PDF printable version of Address to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (PDF 414 KB)
2 March 2018
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I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the country on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and I pay tribute to their Elders, past and present.
Thank you Debby (Blakey, Chief Executive of HESTA) for your kind introduction.
Today, I’d like to you to join me on a journey - a long, trip-of-a-lifetime, that increasingly, can last 100 years or more.
And while we’re at it, let’s think about your next overseas holiday.
Do you show up at the airport to buy a ticket and take the first available seat?
Do you assume you’ll be able to organise a visa when you get where you’re going?
Do you disembark at the other end and ask around, about where to stay?
Are you surprised when every decent hotel is booked out because of the major event you’ve flown to the other side of the world to attend?
I guarantee that everyone in this room would not take such a lax approach.
Flights and visas are planned well in advance.
Accommodation is considered carefully, probably for the best deal, with airport transfers also in hand.
Travel insurance, medications, local currency, emergency contact details… you will cover off all these and more, to ensure a hassle-free trip.
Yet how many of us have put the same thought into our future as senior Australians?
It’s likely that most here today have planned financially for retirement and to have a healthy superannuation package.
But are we truly prepared? Have we and our loved ones talked about all contingencies – for a healthy retirement, or an older life with potential physical and mental health challenges?
Like many Australians you probably want to stay in your own home for as long as possible.
Will your home be suitable as you grow older?
Who will support you to stay there? Will there be family pressure for you to move into assisted living?
And if you choose to move into a care facility, will your life be reduced to four walls? Will you be valued as an individual and receive the loving care and support you deserve?
Are these the questions you’ll ask yourself now? Or will you take a chance on whatever is available at the time?
Action today for a golden age tomorrow
Ageing is inevitable – it’s everyone’s business and, almost daily, it’s becoming an even bigger business, but one that must always have humanity at its core.
When that crucial compact is broken, so too are hearts and lives.
That’s why I want to sound a warning today, that all of us – including Ministers, governments, managers, administrators, aged care providers and health care professionals - are now on notice.
This week’s report on the disgraced Oakden aged care facility, by South Australia’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, is relentless – and rightly so – in its pursuit of responsibility.
As Commissioner Bruce Lander QC says:
“Those who resided at Oakden.. were some of the most frail and vulnerable persons in our community. They did not have a voice. They were obliged to live in a facility which could only be described as a disgrace. The process and procedures were such that they were forgotten and ignored.
“It pointed to a regime that existed whereby serious complaints about care were not appropriately addressed.
“What occurred at the Oakden Facility is a shocking indictment on its management and oversight.”
Commissioner Lander says his report – titled “A Shameful Chapter in South Australia’s History” – should be required reading for all Australian public officers in positions of authority.
It highlights the consequences of covering up concerns, not calling out injustice, poor oversight, unacceptable work practices and poor workplace culture.
The Commissioner says the disgraceful care standards included:
- Delays in diagnosis, treatment and referral
- Inadequate management
- Lack of medical, nursing and allied health staff and
- Abuse of residents
This definitive report on the Oakden tragedy must stand as a grim beacon, for our current and future aged care obligations.
Especially, because we are living longer lives. More of us will reach 100 and beyond than ever before. For many children born today, it will be considered a normal lifespan.
My vision for Australian ageing and our aged care system is unwavering.
I want us intellectually as a nation, as policy developers, decision makers and providers, to cast our vision to a decade - and a century - that focuses on the needs of senior Australians.
A vision built on four pillars that contribute to active ageing. These are:
- Lifelong learning
- Participation in society, and
- Security and certainty
One where our Aboriginal and non-Indigenous elders are respected, celebrated and supported.
And one where seniors are connected to the community, their wisdom sought and their value appreciated, as teachers and students of life.
A future where we see ageing and aged care in terms of flexibility, instead of burden; convenience instead of difficulty; and opportunity instead of challenge.
2017 was a pivotal year, as the Turnbull Government developed and implemented reforms that will help ensure your choices, your priorities and your needs will be met, in hopefully what will be your golden age.
