The Shadow Minister for Ageing has taken a swipe at the Rudd Government, accusing it of inaction in the area of aged care policy.
Speaking at the Aged Care Association Australia (ACAA) National Congress, Margaret May took aim at the absent Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, who was attending the inaugural meeting of the Australian Council of Local Government.
“I believe the Minister for Ageing, Mrs Elliot, by her words and her actions, is not supporting the industry,” Mrs May said.
“I truly believe I am being objective when I say the minister is talking the industry down at every opportunity which is causing considerable damage.”
The opposition spokesperson described Mrs Elliot’s office as a “policy vacuum” at a time when reform is “not negotiable”.
“As things stand I foreshadow an unravelling of the system and a snowballing shutdown of new and replacing buildings in the near future,” Mrs May said.
Noting that the industry is finding construction costs unmanageable, Mrs May called for bold reform, although she steered clear of contentious political issues like bonds in high care.
Instead, the Shadow Minister said she had the backing of Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull to develop alternative policy directions and committed to working in partnership with the industry.
“I need to work with you,” she told delegates. “I need input from every single one of you.”
Turning to industry concerns, Mrs May acknowledged the difficulties aged care providers are facing in attracting and retaining new staff.
“The shortage of staff in aged care has reached a crisis point,” she said. “And there needs to be a concerted and sustained effort to act and ensure that aged care nurses receive the appropriate level of remuneration, training and support. And the same applies to carers.”
She did however suggest that the worsening economic conditions and the ensuing rising unemployment rates could have a “silver lining” for the sector.
But human resources expert Avril Henry told congress delegates that the skills shortage is here to stay and they would have to work intelligently to attract younger workers.
“All that is going to happen with this economic downturn is that the gap between demand and supply for workers may narrow,” said Ms Henry. “But we will still have a skills shortage.”
She added that providers would need to do more to ‘sell’ themselves in a positive light.
“What is there to sell in aged care? Well, you make a difference to the community; you care for people who can’t care for themselves; and you provide variety for your employees,” she said.
Inspiring and effective leadership were also crucial for attracting younger workers, she said.
“You need to demonstrate trust, credibility and respect for the individual.”