Best of the presser: Minister Butler questioned

Minister for Mental Health, Ageing and Social Inclusion, Mark Butler, was grilled by journalists in Adelaide on the weekend about aged care reform, but gave almost nothing away about the government’s budget plans.

Above: Mark Butler, the Minister for Mental Health, Ageing and Social Inclusion, who faced persistent questioning from the media over the weekend but gave away little detail on the government’s plans.

Minister for Mental Health, Ageing and Social Inclusion, Mark Butler, answered questions from a media pack at a doorstop press conference in Adelaide over the weekend, as two major reports were released by Alzheimer’s Australia and COTA Australia following Mr Butler’s public ‘Conversations on Ageing’.

The following is AAA’s selection of some interesting questions and Mr Butler’s full responses, according to transcripts provided by the Minister’s office.

On the report produced by COTA Australia:

QUESTION: When are we going to see changes in [aged care]? When are you going to announce some of those changes in the Productivity Commission report

MARK BUTLER: Well, the Prime Minister, as I said, has committed to starting the process of reform in this term of government. Beyond that, we haven’t set a particular date but as you can tell from the release of this report and the timing of the conversations, this is something we’re taking very seriously. We’re developing our response and releasing it as soon as we possibly can. 

QUESTION: Are we going to actually see anything [for aged care reform] in the upcoming budget? 

MB: Well we never speculate on what might or might not happen in the budget. The budget is little [over] a month away and those details will become clear enough, soon enough. We are committed to doing this piece of work in aged care and we’ve committed to starting it in this term of government. 

This report is a very valuable and welcome addition to that debate. 

QUESTION: What are the reforms going to cost? 

MB: Well that again is something that remains to be seen. The demand for aged care in the next few decades is going to increase dramatically because of the wonderful achievement we’ve made in adding 25 years to life expectancy here in Australia. 

We know that aged care services and demand for those services is going to increase and that’s going to impose a continuing cost on the community and on the Commonwealth Budget. 

QUESTION: What about more money into nursing homes because there’s also a shortage of those as well? 

BUTLER: Well a significant problem highlighted by the Productivity Commission was the lack of investment now, across the country, in new nursing homes, particularly in some of the mining states where construction costs are particularly high, like WA or Queensland. The Commission gave us some recommendations about that and again, that’s something we’re looking at very closely. 

QUESTION: Are you acknowledging that [aged care] has been neglected? 

MB: I’m acknowledging that the system which was created in the mid 1980s and remains with us now is not going to suit the needs of older Australians into the future. 

We’ve been trialing, for example, much more consumer direction over home care packages which has been evaluated very well. They’ve been trialed over the last couple of years and already the evidence is showing that older Australians respond more favourably to having choice and control over their care arrangements than the system has traditionally provided them over the last 25 years. There’s no doubt about that. 

On the report produced by Alzheimer’s Australia:

QUESTION: [The Alzheimer’s Australia report] makes a lot of disturbing findings – what do you plan to do with them? 

MB: Well the findings of this report paint a very vivid picture of our health system – of families not able to get a timely diagnosis of their condition. We’re told that families wait more than three years on average between the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms and getting a proper diagnosis of the condition. These are lost years in terms of a family’s capacity to get the support that they need and to put their arrangements in order. 

So, we need to get better diagnosis in the community, among general practitioners. 

We know that the experience of hospital systems is often not good enough for people with dementia and we know that the aged care system is simply not meeting the needs of those hundreds of thousands of families. 

QUESTION: [Alzheimer’s Australia] say they need half a billion dollars to fix the system, have you got that money? Can you commit to that? 

MB: Well there are a range of submissions in the aged care area by organisations such as Alzheimer’s Australia for extra funding. What has been made to clear to me by those organisations [is] that it’s not just a case of additional money. Additional money is always welcome in an area like aged care but it’s not just a case of money. 

The system needs reform. Our system was put in place in the mid 1980s and it’s simply not meeting the needs or the changing preferences of older Australians and their families. 

So, it’s much more than a question of additional money. It’s a question of very complex system reform. 

QUESTION: Would you be hesitant to ask for more money [for your specific ministerial portfolios] given the promises of a surplus? 

MB: Look, the government is committed and determined to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13 and that is an important economic objective. 

But, we’re also committed to aged care reform in this term of government and we’ll make sure we’re able to deliver both commitments. 

QUESTION: How long is it going to take to reform this area? 

MB: Well the Productivity Commission told us when they delivered their report last year that reform should be rolled out over 5 years. At the time, a number of aged care providers and indeed Alzheimer’s Australia said that 10 years was more likely to be the time taken to properly reform this system. 

So, we know this is not quick, it’s not easy, but it’s something we’re determined to start during this term of government, so that the needs of older Australians and their families can be better met than they are today.

Tags: alzheimers-australia, budget-2012, caring-for-older-australians, consumers, cota-australia, dementia, reform,

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