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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Rice discusses Greens aged care plans if they achieve post-election balance of power

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Senator Janet Rice, Greens Party spokesperson for aged care and community services, spoke to COTA Australia CEO Ian Yates in an online webinar about her party’s plans for aged care if they acquire balance of power following the upcoming election.

Her appearance follows previous webinars involving Senator Richard Colbeck, Minister for Aged Care Services and Senior Australians, and Clare O’Neil, Shadow Minister for Ageing and Aged Care Services.

Rice’s vision for protecting older Australians and the aged care workforce centres around implementing key Greens party philosophies, including eliminating poverty and strengthening universal healthcare through reforms to taxation and wealth redistribution.

“Nobody should be living in poverty,” she said.

A key starting point for empowering some of Australia’s most vulnerable, she said, is increasing income support payments — including the aged pension — to $88 per day.

For reference, current JobSeeker rate sits at $46 a day, which is only 42 per cent of the minimum wage.

The new rate of $88 per day would allow welfare recipients to live just above the poverty line.  

It’s especially important for people who have worked all their lives in manual labour jobs to be able to access the pension at 65.

Greens Party spokesperson for aged care and community services, Senator Janet Rice

“It’s certainly not a lot to get by on, but enough to be living with dignity instead of in poverty,” Rice said.

Furthermore, Rice would like to see the pension age brought back down to 65.

“It’s especially important for people who have worked all their lives in manual labour jobs to be able to access the pension at 65.”

But for those elders who would like to maintain some part-time work into their retirement years, Rice said her party supports an increased income threshold, so pensioners will no longer have to choose between continued engagement with the workforce, and losing a chunk out of their already paltry pension.

“People would be able to earn $600 per fortnight before there are reductions in the pension,” she said.

The plight of low-paid women, who are especially vulnerable to homelessness, was also front of mind for Rice.

“It’s such an important issue and it’s just tragic to see the increase in homelessness, especially in older women,” she said.

we’re certainly really supportive of the need to increase the wages and conditions of aged care workers.

Senator Rice

To tackle this, she supports the proposed increase of 25 per cent to aged care workers’ minimum wage, as well as broader policies for low-paid workers in all industries, including a doubling of the low-income super offset program — which would see the Government matching voluntary super contributions up to $1000 per year.

“We’ve got to address that if we want to see people having enough in their super to live off.

“And we’re certainly really supportive of the need to increase the wages and conditions of aged care workers.”

Reforms to the housing system are also a top priority, with the Greens wishing to build one million new, affordable homes over the next decade.

Whereas the Labor policy would see a shared equity scheme function in accordance with market prices, the Greens wish to build 125,000 homes specifically for first home buyers, sold at a fixed price of $300,000, with a minimum of 25 per cent equity held by the Government.

“We need to view houses as a right instead of an investment vehicle,” Rice said.

In terms of implementing the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety recommendations, Rice says her party is absolutely committed.

We need to view houses as a right instead of an investment vehicle.

Senator Rice

“In some areas we think the royal commission didn’t go far enough,” she noted.

“I think the Government’s response so far has been to cherry-pick the easier bits, but not to commit to that comprehensive, rights based, re-writing of the [Aged Care] Act.”

“Fundamentally we support the recommendation of the royal commission that there needs to be more money put into aged care.

“The Government is committing to an extra $4 billion a year, which still leaves a $6 billion gap.

“We feel in terms of the care minutes, that it should go further, 4 hours and 8 minutes is what we support, and we support a nurse being rostered on 24/7.”

Rice is especially disappointed that a piece of legislation she deliberated over in the senate, the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 2) Bill 2021, failed to receive final ascent after the lower house failed to schedule a final reading in the last day of parliament on the 1st of April.  

The bill had provisions for 24/7 nursing, but now legislators will have to start from scratch as all outstanding bills are dissolved at the end of each parliamentary sitting.

“It was a tragedy that that piece of legislation did not get through,” Rice said.

However, the dissolution of the bill also saw the vetoing of a controversial immunity provision that will see providers able to administer restrictive practices — including both physical and chemical restraints— with legal immunity.

Whilst consent from family or a power of attorney was to be required, advocates feared room for abuse.

We think it [funding dental and mental health care through Medicare] is a no-brainer … and it makes good economic sense because there are ongoing costs because people cannot access dental care

Rice noted that she would like to work to provide greater safeguards for vulnerable residents, most of whom live with dementia, who are impacted by these practices.

“We feel that’s an area with need for further reform,” she said.

Finally, Rice discussed her party’s plans to fund dental and mental health care through Medicare.

“We think it’s a no-brainer … and it makes good economic sense because there are ongoing costs because people cannot access dental care,” Rice said.

“It’s something that the majority of Australians support and think that it’s well overdue.”

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