Older Australians deserve a fair go.
It’s crucial, for example, that the Federal Government looks after older Australians better and ensures they can live with dignity and independence in their home or in the aged care facility of their choice. But we have an aged care system that is underfunded and needlessly complicated, no certainty for organisations in the aged care sector, and government policies that unfairly affect older Australians.
For a start the $1.2bn in cuts to residential aged care announced in the 2016/17 Federal Budget should be reversed and there also needs to be a proper review of the Aged Care Funding Instrument. Aged care providers need to be able to make long term plans, not go from budget to budget anxious about whether there’ll be another funding cut. There’s also a shortage of home care packages.
Another serious concern is with changes to the Commonwealth Home Support Program. Under the new arrangements, if an elderly person wants to access services such as a seniors’ bus trip or home support, they have to go through a long process of getting approval from the Government and navigating the www.myagedcare.gov.au website, a process which constituents tell me is complicated and stressful.
The new Support Program is putting great strain on service providers who are no longer being guaranteed the funding that they need to deliver essential services. There’s also a funding gap between the end of the old funding arrangements, where payments were made in advance, and the start of the new system, which is paid in arrears. This means that service providers will have to fund the transition themselves by drawing down their cash reserves. This could be disastrous for small providers with limited resources.
Moreover the Government has again and again attacked or neglected the retirement incomes of older Australians. The Age Pension, and particularly the single rate of Age Pension, remains abysmally low and must be increased to better reflect the cost of living.
The superannuation accounts of retirees are also under attack. For instance the changes to the income test treatment for defined benefit pensioners are adversely affecting 48,000 part pension recipients, most of whom are far from wealthy as the Government claims. And the more recent superannuation changes are retrospective and fail to include so-called grandfather provisions, which would have ensured that people who had made decisions with the existing policy in mind were not adversely affected.
There’s also an urgent need to do something about ageism in Australian workplaces. For a start the Restart programme must be extended to provide greater financial incentives for employers to hire older people and to capture a wider range of people, not just those who have been on income support for six months or more. And the Australian Human Rights Commission should be given the power to determine whether age discrimination has occurred and must be able to support older people right through the complaints process.
Let’s not forget too that a substandard health system hits older people particularly hard as they rely more on public hospitals as well as primary and allied health services. And yet we see hospitals underfunded by billions of dollars a year and attacks on GPs, optometrists, dentists and pathologists.
At the core of all this is a failure by the Government to take seriously the issues affecting older Australians. We could start by creating both a Cabinet-level Minister for Older Australians and a Declaration of Rights for Older Australians, as is the case in other countries. And the Aged Care Roadmap, which the Government rolled out with some fanfare, needs to actually be adopted as policy and funded long-term.
The aging population brings with it the challenge of how to ensure that people are looked after in their retirement. But we are a rich and clever country, and we have the money and the ability to meet that challenge.