The sector’s dream of structural reform could be fading against the winds of change, given that none of the three major aged care political spokespeople were able to commit to adopting the recommendations of the upcoming Productivity Commission if elected, at the great aged care debate in Melbourne yesterday.
ABC broadcaster, Peter Mares, who moderated the debate posed a very direct yes or no question about the upcoming inquiry to the three ageing representatives- federal minister for ageing, Justine Elliot; shadow ageing minister, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells; and Greens health and ageing spokesperson, Senator Rachel Siewert.
Despite the level of directness however, Minister Elliot answered the question by restating her government’s ‘”track record” to deliver on sector reforms and increased funding. She also reminded the audience of Labor’s commitment to “building a national aged care system”.
The historic COAG reforms, she said, provided the initial foundation for change which the labour party will then build upon “…to make sure we have a system that is in place that provides care for future older Australians”.
“I can’t pre-empt what the Productivity Commission will exactly present to the government …but we will look at it very seriously and act upon it very quickly. But we can’t guess [the outcome],” said Minister Elliot.
The minister said that aged care reform would be made a priority in the Labor government’s second term of office, if re-elected: “We’ve made that extremely clear because we recognise the many challenges ahead.”
Senator Fierravanti-Wells offered the most hope for realistic reform, reiterating the notion of an “aged care agreement”, to be signed in partnership with the sector, which the Coalition would implement within its first year of office, if elected.
“We’ve actually set out the framework in our policy in relation to how the Productivity Commission outcomes will be incorporated as part of the process where we will work with the industry, in partnership, to look at those Productivity Commission recommendations,” said Senator Fierravanti-Wells.
“The [outcome] will then feed into the process of the working group and ultimately, into the agreement.
“The Productivity Commission will come out in April and we have indicated that we will respond [with an aged care agreement] in a year.”
Although the Greens backed most of the points on the sector’s long and short-term reform wish list, Senator Siewart stated that the party was not likely to win federal office this election. Regardless, she said that the Greens would act responsibly with whatever power it reaps, to put aged care on the agenda “front and centre”.
Senator Siewart however threw a curveball into the realm of the debate when it came to the question of adopting the Productivity Commission’s future recommendations. She provided a ‘sitting on the fence’ maybe as her answer, which she said may well turn into a yes if inquiry’s recommendations proved to fall into line with the Greens’ aged care vision.
“I don’t think it is as black and white as saying yes and no,” Senator Siweart said.
“We want to go much further than the Productivity Commission but if [the recommendations] are in line with our vision then yes we will.”
From past experience, previous recommendations of former inquiries “have been a little conservative, so I don’t think I can say yes straight away.
“But, certainly it has to be a very valuable input into the debate…[It will be a key report] that instigates and promotes further discussion and action in aged care.”
Above: Greens spokesperson for health and ageing, Senator Rachel Siewart; shadow ageing minister, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells; and federal minister for ageing, Justine Elliot.
ABC Radio National’s National Interest program will broadcast the debate on Friday 20 August at 6pm (repeated midday Sunday 22 August). It will be available on line thereafter at www.abc.net.au with an opportunity to join in an online debate.
An edited package from the debate will also feature on the Aged Care Channel on Monday 16 August at 10.45am.
The same video package will be available on the Grand Plan wesbite tomorrow , together with a survey the Grand Plan would like you to complete