This financial year, the Commonwealth will invest a record $18.6 billion in aged care services, helping provide for the needs of 1.3 million senior Australians.
In 2017, we allocated 9,911 new residential aged care places, worth $649 million.
We delivered $64 million in capital grant funding, and announced 475 short-term places to allow older people to remain in their own homes for longer, after injury or illness.
We certainly did not forget our regional, rural and remote communities, people from culturally diverse backgrounds, the LGBTI community, first Nations peoples, or the homeless. These allocations focused on people often under-represented by mainstream services.
We delivered key reforms in home care, supporting seniors to maintain their independence and receive care when and where they want and need it.
For the first time, we can now measure real home care demand and make supply decisions based on evidence.
Our seniors can also see where they stand, thanks to our new national queue system.
The clarity and transparency of these reforms have revealed demand across all areas is high.
- Almost 240,000 people received residential aged care
- Nearly 98,000 received a home care package
- and over 780,000 accessed home support services.
They can choose their own providers and take their package with them anywhere in the country.
As with many generational reforms, things moved a little slowly at first, as senior Australians and their families grew accustomed to the changes.
But I am happy to reveal today, home care is now on a positive trajectory, with delivery ramping up at a great rate.
The latest figures show that, in the December quarter 50,300 care packages were assigned, over 17 and a half thousand more than in the previous three months.
More than 36,000 of these went to seniors who were new to home care, and almost half of the total went to those with the highest levels of need.
We’ve also been prioritising people who’ve been in the queue 12 months or more, with the number receiving an interim care package up 13 per cent.
While home care queue growth is slowing and allocations rising, we also know hundreds of thousands of seniors are receiving assistance from our $5.5 billion investment in the Commonwealth Home Support Scheme, as well.
Home care remains an absolute priority, and I will have much more to say about the next phase of reforms to benefit our seniors, in coming months.
Over the next decade, the total number of people requiring aged care assistance is projected to grow towards 2 million.
It is our responsibility to put Australia on the path to coping with this demand, to provide the certainty and security our seniors deserve 10, 20 and even 50 years from now.
Every dollar currently being invested in aged care reform is aimed at helping shape that future.
Whether it’s the rollout of a computer tool to streamline quality compliance, as we have done; or the $200 million investment putting Australia at the leading edge of global dementia research and innovation.
Through the latest $34 million round of the Dementia and Aged Care Services fund, dozens of projects are being supported to help improve the lives of people with this condition, and to ensure they can continue to be as involved as possible in our families and communities.
We must remember that people living with dementia and Alzheimers disease can still continue to acquire knowledge.
They still – if not even moreso – require compassion and consideration.
I believe that ultimately, each of us who finds ourselves in this position still wants - and deserves to be – loved as a person.
Significant upgrades to Australia’s aged care gateway – My Aged Care – and the new GEN website gives access to the latest data and information on aged care, are keeping us at the forefront of technology.
We’ve strengthened personal support for seniors to help guide them when problems do occur, with a new national advocacy service to stand up for individuals’ rights.
Our support for aged care in the bush and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander seniors is strong.
In 2017 we directed more than $11.51 million into regional, rural, remote and Indigenous aged care services.
We are supporting people’s choices, too, as they move towards the end of their life, with the new palliAGED website offering medical and practical information.
Reform - crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s
You can rest assured that even if some Australians aren’t preparing for their senior years, the Turnbull Government certainly is.
And every reform we are considering is based on evidence, research and best-practice, as we work with the aged care sector and the community to deliver better care for seniors across the country.
A number of recently completed and current reviews will help us make this journey.
As I have said, the horror of Oakden in South Australia now has us all on notice.
When the first detailed investigation reported last May, I called an immediate, independent examination of all aspects of our national aged care regulatory processes – now known as the Carnell/Paterson review.
When the Government received the review, I moved immediately to implement unannounced inspection visits across all residential aged care facilities.
