13.5 C
Sydney
Thursday, June 30, 2022

O’Neil and Ruston speak to COTA about their parties’ key policy objectives for older Aussies

Must read

COTA Australia has welcomed key politicians from either side of the aisle to discuss their key policy objectives that will impact the wellbeing of older Australians.

Presented via Facebook live, the talks were moderated by Council on the Ageing (COTA) CEO, Ian Yates.

O’Neil’s five-part plan  

First up was Labor’s Clare O’Neil, Shadow Minister for Ageing and Aged Care Services, who on Monday presented her passionate desire to rebuild the aged care system from the ground up.

“I got into politics to tackle problems, big difficult problems like this one, and I’m just desperate to get in there to see how we can get this train back onto the tracks so we can fix this,” she said.

Clare O’Neil told Ian Yates about Labor’s detailed plan to reform the aged care sector, with key priorities relating to increased pay and better conditions for workers, as well as increased transparency about aged care spending.

She discussed her party’s five key priorities for aged care reform, which include:

  1. 24/7 nursing in residential aged care facilities
  2. More care hours for those in residential aged care
  3. A pay rise for all aged care workers
  4. Increasing nutrition standards in aged care
  5. Transparency about where providers are spending aged care subsidies

“This [policy] package was developed straight out of the royal commission,” O’Neil said.

“The royal commission told us that the normal experience of an older person using aged care is that of neglect… This can’t continue in Australia and Anthony’s passion for this is real.”

A pay rise for aged care workers, she said, was probably the most important policy for changing the face of the aged care industry.

It [better pay] is a matter of justice… it’s essential that we address this because we’ve got an ageing population… and we can’t grow [the system’s capacity] unless we get more people in, and we can’t get more people in when you get paid better doing virtually anything else.

Shadow Minister for Ageing and Aged Care Services, Clare O’Neil

“Labor is going to support aged care workers to get a pay rise and, perhaps as importantly, we are going to fund that pay rise because the aged care sector, right now, is hanging on by a thread and additional costs are not going to be sustained by the system.

“It’s a matter of justice… it’s essential that we address this because we’ve got an ageing population… and we can’t grow [the system’s capacity] unless we get more people in, and we can’t get more people in when you get paid better doing virtually anything else.”

O’Neil added that while Labor will make a submission to the Fair Work Commission which cites their support for an increase, they will not be dictating a specific percentile increase.

She did mention, however, that the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation’s suggestion of a 25 per cent increase is what would be necessary for pay parity across aged care and disability support work.

Access to training and recognition of career progression within aged care, including recognised specialisations in dementia care, for example, will be another vital component of making aged care a more attractive career, according to O’Neil.

“This career structure thing is really important, so if we can find a way to make the job of ‘aged care worker’ the respected, skilled work that it ought to be, then that’s going to make a really big difference for us,” she said.

Transparency about where government funding is utilised, she said, was another core policy to ensure quality of care is delivered, as opposed to funds being misappropriated by providers.

There’s some bad providers in this sector, but most people are trying to do the right thing and I think if the public could see that, then they’d feel a lot more comfortable about additional billions of dollars that Labor is planning to inject into this sector — that’ll be spent wisely.

Clare O’Neil

She referenced a key —albeit disturbing — example, as uncovered by The Klaxon in March, where Anglicare Sydney was found to have redirected aged care funding to cover more than $39 million worth of child sex abuse claims and associated legal fees.

“It’s about transparency, accountability and making sure, for the first time, that we can actually track where aged care dollars are going,” O’Neil said.

However, she did indicate that she wants to work closely with aged care providers, and said that not all aged care executives are operating in bad faith.

“… There’s some bad providers in this sector, but most people are trying to do the right thing and I think if the public could see that, then they’d feel a lot more comfortable about additional billions of dollars that Labor is planning to inject into this sector — that’ll be spent wisely.”

In relation to in-home care, O’Neil said that policies will be directed at reducing exorbitant administration fees, and increasing resources so that more Australians will be empowered to age at home.

“People want to age at home, and its much cheaper for the public… it’s a far better experience for people…”

Capping administrator fees will be a vital mechanism to reducing the rorts, she added.

“Some providers are charging up to 40 per cent on fees. I’ve heard of people that have gone from level 3 to a level 4 HCP and all the additional funding has been sucked up by the provider for fees … this has got to stop.”

O’Neil summed up her party’s position as recognition of the urgent need for fundamental reform.

“I think it’s ageist, what’s happened in aged care,” she said.

“If Australian children were being treated like this, we would be marching in the streets, but because this is concerning seniors, the pressure isn’t there.”

Ruston discusses conditions for a comfortable retirement

Senator Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services, spoke to Yates on Tuesday about some of her key achievements working in the portfolio over the last few years.

Despite indicating that she is the front-runner to take over the portfolios of health and aged care from outgoing minister Greg Hunt, Ruston stuck to discussing her work in the area of social service provision for older Australians.

“Even when you’ve got a good system, or one that’s the best in the world, there’s always room for improvement,” she said.

Senator Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services, told Ian Yates that the Government’s approach to tackling the housing crisis would be policies encouraging home ownership, with equity access schemes made available to seniors.

She dispelled rumours that pension funds would be transferred to cashless debit cards, saying it is absolutely not the Morrison Government’s policy to do so.

“That is an absolute, iron-clad guarantee,” she said.

To the question of housing affordability, including the homelessness crisis that is increasingly affecting older women, Ruston said the Government’s focus remains firmly on encouraging home ownership.

Even when you’ve got a good [aged care] system, or one that’s the best in the world, there’s always room for improvement

Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Anne Ruston

“Making sure that we put measures in place to help more Australians own their own home… that’s absolutely essential for people to have a retirement that they can enjoy,” she said.

Ruston did indicate that greater funding for social housing would be preferrable, but noted that this is mainly an issue managed by states and territories.

“… Continued investment and encouragement of the states and territories to continue to provide more rental housing is essential to take the pressure off the private market.”

She said that expansion of the Commonwealth’s Home Equity Access Scheme will be an essential component of allowing older Australians to live more comfortably, without having to sell their current home.

“You often find that older Australians are asset rich in that they have huge equity in their property, but that doesn’t translate to access to income.”  

She added that future reforms are needed to include owners of retirement-village properties in this scheme.

“I would really be keen and will be encouraging my successor to look at how people who live in retirement villages access their equity; it seems a bit of an anomaly.”

Ruston also addressed the digital divide, with many older Australians being left behind in a world that overwhelming requires internet access and smart phone technology for participation in daily life.

“My mum is 91 and the best I can get her to do is put an answering machine on her phone, because she doesn’t want technology,” she noted.

Ruston refers to the Government’s Be Connected program, which provides a range of resources to help older persons navigate the digital age.

The resources are available online via this link or, alternatively, elders and their carers can phone 1300 795 897 for assistance.  

“Ring that number to learn some of the amazing things that are on offer to older Australians,” she said.

Finally Ruston mentioned one of her Government’s election promises, that 50,000 extra places will be opened for older Australians to receive a Seniors Health Card, if her party is re-elected.

“That was something we were delighted that we were able to do, and it is through the strong economy that we have been able to deliver these savings, this cost of living pressure relief for older Australians.”

The full videos available via the following links: click here for Clare O’Neill’s interview and here for Anne Ruston’s interview.

- Advertisement -

Leave a Reply

Latest article

- Advertisement -
Processing...
Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Email newsletter sign-up
ErrorHere