AAA was in Canberra on Wednesday for the Agewell campaign’s ‘day of action’. Around 140 supporters from all over Australia – of all ages and political persuasions – visited the nation’s capital to stand up for aged care reform, show the government that the sector is united on the need for change and demand action now.
Journalist, Yasmin Noone, spoke to many of the campaigners before they filled the public gallery of the House of Representatives for Question Time and after the event.
Here is what they said:
Aged care worker, Allison Kaldi, is a personal carer at Blue Care’s Kirrahaven Aged Care Facility on the Gold Coast and a United Voice delegate. She shares the excitment of the moment before the event.
Q: Why are you here, campaigning for aged care reform?
“I’m not here just for the workers in aged care but I’m here for the residents and their families. [My voice] might only be a little voice but hopefully I can get out there and share it with the world.
“I’d like to see big changes in aged care. I’m very hopeful and positive that someone here will see what we are trying to accomplish. [Older people] built Australia to be to what it is today. They fought in wars. They built our railways. They’ve done so much. They deserve the best care we can give them.
“I also just heard about the Agewell campaign. I’m so excited about it. Anything that can be done to help out with the residents is great. I think it’s amazing that everyone’s come together.
“[The work that NACA is doing] means something to the people themselves working in aged care.
“Since being a union delegate, [staff] come and approach me about different things. They know I am down here today. They know that everyone [in the industry] is supporting and backing them so that is great.
“I’m so proud to be part of today. I will go back and share the experience with residents and carers.
“I told my boss [about the event] before I left for Canberra and she wished me the best of luck. I told the residents on the floor that I was coming and they all gave me a hug and kiss and wished me well and said ‘We are glad that you are part of our team’.
“The other day I spoke to a resident’s wife [about the day of action in Canberra]. She said to me, ‘Every little step that you girls try and take is amazing. And it’s helping us’.
“We are taking little steps. It might take us a little while but hopefully after today, hopefully, it might be a big step.”
Aged care resident and Hughes (ACT) local, Brenda Clarke is “nearly 90 years old”. Passionate about the need to reform the sector, she provided a verbal submission to the Productivity Commission when the commissioners conducted public consultations around the country last year.
Q: What is it like to live in residential aged care?
“We are very short staffed [in the facility]. Good people tend to leave as they get too much to do and therefore…they go.
“Our facility also can’t afford to have food cooked on the premises so it comes all the way from Wollongong in a truck – chilled! So [what we are served] is not like home cooking.
“That’s what I’m trying to fight for – more money so they can cook food on the premises.
“It would [make a big difference]. It’d give people something to look forward to.”
Above: Brenda Clarke meets the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, in the front foyer of Parliament House
Q: What would you like to see happen to improve the aged care system?
“…I would like the parliamentarians to hear what we have to say and do something about it. They should come onto the subject of aged care quickly instead of rattling on about taxes and one thing or another.
“There was a senator in Question Time the other day, getting all passionate about Telstra’s old copper wiring. And I thought, ‘I wish he got a bit passionate about old people’.”
The Benevolent Society’s general manager of ageing, Barbara Squires, chats to AAA on the front lawn of Parliament House, after the event.
Q: Do you think today’s event was a success?
“I drove down from Sydney with three supporters because we thought it was so important to show members of parliament that we are older voters and we care about the future of aged care in Australia.
“It was terrific that the Prime Minister acknowledged our presence. It was a bit disappointing that there was a question, not asked, but I still think the [day of action] was worthwhile.
“It helped to spread the word about the need for aged care reform as that’s what we want – to have people understand that it is important for us all to be able to age well in Australia.”
COTA CEO and NACA representative, Ian Yates, shares his thoughts about how the day went.
Q: What do you think about the outcome of the Agewell ‘day of action’?
“All these older people have come to Canberra on a hot summer’s day to stand up for their rights…It’s been really good.
“…We did get a question in the Senate and that has drawn attention to the government.
“We don’t know if we would have gotten a question up because Question Time [in the House of Representatives] got cut short. But the Prime Minister acknowledged the delegation, the importance of the aged care issue, the fact that her ministers have been consulting [on the issue] and that her ministers will make a decision.
“So I think we made our presence felt. We also made our presence felt over last two days, meeting with ministers and backbenchers, the greens and the opposition.
“There is no question that parliament is sure now that the aged care sector will keep coming back and keep coming back until it gets the answer it needs.
“The PM didn’t have to do acknowledge us but she did.
“My understanding is that the message [about the need for aged care reform] is loud and clear.
“Certainly we have been informed that questions were asked of the Treasurer [Wayne Swan], as to the inclusion of aged care in the budget, in caucus on Monday morning. We don’t know what he said…
“But yes I am told there is a great deal of support [for aged care reform] in caucus. We know there is great sympathy in Cabinet. We know that it’s a fiscally difficult environment and we have dealt directly with the issue that the National Disability Insurance Scheme and aged care reform don’t need to de in conflict – we are gearing up for both.
“Really, the government is here to do something…Why wait [to act]?”
CEO of Palliative Care Australia, Yvonne Luxford, spoke to AAA yesterday from Brazil to discuss the day of action
Q: During Question Time, the PM stressed the need for quality palliative care services in Australia. The PM said:
“The quality of palliative care, the quality of care that we offer our older Australians, is very important to families, to older Australians and to the nation overall. The approach that the government has taken is that we are determined to have a quality national palliative care system. We are working with states and territories on that through the 2010 National Palliative Care Strategy—Supporting Australians to Live Well at the End of Life.”
What do you think of the fact that palliative care got a mention from the PM in QT?
“I think it’s fantastic news. It doesn’t surprise me. We are very aware that the government and all sides of government are very committed to palliative care. We are not surprised but are very grateful that the PM raised it in parliament.
“…My hopes are for all Australians to have access to high quality palliative care and have their needs met wherever they are, whatever their circumstances, and have the opportunity to be supported and die well, in the place of their choosing, and live well until the end.”
The Agewell day of action photo gallery
Gathering in the front foyer of Parliament House before Question Time…
Above: Some of the Agewell supporters pose for a pic with Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler.
Below: Sandra Mahlberg, who works in an acute medical ward in the ACT, poses with a campaign tshirt of her own.
Below: Minister Butler takes a moment for a photo with the United Voice crew
Above: Residents from Port Stephens Vetrans and Citizens Aged Care
Below: Shadow Minister for Ageing and Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells addresses aged care supporters on the front lawn of Parliament House, after Question Time