Labor has committed to reviewing the Aged Care Funding Instrument if elected but said it was not in the position to reverse the government’s funding changes – a statement peak bodies have challenged.
At yesterday’s National Aged Care Alliance meeting in Melbourne, Shadow Minister for Ageing, Shayne Neumann, announced Labor’s election commitments around ageing and aged care.
Mr Neumann acknowledged concerns raised by the sector around the recent changes to the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI). He said Labor would commit to reviewing ACFI as part of the upcoming legislated Living Longer Living Better (LLLB) review.
However, he said that Labor would not be able to reverse the combined $1.6 billion savings to the ACFI announced by the government during the recent Federal Budget and the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.
“I will not sugar-coat it: Labor is not in a position to reverse those cuts,” he said.
If elected, Mr Neumann said that Labor would commit to an aged care workforce strategy within the first 100 days of government, in collaboration with the sector.
He said this strategy would address training and qualifications, pay and conditions, career pathways and worker needs, as well as the unique challenges facing rural and remote communities and special needs groups.
Also within the first 100 days, Labor said it would seek to address ongoing problems with the My Aged Care gateway, in consultation with the sector, consumers and health professionals.
With regards to the recently released Aged Care Roadmap, Mr Neumann said the document was an important starting point for discussions and directions to consider within the LLLB review, but that it was not a replacement for the review itself.
“I do note there are some who insist we make a commitment to the roadmap’s progression and to a deadline for its implementation,” he said.
“It would be irresponsible for Labor to commit to what was supposed to be a discussion starter, without the benefit of thorough analysis of the financial implications and what it will take to ensure consumers are equipped and prepared to take control.”
Mr Neumann said Labor also wanted to look more broadly than aged care services in its policy scope, and promised it would develop a national strategy to ensure Australia is an ‘age friendly’ nation.
It promised to instate a dedicated Minister for Ageing and establish an active ageing fund, which it said would refocus existing grants programs, and support initiatives to reduce risk of dementia, prevent falls, improve physical activity and healthy lifestyles.
Labor has not yet released the costs of its proposals.
Adjunct Professor John Kelly, CEO Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) told Australian Ageing Agenda that ACSA was “generally encouraged” by Labor’s announcements.
In particular, he said that the 100 day commitments around both the workforce strategy and My Aged Care were positive and set a level of accountability.
Adjunct Professor Kelly also welcomed the active ageing fund and a dedicated Minister for Ageing. He said ACSA would push further during the election campaign to attempt to ensure that this was made a cabinet position were Labor elected.
However, Adjunct Professor Kelly said ACSA planned to push Labor to do more with regards to ACFI. He said promising a review did not go far enough and challenged Labor’s statement that it could not reverse the ACFI changes.
“We don’t believe that’s the case at all,” he said. “We’ll be pressing the Opposition to go further and say that they’ll freeze any changes to the current ACFI processes until there’s a review carried out with the sector.”
Leading Aged Services Australia (LASA) said it welcomed Labor’s commitment to review ACFI modeling.
“The ACFI review announced by Mr Neumann is an important first step in finding a solution for the funding shortfalls between government modelling, and the true cost of providing complex care services our seniors need and deserve,” said spokesperson Beth Cameron.
However, LASA said it did not “lessen the blow” of the funding changes to ACFI announced in the budget.
“We call on Labor to reconsider reversing the cuts imposed by the Coalition Government so that our seniors receive the care they need and deserve,” Ms Cameron said.
National Seniors Australia said it “cautiously welcomed” Labor’s announcements, and said a narrow focus on aged care at the government level had done older Australians a disservice.
“Ageing is about so much more than age care – it covers all aspects of society – from employment to health, education, retirement income and liveable cities,” said chief executive Michael O’Neill.
Mr O’Neill said Labor’s aged care announcements were “a start”, and the workforce strategy particularly important.
“Staffing remains the key issue for consumers and their families in residential age care – it is so central to the quality of care people receive,” he said.
“It is not unreasonable for ‘the consumers of age care services’ to expect clearer direction from the alternative government than ‘we will undertake a review’.”
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