expansion and more flexible arrangements for people to remain living in the community; a better, more simplified system for accessing information about services; independent accreditation, complaints and quality care assessment processes; and rewards for aged services providers that consistently meet the highest accreditation standards.

It also reiterates its commitment, announced as part of the Coalition campaign launch, to an additional $200 million investment in dementia research.

Welcome news

It was music to the ears of aged care provider peak bodies that, as a first priority, the Coalition says it will “take the necessary steps to put back into the general pool of aged care funding the $1.2 billion allocated to the Workforce Compact and work with providers to ensure that these funds are distributed in a way that is more flexible and better targeted, without jeopardising the viability of aged care facilities.”

The policy also commits to “reduce red tape compliance costs by $1 billion a year.”

Both service provider peak bodies issued statements welcoming the Coalition policy.

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) said the policy showed that the Coalition “has listened to the concerns of aged care providers and Aged and Community Services Australia in developing its plan to improve the viability of the sector so we can support older Australians into the future.

“This is a positive move on top of the Living Longer, Living Better package introduced by the Labor Government and supported by the Coalition,” the statement said.

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) said the policy announcement, released “at the 11th hour” and “without commentary” was in line with LASA expectations and the LASA Election Manifesto.

LASA CEO, Patrick Reid, said the five year funding agreement would address structural underfunding of aged care services, increase market attractiveness and rebuild investor confidence, and “encourage a basis of quality rather than compliance for the industry.”

He said it would better address rising costs and risks to government than the government’s policy, Living Longer Living Better, and “provide lower risk as industry transitions to the environment recommended by the PC.”

A community pharmacist himself, and former senior executive with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Mr Reid said that while the five year funding agreement was “new for age services, funding agreements have been used over a long period, particularly in community pharmacies.”

Just in time

The policy arrived moments after the National Aged Care Alliance’s (NACA) Age Well campaign had issued a statement criticising the lack of attention to ageing issues from the two major parties during the election campaign.

It said that members of the alliance “expressed concern that despite calls for an end to rationing of services, older people will continue to struggle to get the care they need.”

“The National Aged Care Alliance last week contacted all major parties and asked them to respond to the call to end the unfair rationing of aged care places. Only The Greens responded,” it said.

Shortly after the Coalition policy was released, peak seniors advocacy organisation, COTA Australia, issued a statement describing it as ‘some good news’ but ‘more detail needed’.

COTA Australia CE Ian Yates said confirmation that the Coalition will continue to implement the  Living Longer Living Better aged care reforms that the sector had fought so hard for will be a relief for older Australians seeking increased care in their home.

He welcomed “the consultative approach the Coalition is taking to the development of the five-year agreement to go beyond the current reforms and the commitment that this will be guided by the Productivity Commission’s report.”

“Continuing the aged care reforms legislated in the last Parliament will ensure we stay on track to meet the growing demand for even better aged care services in the future.

“The Coalition’s additional commitment to independent complaints and quality assurance processes is welcome – indeed it is needed to ensure quality is continually improved and that older people and their families have recourse when things do go wrong in aged care,” he said.

However Mr Yates said COTA would need to see more detail to be reassured that measures to cut red tape and streamline accreditation are not at the expense of consumer protections.

“Strategies to support increased wages to assist with the retention and expansion of the aged care workforce must be developed as a priority given the Coalition plans to move away from the Workforce Compact.”

Mr Yates said COTA looked forward to working with the Coalition to develop and implement the five-year agreement should they win office this weekend, saying the voice of older Australians must drive the continued improvement of Australia’s  aged care system in the coming years.”

Streamlining disability reform and aged care reform

Meanwhile, unconnected to the Coalition policy  announcement, Alzheimer’s Australia and Vision Australia have called upon the major parties to commit to coordinating the disability and aged care reforms under the oversight of a senior minister.

Speaking at a seminar on Australia’s Welfare 2013 Report yesterday, Alzheimer’s Australia National President and Australian of the Year, Ita Buttrose, warned that people with disabilities and older people would fall between the cracks and be denied access to vital support and services unless there is a commitment to coordinating the two reforms under the oversight of a senior minister.

Comment: At the time of writing, the Coalition’s Policy for Healthy Life Better Ageing is available only on the Liberal party website. There is no reference to the policy or any commentary elsewhere, including on the web pages of either Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells or Bronwyn Bishop MP, opposition spokesperson for seniors.



Tags: coalition-policy, cota-australia, election-2013, healthy-life-better-ageing, policy, senator-concetta-fierravanti-wells,

4 thoughts on “At last, a policy on ageing

  1. I am the Business Development Manager for Denham Constructions – a construction company almost exclusively focussed on constructing Aged Care facilities. Throughout 2013 I have listened to many of the Not for Profit providers explaining that they cannot raise the funds to construct new facilities as their cash flow projections, based on present government schedules, make the projects unviable according to the banks. Lets hope the possible change of government corrects that anomaly so building activities can again start progressing -with bank support.

  2. Not so much a policy as a mechanism for developing one – much as they proposed in the 2010 Election which presumably was when they listened to the provider associations.

    It would not be safe to assume that an aged care agreement will be as generous as the community pharmacy one, that is the least likely outcome. Even more unlikely is that such a pact will include workforce development.

    At least the LLLB reforms have broken the stalemate that characterised aged care policy under the Coalition after the 1997 reforms. If the pact helps to carry these forward it could be useful but the track record doesn’t encourage.

  3. Any reference to the LLLB makes one shudder with horror at the thought of a Government hoodwinking so many stakeholders under the umbrella of NACA as the older Australians requiring care together with the service providers were shortchanged with ‘smoke and mirrors’. It started with so much promise and ended with so much disappointment with opportunities lost.

    If the coalition go back to the PC’s Report & Recommendations on “Caring for Older Australians”, use that for their starting point, plus apply a chain saw to the regulatory redtape and remove the layers of unecessary bureaucracy, the new world may be more promising and offer hope. There are some good ideas, different ideas and the prospect of a new Minister who at least has some passion about the aged.

  4. It is good to hear poiticians talking about reforems in aged care but as someone who holds a managerial role in a high care facility I despair for the future. We are now effectivley a hospice for the very old and sick and a dumping groudn for those int he too hard basket who need long term reisntial care. We currently look after three peopel under 60 wiht mmental health issues who have no where else to go. A great deal of our reisnts have significnat mental halth issues but we are looking after them withou any real access to services. The majoiryt of the workforce are inexperienced AIN’s who do their best but to really care for the se residnets properly we need experienced health professional. The problem is the industry is sold by hospitals and social workers as providing everythign underthe sun but with a reisnet income of less than 200 per day (oftern much less) we cannot achieve this. It is really a testment to the dedicaiotn of the workforce that the whole system continues along without too many dramas. When there is an incident, instead of looking at the circumstances of how that incident happened there is a rush to blame, from politicians in particular. We have seen some ministers recently (justine Elliot) who have been openly antagonistic to the industry.Wake up people! If you want five star accomodation and services they have to be paid for. No one in Australia wants to pay and the baby boomers, children of the curent crop of aged people want everything in spades. Many doctors I talk to will not dream of going into aged care becase they don’t want to deal with relatives who are rude demanding and unrealistic. In summary we need more money, less red tape and more recognition from all parts of society. I for one am not looking forward to getting old.

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