Photo: Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler

By Yasmin Noone

More than 1,000 invited aged care professionals have descended on Adelaide for a two-day national conference focusing on reform, put on by the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA).

Officially opened yesterday by the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler in his home town and federal electorate, day one of the Adelaide DoHA National Aged Care Conference sought to emphasize one key consistent theme: aged care reform is not just the task of government.

The Minister; a few National Aged Care Alliance spokespeople who particiapted in a panel discussion about workforce issues and reform; the Ambassador for Ageing and Australian actor, Noeline Brown; and other speakers on the day reiterated that sector-wide change is something that aged care providers, consumers, health professionals and care staff must work together on, in partnership, with Australian governments (see Twitter comments on the day).

Minister Butler reminded the audience – and those watching the conference presentations streamed live online – about the already released details of the Living Longer Living Better aged care reform package, discussed its implementation milestones and announced a few more significant government initiatives.

“This is a very complex, multi-layered policy and it has many implementation challenges,” the minister said.

“But I’m confident that it has strong community support; not because of the work we did in writing it, but because of the clarity with which older Australians, their families and the sector more broadly told us what they thought the detail of this reform plan should be.

“The only public research I’ve seen about the policy indicates strong support. Research done by EMC indicated that only seven per cent of people polled disapprove of this policy while 61 per cent approve.

“More importantly, from my perspective, the target groups have even stronger levels of approval. People asked between the ages of 55 and 64 indicated their approval at 78 per cent. People over 65 indicated their approval at 71 per cent.

“This is a package whose time has come. People who’ve been working in the sector for years have been wanting meaningful reform of aged care since at least the 1990s.

“But, this is not the final word on the matter. In five years’ time there will need to be a very significant review to consider whether we are able to take even further steps to consider the entitlement model that the Productivity Commission and I know many of you want to see become the centrepiece of the aged care system in due course.

“But for the moment there is a lot of work to do, just to get this implementation detail right.”

During his speech, the Minister stated that he and the Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, will propose that dementia be added to the list of pre-existing eight National Health Priorities, at this Friday’s meeting of state, territory and Commonwealth health ministers.

He also stated that the Aged Care Financing Authority draft operating guidelines were to be released that day and finalised after consultation with the sector by 31 October this year.

Prof Peter Shergold addresses the sector

The conference also featured the first ever presentation from the newly appointed chair of the Aged Care Reform Implementation Council and current chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, Professor Peter Shergold.

Passionate about his role as a “public servant”, Prof Shergold said it is now his job to ensure the government delivers on its reform promises, so that the reform that gets designed and negotiated actually gets implemented.

He also stated that the existance of the new independent council is evidence that the current government means business on reform.

Prof Shergold said the minister “understands” that reform must be implemented with vigor and without bias. “The proof lies in the creation of the implementation council,” Prof Shergold said.

However, he explained, the true value of public policy and reform lies not in the fact that the government intends to deliver social and economic benefits. Reform must instead be judged according how it is implemented on the ground.

Older people looking for an improved aged care service want to see results, he said, not just hear about them.

“Show me [the outcome]…Don’t talk. Act. Don’t promise. Deliver.”

The conference sought to bring together the aged care sector to share ideas in the context of the Living Longer Living Better aged care reform package. Delegates had to first register their interest and then wait to be officially invited to attend by DoHA.

Get a feel for the day via Twitter

Check out how day one of the conference progressed by reading an ongoing commentary on the AustAgeAgenda Twitter feed.

Note: You do not have to be signed up to Twitter to read the AAA tweets.

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