A working group including resident and provider representatives has advised my Department and the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency on arrangements for the introduction of these audits.
This work is progressing well and I expect them to come fully into effect within months.
We want to make sure future reform initiatives are complementary and make sense to the sector, governments and senior Australians.
That’s why we are considering the remainder of the review’s recommendations in conjunction with a number of other recent investigations.
These include David Tune’s Legislated Review which has flagged greater demands on the system as Baby Boomers reach their 80s.
Any decisions we make will consider fiscal responsibility and required legislative change, and the views and needs of the system, the sector and the community as a whole.
While 2017 saw foundational change and landmark reviews, 2018 will be a year of generational reform.
Quality and certainty will continue to be the cornerstones of care.
Believe it or not, there are currently four sets of aged care quality standards.
We are now working to replace these with a single set, focusing on the best outcomes for senior Australians.
A pilot is underway and guidance materials to support the new standards are in train.
This will be in place from 1 July this year, with a 12-month transition period for providers.
Maintaining the pace in 2018
I hope that you now have some understanding of the exciting trajectory our aged care system is on. While the challenges are great, the opportunities are many and varied.
This is an expanding sector, offering new and exciting careers, with economic opportunities in abundance, providing the bottom line is always quality, safety and certainty.
Currently, aged care makes a $17.6 billion economic contribution to Australia, representing 1.1% of GDP.
The direct economic component is akin to the impact made by the residential building and sheep, grains, beef and dairy industries.
By 2050, aged care services are expected to grow to further, to 1.7 per cent of GDP.
This means we must put much greater emphasis on an expert workforce, to meet the needs of the baby boomers and beyond.
Today, that workforce numbers more than 366,000 people.
But by 2050, we will need that to grow to nearly one million to meet demand.
To that end, late last year I commissioned an expert taskforce – led by Professor John Pollaers – to ensure the sector has a strong supply of appropriately qualified, professional and productive staff.
By July, I am due to receive Australia’s first aged care workforce strategy.
In the meantime, and in years to come, I urge younger and older Australians to consider a future in aged care.
The possibilities are numerous and expanding – from nursing, allied health, horticulture and administration, to robotics and IT - and the list goes on.
But just as important are the rewards.
I see the ageing sector providing not only a positive career, but also a privilege.
To provide quality care to our elders can deliver enormous satisfaction.
I’d like to tell you the stories of two people from my time working in Indigenous health in New South Wales.
Both were offered places in an aged care traineeship program.
One was a young woman living in a violent relationship.
One was a young man, living on the streets of Kings Cross, who, at his graduation, said: “I can’t wait to wake up each day to go to work to see the 35 smiling faces, who share their stories with me.”
The young woman had also gladly accepted the opportunity for aged care experience, and managed to ditch the problematic boyfriend when she was halfway through the course.
Both graduated with flying colours. She went on to win two major HESTA awards for her work, and said it was the best decision she had ever made.
In Australia’s brave new world of ageing and aged care, actively involving younger people will be a key to the integration and transformation required.
For those providers concerned about a skills shortage, I wonder too about an untapped resource we have previously ignored.
Some of those skills are readily available – residents themselves have long experience in every area you could imagine.
Why can’t ex-accountants assist with the books?
Why can’t gardeners grow fruit and vegetables for catering?
Why can’t keen cooks help out in the kitchens?
Why can’t former teachers instruct classes?
Like the seniors’ gap year I flagged recently, let’s re-imagine our retirement years.
What about actively involving seniors in the operation of aged care facilities, to provide another important potential path towards greater choice and a better quality of life?
At an integrated seniors living and aged care centre I visited last month, I saw just that.
Here was a retired clinical psychologist, now using his skills and experience to help people in that village.
As we go forward on our journey towards 100 and beyond, our knowledge and our skills don’t diminish - but all too often we do not have enough opportunities to use them fully.
Senior Australians should be seen as wisdom givers, keepers of accumulated knowledge and are our storytellers of our past, but equally, they must be recognised as unique individuals who still have a contribution to make.
