Hard questions for the Government

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Australia’s population is ageing rapidly. While private enterprise may see the opportunity to make a fast buck by providing goods and services to this older cohort, only the Federal Government has the ability to set national benchmarks and, to a large extent, control the agenda. So how active can – and should – the government be? And what does the current Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, the Hon Mark Butler, see as the government’s role? AgeWave Australia interviewed the Minister earlier this month, and submitted three follow-on questions on funding withdrawal for bowel cancer screening, funding for research and development for ageing-in-place technologies and Age Pension adequacy.

Question One – Bowel cancer screening funding

Q. With 80 people dying from bowel cancer each week, why has funding been withdrawn?

A. Bowel cancer is a major health issue affecting many Australians and the Government recognises that early detection by screening remains the best way to fight bowel cancer. In the 2008 Budget, we provided funding of $87.4 million over three years to extend the existing National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) to cover up to 2.5M Australians turning 50, 55 and 65 years of age between 2008 and 2010. The Government will consider future funding for the program in the context of the 2011 Budget.

Answer supplied by a spokesperson for Minister Nicola Roxon.

Question Two – R&D funding

Q. Is there any planned funding for research and development of technology to assist with ageing-in-place?

A. Between 2000-2010, the NHMRC funded $164.1 million in injury-related research. In the same timeframe, funding of $994.8 million was spent on ageing research. The data is not divided into mechanical vs behavioural vs basic science etc, but is available online here:
Injury related research
Ageing data

The NHMRC would welcome grant applications for research that assists the development of technology to assist ageing-in-place within existing grant schemes.

Answer supplied by a spokesperson for the Hon Mark Butler

Question Three – Is the Age Pension adequate?

Q. The single Age Pension is currently approx $658 per fortnight plus $50 supplement, about $18,200 per year. This is well below the amount that the Westpac-ASFA Retirement Living Standard defines as a modest standard of living – $21,132 per annum. How can we reasonably expect older Australians to live below what is effectively a poverty line?

A. In September 2009, the Australian Government delivered the most significant reforms to the pension system in its 100-year history. These reforms delivered pension increases, a new pension supplement, a pension Work Bonus and a new indexation system. The indexation system uses the new Pension and Beneficiary Living Cost Index which better reflects pensioners’ rising costs of living. This new index helps pensions keep up with the cost of living and will help ensure this vital support for older Australians is sustainable into the future. Since the Australian Government’s reforms began in September 2009, the pension has increased by $128 per fortnight for singles on the maximum rate and $116 for couples combined on the maximum rate.

A report released last week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Pensions at a Glance 2011, found that Australia ‘s age pension is more generous, relative to average earnings, than the OECD average of targeted payments, and more generous than similar payments in countries such as the United States , the United Kingdom , France , Germany and Italy .

Answer supplied by a spokeswoman for Minister Jenny Macklin

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