The Opposition argues aged care should be exempt from the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit, but some see it as an opportunity that could lead to the full implementation of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations.
Shadow Minister for Ageing Shayne Neumann has called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to “quarantine aged care” from the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit.
Speaking at a dementia network meeting for service providers yesterday, Mr Neumann criticised the government’s plans to reduce aged care regulation and its suspension of the Workforce Compact. However, he said his biggest concern remained the commission, which according to its terms of reference will review the activities of the Federal Government to “eliminate wasteful spending” and “identify areas of unnecessary duplication” between levels of government.
“I would call on Tony Abbott to quarantine aged care and encourage you to do so as well,” Mr Neumann told providers.
One aged care provider who agrees with him is Trish Noakes, the chief executive of community care operator Just Better Care.
In a statement issued at the end of last month, Ms Noakes called for aged care services and funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme to be exempt from the Commission of Audit.
“The reality is that both these areas are underfunded and to cope with future demand will require more funds – not less,” she said.
“We have an ageing population with estimates that over the next 40 years the number of people aged 85-plus will more than quadruple. This puts more pressure on an already underfunded sector with a need for more workers and an expected fall in the number of informal carers.”
Ms Noakes said it made sense to protect funding for both aged care and disability services, which would both require increased funding to cope with demand over the next few years.
Adjunct Professor John Kelly, CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia, said while he agreed with Mr Neumann in so far as he would be arguing for a quarantine of expenditure in the sector, he would go one step further and suggest a number of “red tape areas” the commission could examine in order to save money.
“We’re still forming our view, but I think we’ll be saying to quarantine the sector from any cuts, however, we’ll try and be as constructive as possible and also point out areas to look at, which may lead to savings and would also reduce the regulatory burden.”
Martin Laverty, CEO of Catholic Health Australia, said he had a “glass half full” approach to aged care being included in the commission’s remit. He viewed it as an opportunity for the recommendations from the Productivity Commission’s 2011 report to be revived.
“The last government did a good job in starting the implementation of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations but they didn’t agree to implement the report in its entirety,” he said.
“One of the areas the last government dropped the ball on was the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to remove the false ration of aged care places to move to a free market where there is competition and choice for consumers.”
Mr Laverty noted that the Commission of Audit’s brief was to look at the future sustainability of the Commonwealth budget. Implementing the Productivity Commission’s recommendations in full would set up savings to the Commonwealth budget in the years ahead, by having those consumers who can afford to contribute to the cost of their care and accommodation better able to do so, he said.
“If the Commission of Audit wants to look for long-term savings it needs to revisit the Productivity Commission’s recommendations.”
Where the commission needed to be sensitive was to ensure that those who don’t have capacity to contribute to their care were not disadvantaged, he added. “The job of government should be to provide a safety net for those who don’t have resources.”
Argue for improvements
Similarly, Ian Yates, chief executive of the Council on the Ageing (COTA), which has been invited to make a submission to the commission, said he would be arguing for the system to change “so that it moves to being based on assessed need and not some kind of red taped ration.”
Mr Yates said he didn’t agree that aged care should be quarantined from the commission’s audit, “because we want to actually argue for improvements in it. We will certainly be alert to any suggestions that aged care funding is adequate, because we believe it is not.”
COTA would also make the argument to the commission that the Federal Government should be making its policy decisions based on evidence. “And in aged care it is not. It is based on historic creep and precedent mostly… The real question of what’s the real appropriate level of subsidy has never been properly tested as the National Aged Care Alliance has been arguing for several years.”
Ultimately, Mr Yates said stakeholders should approach the commission with a view to “argue for things that government doesn’t do properly now even if that might end up costing more, because it is about appropriateness as well as cost.”
The Commission of Audit is due to report its first phase by the end of January 2014 and its second phase no later than the end of March 2014.
The government has appointed Tony Shepherd, president of the Business Council of Australia, to chair the commission. The other commissioners are: Dr Peter Boxall, chair of the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal; Mr Tony Cole, former Treasury Secretary; Mr Robert Fisher, former Director-General of numerous Western Australian Government Departments; and Ms Amanda Vanstone, former minister in the Howard government.