Today, I hope each one of you will leave here and take some time to consider your future as a senior Australian.
As I travel the country talking to elders, their families, their carers and their communities, too often I hear about regrets.
Regrets that options were few when decisions were left until the last moment.
Regrets from former captains of Australian industry – I kid you not - whose final years sadly mirror the melodic warning of Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit – Cats in the Cradle. Where no amount of time spent pursuing previous business success can substitute for the warmth and touch of a loving relative in later years.
Regrets that a sea-change retirement took people away from their home town, their families and their support networks.
But I am also heartened when I visit aged care centres that can truly be termed “living communities”.
They are many and varied – each playing a leading role in their own way.
Communities like Cedarbrook that I opened late last year in South East Queensland.
While its buildings are cutting edge, its integration with an adjacent farm is the key to a quality of life many would envy.
Students from the nearby agricultural school tend to the animals and the property and soon, residents will be able to be involved in honey production, alongside Gold Coast beekeepers.
To further cement local connections, residents in the wider district are welcome to use the farm’s green spaces.
Expanding options for dementia care will also be a feature of Cedarbrook.
Moving to a more urban environment, I recently enjoyed the company of particularly happy seniors at Villa Dalmacia, in Perth’s southern suburbs.
The aged care home is itself a magnet for the broader Croatian, Spanish and Italian communities, so popular that retired staff regularly return to work there as volunteers.
Separating aged care homes and villages from the broader community concerns me greatly - on the outskirts of towns, surrounded by walls, kept out of the mainstream.
Linking schools and day care services to our seniors, holding neighbourhood events and building relationships across all generations, is a future I welcome and one I’m working hard to help realise.
I know of one case where a stereotypical “grumpy old man” waits for regular visits from a young friend.
When the child arrives from across the road, everything changes – he’s so happy, knowing he’s admired and respected, simply for sharing his life’s stories.
They share their time together like a grandfather and a grandson, cherishing each other’s company.
These are the roots of true intergenerational change – and lucky for us, there’s already a steady march of children and young students into aged care through countless school programs nationwide.
I use the term ‘living communities’ because language is a powerful tool.
I’d like to remind everyone – especially bureaucrats, business and the media – that there are few things seniors despise more, than being called “consumers”.
They are people, senior Australians and our respected elders.
Yes, we are all growing older, we are all ageing - but this should not define us, nor deny our individuality, our lifetime of achievements, our wisdom, our worth… or our humanity.
As a culturally diverse nation, we must also consider the differing needs of the 22 per cent of people aged over 65 who were born in non-English speaking countries.
Here in Melbourne, Fronditha and Mekong Cairnlea are diverse but shining examples of active, outward-looking aged care, providing for Australians of Greek and Vietnamese descent, respectively.
Cultural, linguistic and religious diversity are fundamental pillars of our multicultural success, and this is reflected in the Aged Care Sector Diversity Framework I launched in December.
From this, three action plans are now being developed, to address the specific care challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and those who identify as LGBTI.
There are options for further plans, to address new priorities, as they are identified, in what is a living document, to reflect our living communities.
For senior Australians listening to me speak today, know that I – on behalf of the Commonwealth – am firmly focused on providing certainty for you.
Certainty that our aged care system will put your needs first.
Certainty that care will be available, when and where you need it.
Certainty that you will have advocates and support regardless of where you choose to live.
And certainty that your contribution to our society is not forgotten.
From the chilling and shocking details highlighted at Oakden, certainty of care that meets the legal obligations of all aged care providers is non-negotiable.
With seniors 65 and over set to be one-quarter of our population by 2050, safe, sustainable aged care is fundamental to our future, and will increasingly contribute to a strong and growing economy.
But we must be prepared to listen, and to understand the needs of senior Australians, for we are all part of the same compelling voyage, one growing longer with each generation.
The collective quality of that journey will continue to help define the heart and soul of our nation.
1 $8.5m Multi-Purpose Services Progam and $3m for Indigenous people in remote locations