The opposition responds

Two weeks ago YOURLifeChoices asked key questions on health, aged care and the Age Pension to the responsible Federal Government ministers. In the interest of fairness, we also asked the Hon Bronwyn Bishop MP, Shadow Minister for Seniors, for her responses.

Q. With 80 people dying from bowel cancer each week, why has funding been withdrawn?
Answer supplied by The Hon Bronwyn Bishop MP, Shadow Minister for Seniors

The Coalition supports measures to increase the availability of effective and appropriate screening measures for the prevention and early detection of bowel cancer.

Accordingly, the previous Coalition Government initiated the Bowel Cancer Screening Pilot Program in 2000. Following this pilot, as part of the 2005-06 Budget initiative Strengthening Cancer Care, the Coalition provided $43.4 million for the phasing-in of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

The program has been very successful in dramatically improving health outcomes for thousands of Australians through early detection.

The Coalition is concerned that the Gillard Government has refused to commit to the continuation of funding for this important program or its expansion.

It is unacceptable the Gillard Government is cutting funding to proven and effective clinical programs, such as National Bowel Cancer Screening, whilst promising hundreds of millions of dollars for the establishment of new bureaucracies.

The Coalition calls on the Gillard Government to provide certainty for patients and clinicians and to immediately clarify its position on the future of this important screening program.

Q. Is there any planned funding for research and development of technology to assist with ageing-in-place?
Answer supplied by The Hon Bronwyn Bishop MP, Shadow Minister for Seniors

Whilst in government the Coalition saw steady increases to the Funding for R&D every year of the Howard Government. The Labor governments have consistently cut funding in the last three years cutting funding by $7,000 in 2009-2010 and a staggering drop of $26,000 in the financial year 2010-2011.

Leading into the last federal election, the Coalition promised to use the first year of government to negotiate an Aged Care Provider Agreement with the peak aged care bodies about residential aged care and community services arrangements.

The Aged Care Provider Agreement would have provided $50 million over four years for professional aged care programmes and services. For example, the use of ‘assistive technology’, which refers to devices such as mattress sensor pads to activate lights at night, remote monitoring of vital signs and systems to help people remember their medication.

The Coalition is committed to providing research grants that will allow seniors to continue to lead independent lives through continuing to support and introduce programs such as Phone Link services and personal security alarms. Continued R&D is the best way to see developments to allow senior Australians to continue to live independently.

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?
Answer supplied by The Hon Bronwyn Bishop MP, Shadow Minister for Seniors

Under the Howard government we saw an average yearly increase of 2% to the Age Pension. Importantly the coalition guaranteed the pension at 25% of the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWI) and continued to use this index to increase the pension instead of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) where CPI is lower than MTAWI.

In 2008 the Coalition proposed a Private Members Bill to provide a $30 a week increase in the single age pension. Labor opposed this bill and used its numbers in the Parliament to defeat it. However, the Coalition’s pressure did eventually force the Labor Government to address this issue and give pensioners in the 2009 Budget the much needed increase, leading to a permanent increase of the pension to be 27.7% of MATWE.

When in government the Coalition introduced the utilities allowance paid to pensioners to support them in paying bills and to assist them in being able to maintain independence.

The concerns of the Coalition are that with the proposed Carbon Tax, pensioners and self funded retirees will be the hardest hit as they are on fixed incomes. The predicted additional six cents and a half cents a litre at the petrol bowser would mean that pensioners would seriously have to reconsider every outing to the shops and every visit to see their grandchildren.

The huge hike in the now ever increasing electricity bills will force pensioners to make choices about how much they can afford lighting, heating and when and which electrical devices to use. In particular it will cut them out of the ability to afford newer technologies like the internet which is now increasingly important to senior Australians. If Julia Gillards Carbon Tax were to be introduced it would push the cost of electricity up by a further $300 a year. Simply put the cascading carbon tax will affect every nook and cranny of their life.