According to a leaked draft Coalition policy document, shadow minister for mental health and ageing, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, pictured, is not expected to retain the portfolio in a Coaltion government.
By Keryn Curtis
It is still a waiting game for the aged care sector in the final three days of campaigning before the September 7 federal election and as yet, no promised announcement from the opposition about its aged care policy.
The office of shadow minister for ageing, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells confirmed to Australian Ageing Agenda two weeks ago that a separate policy for aged care would be unveiled in the final week of the campaign but as yet, the only sign is a story in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) over the weekend involving a leaked draft policy document.
Alongside the expected promises around reducing regulation and red tape and committing to the promised four year aged care provider agreement announced in 2010, was the news, in the final paragraph, that Senator Fierravanti-Wells will in fact not retain the aged care portfolio.
“In a Coalition government, Senator Fierravanti-Wells would lose her current portfolio, with Michaelia Cash, a senator from Western Australia, taking aged care and Victorian MP Josh Frydenberg taking mental health, according to sources,” the article by Joanna Heath said.
The splitting off of the two main elements of the ‘mental health and ageing’ portfolio into separate portfolios may be good news for both groups of stakeholders seeking a clear focus on their own respective agendas but would not augur well for either portfolio having a seat at the cabinet table under a Coalition government.
Also not mentioned is that in recent years the Coalition has retained a portfolio for ‘seniors’, separate to the aged care portfolio, with Bronwyn Bishop enthusiastically holding those reins.
According to Joanna Heath’s article, the draft policy contains, “20 measures to reduce red tape”, which include “reducing complexity of approval rounds for new facilities, eliminating different state and federal ways of assessing new residents and merging them into one, extending accreditation periods for long-time providers with a good record, and eliminating duplication in federal, state and local government reporting requirements.”
Quoting from the leaked draft policy, Ms Heath says the four year aged care provider agreement is described as “the most comprehensive of its kind – akin in scale to the Pharmacy Agreement with the Pharmacy Guild or the memorandum of understanding the government has with Medicines Australia”.
The draft policy also discusses changing or even completely rewriting the Aged Care Act.
Interestingly, the AFR reports seeing separate information on policy costings which show a substantial downsizing of the budget originally allocated to the Coalition’s aged care policy from the 2010 election campaign – “from $935 million to less than $200 million for this campaign”.
Read Joanna Heath’s full article in Saturday’s AFR for further details.
In a statement responding to the AFR article, the ALP has described the leaked draft policy as “a disturbing plan to wind back standards and compliance measures that protect older Australians from abuse and neglect in aged care facilities.”
It said that when quizzed on the issue at a press conference on Saturday, Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, “derided the system that monitors the compliance of aged care providers, suggesting compliance monitoring was not even worthwhile.”
The statement said it flags “the Coalition’s intention to water down the requirement for providers to demonstrate compliance with the Aged Care Act” and called on Mr Abbott to say specifically what regulations he would dispense with.
Greens out of the blocks
Meanwhile, yesterday to little fanfare, The Greens released their policy for the ageing portfolio, with a number of features including plans to tackle ageism, affordable housing and structural changes to Newstart benefits for older workers.
“Our Older Jobseekers policy directs job services funding towards specific measures to address the barriers currently preventing older workers from re-entering the workforce,” the announcement said. “Under the plan, older jobseekers will receive more immediate and intensive support from JSAs and access to re-training programs. There will also be specialist services for people with a partial disability or low educational achievements, and more flexibility for carers.
“Older jobseekers on Newstart are being forced to dig into their savings or superannuation in order to make ends meet, as a result of this payment’s inadequacy. The Greens have a costed policy on the table to increase Newstart by $50 per week, a move that has been widely called for by community and business groups alike.”
Advocacy group for older people, COTA Australia, commended the Greens for focusing on the specific needs of older Australians, while saying, “time is running out for Labor and the Coalition to tell voters what new policies and measures they will introduce to improve the lives of older Australians.”
Chief Executive of COTA Australia, Ian Yates, said his organisation welcomed the Greens’ measures which seek to improve the living standards, rights, employment, aged care and housing for older people and said the policy put the two major parties on notice “to tell us how they will support seniors if they are elected this weekend”.
“Many of the measures contained in the Greens policy stack up to what COTA has called for in our election platform ‘A New Deal for Older Australians’ – which are necessary to support and plan for the growing population of people over 50,” said Mr Yates.
“In stark contrast the two major parties have so far all but ignored most of these critical issues, despite older people making up almost half the voting public.”
Mr Yates said COTA Australia will be releasing an election scorecard to inform Australia’s seniors on policies which may effect them this election.
“With only three days left to go to the polling booths it currently looks the COTA election scorecard will be disappointingly filled with question marks from the major parties.
“Last election both major parties released reasonably extensive policies with detailed plans for seniors which ensured older Australia’s had a clear idea on where they stood on age discrimination, the pension and the provision of health and aged care.
“It is difficult to understand why three years later seniors have so far been largely ignored.
“We can only hope there are still plans for Labor and the Coalition to follow suit and release their plans in the next two days,” Mr Yates said.