Above: The Agewell advocates join Minister Butler (middle) for a photo on the stairs near the front foyer of Parliament House, before going into the House of Representatives for Question Time.
By Yasmin Noone
More than 140 Agewell campaign supporters filled the House of Representatives’s (HOR) public gallery during question time yesterday to show every member of the government, opposition and Australian Greens, and all the Independents that the call for urgent aged care reform is not going away any time soon – in fact it is only going to get louder.
At 1pm, about 70 aged care advocates – older people, their carers, concerned citizens, dementia and palliative care peak body representatives, and residential facility and community care staff – assembled at the marble floored, public entrance of Parliament House, Canberra.
Sporting ‘Agewell’ campaign badges and Australian Nursing Federation stickers promoting the need for aged care reform, the stronghold filled the public area with hope and ambition.
On their way to meet with the rest of the group upstairs, they entertained the thought that ‘just maybe’ the federal politicians at play would give the Agewell campaigners a mention and, if they were lucky, an MP would raise the question of aged care reform during Question Time.
The Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, boosted the vibe of the gathering, meeting and greeting many in the crowd, just before he made his way to the HOR for Question Time.
At 2pm, Question Time commenced. Around eight minutes later, the Speaker of the HOR, Peter Slipper, acknowledged the aged care campaigners in the public gallery to his right.
Most of the Labor MPs, also on Mr Slipper’s right, immediately turned around and gave the Agewell supporters in the public gallery behind them a wave, before attention shifted back to the political business at hand.
“We are involved in a very important reform discussion about aged care,” the PM said.
“I know that in the gallery today there are a number of people who have come to parliament to raise with parliamentarians issues on behalf of older Australians.
“The minister, Mark Butler, has been making an important contribution, leading that conversation around the nation, and at the appropriate point the government will respond to what we have learned in those discussions.”
The PM continued, as did the parliamentary games but there was no further mention about aged care reform. The session also ended early.
Pleased with receiving a mention from the Speaker and the PM herself, the aged care crew left the gallery and proceeded to the Parliament House front lawn for a cuppa and concluding ‘day of action’ speeches.
What was unknown at that point however, was that Mr Bandt – Federal MP for Melbourne – had arranged to ask a question about aged care reform during the session.
Earlier today, AAA was told that Mr Bandt and the PM agreed that if she brought up the issue of aged care during Question Time, he could ask a supplementary question about reform.
Mr Bandt did proceed to raise his supplementary question during Question Time but was quickly shut down by the Speaker who already gave another MP the floor because he did not see Mr Bandt already at his feet.
The Speaker apologised to Mr Bandt but the opportunity to please the Agewell campaign crowd was lost.
Later this afternoon, Mr Bandt’s office informed AAA that he planned to raise the following supplementary question:
“I would like to acknowledge over 140 members from the National Aged Care Alliance, representing consumers, providers, and unions in the audience today, who would like to see significant aged care reform in the Budget.
“Prime Minister do you acknowledge that aged care workers are paid significantly lower than those in the public health system. What will the government do for aged care in the Budget.”
Shortly after Question Time officially ended yesterday, Mr Bandt also made the following statement on Twitter: “Was hoping to ask a supplementary question of the PM about the plans for #agedcare in the Budget, but the Speaker had other ideas #agewell”
Other goings on during QT
Just as the aged care campaigners were making their way into the HOR for Question Time, the Federal Member for Solomon (NT), Natasha Griggs, spoke briefly about an Alzheimer’s Australia Northern Territory event and on being a champion.
“On a different note, I had the pleasure of meeting the Alzheimer’s Australia president, Ita Buttrose,” she said in the HOR yesterday.
“Ita was in Darwin to meet other Alzheimer’s champions and advocates at an afternoon tea that was put on by Alzheimer’s Australia NT. Sadly, around 2,700 Territorians live with dementia.
“As I have already said in this House, Indigenous people are five times more likely than other people to contract Alzheimer’s. Ita said that it is really important that we raise awareness of this disease in the community, because the disease often goes undetected.
“As an Alzheimer’s Australia NT champion, it is my goal to make a difference and educate my electorate about the science, symptoms, treatment and support available.”
Also during Question Time but in the Senate, Shadow Minister for Ageing and Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells raised the question of aged care reform.
“Given that it has now been seven months since the Productivity Commission’s report was released and we still don’t have a response – what is the Government’s definition of ‘quickly’?” Senator Fierravanti-Wells said.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells said she was not impressed with the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Joe Ludwig.
“I didn’t get a satisfactory answer,” she said later during an interview with AAA.
“…On the 21 July 2010, the PM said aged care reform would be a priority of the second term of government and we are now in the second term. We would really like some timing on this.”
The Agewell campaign is an initiative of The National Aged Care Alliance. Through this campaign, the umbrella group of 28 aged care-related organisations aims to push reform over the line in 2012.
The ‘day of action’ in Canberra yesterday formed part of the campaign and NACA’s awareness raising activities in the lead up to the release of the 2012/13 Federal Budget in May.