Leading Age Services Australia has intensified its push for a merger with mission-based aged care peak body Aged and Community Services Australia, telling a state conference that the lack of a unified, single provider peak was “harming” industry advocacy.
Speaking at the LASA Queensland conference on Wednesday, LASA chairman Dr Graeme Blackman said a single peak would bolster the influence of service providers and hinder government ‘divide and rule’ tactics.
“The resolve to form an influential single national voice would significantly impact government’s ability to sideline the interests of older Australians and play political games that favour a particular interest group,” he told the Gold Coast audience.
“The lack of an influential, unified voice in aged services continues to harm us in producing stronger advocacy to government and stakeholders.”
Dr Blackman said the failed merger attempt in 2012 was unfortunate but lessons had been learned.
“In the lead up to the development of LASA, I understand that nearly three-quarters of our industry’s biggest and brightest made it clear there should be only one peak body covering all service providers,” he said.
“It is universally understood that if we are divided we will be conquered and this industry must come together with an influential voice in order to demonstrate to decision-makers that we will not be forgotten and that older Australians must be cared for in a way that fits our national ideas.”
Mr Blackman’s comments, which repeat similar views made in his speech at the LASA national congress in October, have reopened the long-standing debate on peak body amalgamation.
ACSA CEO John Kelly said no meetings had been arranged with LASA on this issue but ACSA was open to a discussion on the topic.
“We would certainly be happy to enter any discussions with LASA and hear what they have to say,” he told AAA.
“The comments Mr Blackman have made, both last October and at the Queensland conference, are consistent and that is a view that he might want to take up and discuss with us further. But certainly we are on the record as to what was decided in 2012.”
Mixed views among CEOs
Two prominent ACSA members have told AAA they are opposed to a merger.
Baptistcare CEO Dr Lucy Morris said the sector would be disadvantaged by a single peak body and that diversity and inclusion was far more powerful than “homogenised, single monopolies.”
“It seems to me this constant hankering for a single voice undervalues the many and is seeking to create a monopolistic voice,” she writes on AAA today.
Dr Morris also said she feared that smaller, less visible organisations would be drowned out by a single voice.
Chief executive of HammondCare Dr Stephen Judd said the idea that aged care providers need a unified voice was a “furphy”.
He also said in an increasingly competitive environment with strong growth in the number of companies seeking to invest in aged care for a financial return, the distinction between for-profit and not-for profit providers was going to become even more stark.
“If you reverse engineer some of the recently published data you arrive at some amazing net profit margins from providers who are not at the ‘top end’. Now, I am probably missing something but the only way I reckon you can arrive at such net margins is to have skinny staffing and minimal support services. Are we being expected to sign up to that “profit before people” image of aged care? Count me out,” Dr Judd said.
“For me, it is essential that the distinctiveness of the church, community and charitable service providers in the aged care space be highlighted and properly articulated, not subsumed by the issues that concern the sector as a whole.”
However, Sandra Hills, CEO of Benetas, a LASA member, said she supported the comments made by the LASA chair for unified peak body representation and it was “prudent” for the sector to have this discussion.
“A unified peak body would provide greater opportunity to achieve like goals,” Ms Hills said.
“Whilst there had been strong results delivered under both LASA and ACSA, a united body would provide a broader base for consultation, knowledge transfer and workforce development across the sector.”
LASA announces national restructure
Dr Blackman also announced on Wednesday that like ACSA, LASA was similarly seeking to move from a federation to a national organisational structure, which would act as a stepping-stone to creating a single peak.
A steering committee chaired by LASA Queensland president Marcus Riley had been set up to drive the organisational restructure and a consultant’s report was due by 30 June.
“LASA has never resiled from our position that there should be one organisation representing providers, and as both LASA and ACSA move towards restructuring themselves into truly national organisations, we firmly believe that this process will facilitate the ultimate aim of 2012 to create a merger with ACSA and create a single voice across all the sectors of our industry.”
Dr Blackman said there was more that drove service providers together than kept them apart and he hoped providers would rally behind a single organisation.
“There is far more that we have in common than the differences that some might wish to play upon.”