By Dale Fisher
Above: ACAA Chief Executive, Rod Young presents at the ACAA-WA seminar
At ACAA-WA’s financial seminar last year, AAA reported despair among local aged care providers over the lack of government response to the state’s deepening aged care crisis. By contrast, the mood this year was cautiously optimistic.
As it turns out, Tuesday’s seminar was serendipitously-timed, with government and industry representatives booked to fly into Perth on the back of Monday’s release of the Productivity Commission’s final report of its inquiry into Caring for Older Australians.
Aged Care Association Australia’s (ACAA) CEO, Rod Young, addressed the report in detail, with a strong emphasis on the intent of many of the report’s recommendations. Mr Young also highlighted some of the possible pressure-points for the industry, such as the deregulation of licences, the need for a comprehensive approach to service types and delivery and the potential for a long-term move away from bonds to daily charges.
But, while recognising some of the risk and uncertainty ahead for providers, Young painted a more exciting future for aged care: one driven by market forces and a consumer-directed approach.
With providers eager for more detail, to voice concerns and provide feedback, question time with Mr Young was extended, and the next speaker, the Shadow Minister for Ageing, Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells came late to the podium.
It is safe to say that aged care providers are very familiar with, and quick to pick up on, political speakers who are going to offer little to the debate. Their speeches are invariably peppered with well-worn statistics and industry facts, take predictable pot-shots at their political opponents, and don’t address the issue at hand.
Above: Senator Concetta Ferravanti-Wells presents to the ACAA-WA seminar
It was a case of “Connie, what were you thinking?”
In an approach which seemed to demonstrate, at the least, a lack of understanding of the direction the industry wants to take, Fierravanti-Wells stated that, should the Coalition come to power, it would stick with its current platform and its focus on agreements between the Government and providers. She added that her party would not necessarily go along with the Productivity Commission’s recommendations, and would favour “starting with a blank page.”
At this point, ACAA-WA’s president, Geoff Taylor, voiced what everyone else in the room was thinking.
“The Productivity Commission’s report is the greatest thing to have happened in the history of aged care,” he said. “The industry has worked very hard for this report, and should it be adopted, we urge you to give it your bi-partisan support.”
Well-known WA provider, Pauline Isles, also made her opinion clear.
“Geoff Taylor is right. I hope that the coalition will back the report. You need to update your policy. Please don’t interfere with this process,” she said.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells appeared slightly taken aback by the response, and after some conciliatory remarks, left in a hurry to catch her plane back to Canberra – hopefully, to reconsider the idea of agreements and that “blank page”.
Having just flown in from Arnhem Land, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert was next to take the podium. While Siewert said she had only had a brief opportunity to look through the report, she declared that her initial impression was positive. The Senator said that she supports aged care reform and a user pays system, as she understands that the current system is unsustainable for both the industry and the government.
Siewert said her main concern with the report was that workforce is “a bit light on.” She was taking those thoughts back to her colleagues. But, she shared a word of warning with her audience about the political reality for the reform process. “The future of the PC report rests with the concept of the family home,” she said, adding that the industry needs to “sell the message to broader Australia” that the future of aged care depends upon it.
Dale Fisher is a Perth-based freelance journalist who works closely with Australian Ageing Agenda (AAA). Dale attended the ACAA-WA seminar on AAA’s behalf.