Christmas comes early for aged care

Seasonal goodwill was in joyful abundance yesterday following Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s welcome tidings of the birth of a new cabinet minister!

Above:  Mark Butler, Minister for Mental Health, Ageing and Social Inclusion gets a cabinet seat. Photo: IdPhoto.com.au

By Keryn Curtis

News yesterday of the promotion of Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler to Cabinet, together with the expansion of the portfolio to include social inclusion, has been met with universal approval by the aged care industry and stakeholders right across the ageing agenda.

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) was delighted with it; Aged Care Association of Australia (ACAA) warmly welcomed it; COTA and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) applauded it; UnitingCare Ageing was encouraged by it; National Seniors and HammondCare welcomed it. And so the tributes flowed.

The response to the news was heightened by a sense of relief among many in the sector who had worried that a reshuffle might see Mark Butler promoted out of the ageing portfolio, right at the crucial time for aged care reform.  To see Minister Butler not only retain the portfolio, but to gain the complementary portfolio of social inclusion, as well as a promotion to the Prime Minister’s cabinet, seemed like extraordinary good fortune.

The promotion has been widely interpreted as evidence that the aged care reform process will in fact be dealt with in this term of government and has bolstered expectations that the first steps toward reform will be reflected in the 2012/2013 budget.

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA)’s federal president, Rob Hankins, said it was a move that Australia’s ageing population deserves.

“…and we are confident that Minister Butler’s promotion will consolidate even further his demonstrated commitment to the aged care sector which we look forward to being reflected in the 2012/13 Budget,” Mr Hankins said.

ACAA CEO, Rod Young, said ACAA was pleased that the Prime Minister, through this reshuffle has recognised the importance of ageing and aged care to central government policy settings in the future.

Aged and Community Care Victoria’s CEO, Gerard Mansour said the promotion left no doubt that the Government clearly recognises the importance of ageing and the need for aged care reform.

COTA CEO, Ian Yates, said the promotion boded well for aged care reform in the 2012 budget. 

“It means the Minister will be able to argue ageing issues at a broader level. […]it has been a long time coming and it does indicate that the government is recognising the importance of ageing in the big picture for Australia. It’s becoming increasingly critical that they implement the PC report recommendations in 2012.”

These sentiments were also expressed by National Seniors boss, Michael O’Neill, who said the government has recognised the extent to which ageing will affect the nation as whole.

“The aged care system is embarking on reform. What Australians need to ensure that this reform leads to something better and fairer, is strength and consistency from the top down,” Mr O’Neil said. 

UnitingCare Ageing’s Director, Steve Teulan welcomed the addition of social inclusion to the responsibilities of the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing. 

“UnitingCare Ageing’s role as a service provider to older Australians is deeply guided by the social justice charter of UnitingCare and we are acutely aware of the issues of social isolation facing older Australians, especially within marginalised and financially disadvantaged communities.”

HammondCare’s CEO, Dr Stephen Judd, said that Mr Butler’s retention of the ageing portfolio would allow the work of aged care reform to continue seamlessly while his promotion to Cabinet indicated the high priority the Government placed on this area.

“We look forward to continuing to work with Mr Butler in moving forward with recommendations from this year’s Productivity Commission report on aged care reform which we believe needs to be a priority for the 2012 budget,” Dr Judd said.

Big news day

As if Minister Butler’s elevation to Cabinet and the addition of social inclusion to his portfolio wasn’t enough good tidings for a Monday, yesterday also saw the release of the final report of the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians‘: “Realising the economic potential of senior Australians – turning grey into gold”.

The report – which includes the recommendation to promote the ageing portfolio to a cabinet position – was presented to the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, at a conference on the ageing workforce in Melbourne yesterday morning. [See Steve Easton’s article on this]

Other glad tidings from the Prime Minister’s speech about the reshuffle were picked up by particular stakeholders. With HammondCare’s significant stakeholding in rehabilitation health services, CEO, Dr Stephen Judd also welcomed the Prime Minister’s statement that implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme would be an important focus in the coming year.

Increased emphasis on housing issues was also welcomed by both industry and consumer groups.

“The re-creation of a minister for housing is also welcomed as we have argued for the past five years that the issue of affordable and appropriate housing for older Australians is a crisis in waiting,” said Ian Yates.

ACSA federal president, Rob Hankins said appropriate housing was an essential element in keeping people in the community longer.  

National Seniors’ CEO, Michael O’Neill put in his wish list for next year, calling for the establishment of a Minister for Seniors.

“Eventually, National Seniors would like to see the establishment of a broader Minister for Seniors position in Cabinet that properly reflects the cross-portfolio implications of population ageing – from employment to lifelong learning and health,” he said.

But for now, most stakeholders can head into the Christmas break feeling optimistic about the new year but realistic of the road that remains to be travelled.

“We stand on the cusp of making Australia the most age friendly country in the world,” said Ian Yates, “…but failure to act in 2012 will have dire consequences for both older Australians and the public purse.

“COTA calls on the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to make the 2012 Federal Budget the ageing and aged care budget.”

Tags: cabinet-reshuffle, ian-yates, mark-butler, michael-oneill, minister-butler, minister-for-mental-health-and-ageing, minister-for-social-inclusion,

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