Aged care reforms in doubt

It seems that the rush to the September Federal Election could see the Government’s Living Longer, Living Better reforms miss out on being legislated.

The deadline for passing any legislation through Parliament before it dissolves prior to the Federal Election is fast approaching. With the Government hoping to get so many bills approved, it could mean the much-needed aged care reforms miss the promised 1 July implementation date.

The removal of the Baby Bonus, bills relating to DisabilityCare Australia, the National School Reform Plan and the budget appropriation bills, may all take precedence over the Living Longer, Living Better reforms, which have been on the table since April last year. Those groups which represent nearly 1 million people in the aged care sector have banded together to write an open letter to MPs, imploring them not to forget the elderly and the vulnerable. ”Big headline acts like the NDIS are really important but aged care is not so sexy” was how Ian Yates, head of the Council on the Ageing (COTA) summed-up the situation. ”The reason we’ve raised alarm on this is because it is not progressing and frankly there is an awful lot of legislation coming.”

The Living Longer, Living Better legislation is the result of a Productivity Commission inquiry, ordered when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, into the complicated nature of aged care in Australia. The complex legislation consists of five bills and is set to provide tens of thousands of home care packages for the elderly. This would mean that fewer people would have to enter an aged care facility and could remain at home for longer, but with the projected start date for the reforms of 1 July fast approaching, the aged care sector could be in limbo.

It seems that rather than action, both sides of the political landscape are resorting to finger pointing, with Minister for Ageing, Mark Butler, blaming the Opposition’s delaying tactics for jeopardising the reforms, ”The government remains committed to doing everything we can to see this legislation pass… but attempts by the Opposition to delay the legislation in the House of Representatives do create a risk that that will not be possible.” Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the Shadow Minister for Ageing, said the Government should look to itself for the reason the legislation was now at risk, ”The Coalition is working through the evidence… the legislation as it is at the moment requires substantial amendments,” she said.

Read more at The Sydney Morning Herald


Opinion: The elderly ignored

The announcement of the aged care reforms in April last year was met with approval from all sectors of the industry, but it seems the elderly don’t mean that much after all.

The Living Longer, Living Better reforms are the result of a public inquiry, Caring for Older Australians, and are designed to simplify the process of accessing aged care, make the fees more affordable and fairer and allow people to remain in their homes for longer through additional at home packages. Although complex, these reforms were the simplified version of the recommendations from the inquiry, with many of the headline items, such as a government-funded/managed equity release scheme, not adopted in a bid to have the legislation passed quickly.

Tens of thousands of elderly Australians, their families and carers have been left in limbo with the slow process of enacting the legislation. The promise to provide an additional 80,000 at home packages over 10 years seemingly long forgotten in the haste to showcase more ‘attractive’ legislation. While both sides of politics have been quick to embrace DisabilityCare Australia, it seems that caring for the most vulnerable section of our community is not as important as currying favour with voters.

Also forgotten by this apparent shortsightedness is the plight of the aged care worker. Often working long hours for very little money, the Government promised to invest $1.2 billion over four years to improve pay and conditions and to, hopefully, attract more committed and professional carers into the sector. It seems that the slack will once again have to be picked up by family members, many of whom are not themselves sufficiently fit to care for an older relative, nor able to give up work to do so.

One concern of mine, pre-budget, was that the funding for such reforms would be cut in the Treasurer’s task of reining-in a spiralling budget deficit. At least this would have forced some sort of recognition of the issue and the plight facing elderly Australians. In many ways this limbo is even worse, with no one willing to stick their necks out and simply do what is right.

Are the elderly treated as second-class citizens? Should the aged care reforms take precedence over other, newer legislation?

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