Government released the long-awaited exposure draft of the new Aged Care Act on Thursday and has offered the document up for public consultation.
“The new Aged Care Act is core to putting the rights of older people at the centre of aged care,” said Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells in a statement.
At the crux of the 347-page draft Aged Care Bill 2023 – which was developed following extensive public consultation on the foundations of the Act earlier in the year – there exists a rights-based legal framework that strongly focuses on the needs of senior Australians.
Among the key features of the new Act:
- a statement of rights for older people
- a single entry-point to the aged care system
- rules on supported decision-making
- strengthened Aged Care Quality Standards
- a strengthened regulatory body
- protections for whistleblowers
- the introduction of criminal penalties for rogue providers.
In response to the release of the exposure draft, Tom Symondson – chief executive officer of the Aged & Community Care Providers Association – said the revised Act was a recommendation of the aged care royal commission and welcomed by ACCPA members. “It will be a vital piece of the [reform] puzzle moving forward,” he said.
Critical to the success of the new Act – which, subject to finalisation and passage through parliament, takes effect from 1 July 2024 – “will be ensuring the timeframes are achievable,” said Mr Symondson, “including transition periods for various reforms, so that the sector can implement the changes as intended.”
As well as containing the new legislation, the Act’s framework also features a set of supporting rules.
Among the rules, people must undergo an aged care needs assessment to determine which government-funded aged care services they require – if there is a high demand for services, there will be a process to decide which claimants get priority.
Claimants will also be means-tested to determine how much they will be required to contribute towards the service costs.
The new Act will contain a new list of aged care services the government funds – including services already being delivered. The list will be updated for the new Support at Home program, “expected to start in 2025.”
The new Act will also put a focus on the expectation of service operators to provide “high-quality care … that puts older people first and upholds their rights.”
Among the priorities underpinning the concept of high-quality care:
- kindness, and respect for mental health and wellbeing
- delivering services in a timely and responsive way
- delivering care that meets personal needs, including a person’s goals and preferences
- respecting a person’s choice for privacy and time alone
- making sure activities are meaningful and respectful
- to make sure care is culturally safe and accessible
- engaging a diverse workforce
- involving those who have personal experience of diversity in decision-making.
Peak advocacy organisations Council of the Ageing Australia and the Older Persons Advocacy Network welcomed the release of the exposure draft in a joint statement.
It shows “the concerns raised have been heard and are reflected,” said OPAN CEO Craig Gear.
Both the general public and sector stakeholders are invited to provide feedback on the draft legislation. “We want Australians to tell us what they think of the draft law,” said Ms Wells. “Does it clearly define the rights of older people? Will it empower older people to make decisions about their own care? We want to know if aged care providers understand their responsibilities in the draft law.”
Mr Symondson called the consultation process “a once-in-a-generation chance” to nail the new legislation, “so we have to make the most of the consultation process with the government.”
He added: “Our members deliver care to older people in every corner of this nation, across the breadth and diversity of aged care services. We will be tapping into their insights to inform legislative design that meets the desired outcomes as intended, supporting a sector that can meet aged care demand now and into the future.”
Mr Gear also urged Australians to participate. “It’s vital that older people, their families and other representatives have an independent voice.”
Ms Sparrow said meaningful reform “can only be achieved by listening intently and acting on lived experiences of the aged care system. This means we need to go beyond rhetoric and make sure this reform translates into concrete action, and that rights are brought to life.”
To help people understand the proposed changes, COTA and OPAN are hosting a webinar Q&A on 9 January 2024, 1:00pm-2:30pm AEDT.
To access the draft Aged Care Bill 2023, accompanying resources and more details on the consultation process, click here. A 102-page consultation paper and a 36-page plain English version are also available to guide the process.
The consultation closes on Friday 16 February 2024.