Realising the potential

Governments, communities and businesses all have a significant role to play in creating a better, more coordinated health care system that realises the economic potential of older Australians.

Above: Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler (middle), is handed the panel’s second report by panel chair, Everald Compton and panel member, Professor Brian Howe (right). 

By Yasmin Noone

Australia’s health system is “high class” but even so, it not robust enough to ensure the good health of a nation that is rapidly ageing, according to the the second report from the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians (the panel) .

The new report, released on the Treasury’s website yesterday, paints a generally positive picture of Australia’s current health care system but recommends that, in the future, governments, businesses and communities must better align their goals and work together to enable individuals to reap the benefits of longevity and age well.

The Realising the Economic Potential of Senior Australians: Enabling Opportunity report suggests that the main players in Australia’s health care system need to establish a more “holistic, joined-up approach” to wellness, rehabilitation and disease prevention in older adults.

“Governments at all levels contribute in different ways to health outcomes,” the report says.

“This includes establishing laws and regulations, and providing funding for specific health programs and measures. These range from regulating smoke-free environments and issuing warning labels on cigarettes to funding hospitals and the Medicare system.”

The report also details that businesses, town and community planners and those responsible for environmental policy also play an important part in helping people to live and age well, through the creation of healthy environments and age-friendly housing.

“…Employers [also] have a significant role to play in managing and promoting healthy workplaces that are able to adapt to differences in the functional capacity and health status of employees — workplaces that support people’s work capacity and good mental health while still yielding productivity gains.

“…Local communities and councils can improve the physical environment, helping to foster exercise and better nutrition. They can encourage urban planners to incorporate walking and cycling routes, open spaces, seating, gardens and vegetable patches, and good lighting to promote active connected communities.”

Yet, despite the focus on what community-wide bodies and organisations can do to improve a person’s chances of ageing well, the report does not neglect the role of the individual in managing their own health.

It says that good health is the responsibility of the person and, essentially, it is up to the individual to adopt healthy lifestyle choices and limit the impact of chronic disease.

Yet, the panel acknowledges that people first need a degree of health education in order to make informed health-related decisions.

This is where doctors, nurses and allied health professionals come in, as they are best placed to offer their patients information and discuss their health options.

“The health of each individual is a product of genetic, environmental, socioeconomic, social and lifestyle factors: some are within the capacity of the individual to control; others are not.

“However, armed with the right information individuals are better positioned to make choices for their own health.”

Reaping the potential

The federal government established the advisory panel – which includes the president of the Australian Association of Gerontology, Professor Gill Lewin, and former deputy prime minister Professor Brian Howe AO – in March this year to examine how Australia can best harness the opportunities that come with a much larger and more active cohort of older people.

Chaired by the retired chair of National Seniors Australia, Everald Compton, the panel based its report on targeted consultations with every sector of the community including government, not-for-profit organisations, academics, representative bodies and individual seniors in Adelaide, Alice Springs, Armidale, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

Mr Compton said that according to the report, today’s senior Australians are healthy, and wealthier and more skilled than previous generations of older Australians. This is changing our communities and Australian society more broadly.

“But we need governments, industry and individuals to adapt to this demographic change,” Mr Compton, said.

“For example, in the housing sector, seniors need affordable choices to be able to downsize into appropriate housing.

“We, the panel, firmly believe that the ageing of the population can be turned into a really strong economic positive for the nation. To make the most of this achievement of living longer and living better, individuals, organisations and the nation must anticipate, plan for and invest in this longer life.”

The panel’s final report will make recommendations to the government and be handed to Treasurer Wayne Swan on Monday 12 December at the Older Workers and Work Ability Conference in Melbourne.

“We have spoken to a range of representative bodies and interested parties around Australia’, Mr Compton said.

“They raised many issues and we have drawn out the key themes which revolve around healthy living, housing, participation and lifelong learning.

“Most Australians will age well, but a proportion will face severe barriers, due to health issues, accumulated disadvantage, low or outdated skills and other life circumstances.

“Australia needs to develop strategies that capitalise on opportunities an ageing population brings, and these strategies need to demonstrate awareness and understanding of the implications of a longer life course.

“Everyone – the government, not-for-profit organisations, the private sector, individuals – needs to work together, in partnership, to realise the opportunities.

“That is why we want recommendations from all members of across society about what should or could be done to help realise the potential of our senior Australians.”

Interested parties are invited to send their recommendations to the secretariat via

The second report, Realising the economic potential of senior Australians: enabling opportunity, is at 

Tags: aag, advisory-panel-on, allied-health, everald-compton, gill-lewin, mark-butler, medicare, national-seniors-australia, older-workers-and-work-ability-conference, the-economic-potential-of-senior-australians, treasury,

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