House debates

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Matters of Public Importance

Older Australians

4:04 pm

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Ageing) Share this | Hansard source

I am certainly keen to contribute and to talk about how much this government values our older Australians and values the contributions that they have made to society. We recognise their many achievements as well. I will also point out many of the very definitive actions that the Rudd government has taken to assist our older Australians. We are certainly committed to building a health and aged-care system for Australia’s future. We have instigated pension reform. We have certainly taken some very decisive action to assist our older Australians. We look to the opposition, and they just look at having spending cuts and blaming someone else. They would be risking Australia’s future, risking the commitments that we have made to our older Australians.

Whilst we look at all the challenges that we have in our future and we discuss the challenges of our ageing population, we also recognise the wonderful opportunities that it brings us as a nation: the wonderful opportunities to relish the wisdom and experience of our older Australians and the remarkable contribution that they have made to our nation. And when we look at some of the actions that we have taken to assist our older Australians, there have been many that have been made in the two years since the Rudd government was elected. After 12 years of neglect when it came to so many areas that impacted on our older Australians—issues such as pension reform, health care and aged care—it has been the Rudd government that has taken very decisive action in those last two years in terms of providing vital services for our older Australians.

First and foremost is that of pension. Our pension reform was the most significant reform since the pension was introduced a hundred years ago. Indeed, this was a major issue amongst many older Australians right across our nation. The Rudd government understood many of the cost-of-living pressures that our older Australians had, and we did increase the pension. The total increase for single pensioners on the maximum rate was just over $70 a fortnight and for couples combined it was just over $29 a fortnight. We did that in recognition of the increasing cost of living that our pensioners faced. As I said, this was the first major pension reform in over a hundred years. If we look to the opposition, the fact is that they were in for 12 years and failed to have any major pension reform at all. In fact, just the other day I was having a read of the Leader of the Opposition’s book Battlelines. In it he says that people should not actually be eligible for the age pension until they are 70 years of age. I am sure it would be of major concern to many older Australians to hear that. He certainly is a risk to the future of all Australians, particularly our older Australians.

We also look to the major reforms that we have had, particularly when it comes to aged care. I would certainly like to point out many of the major achievements of the Rudd government in that area. We have more services for our older Australians. We also have more funding for those aged-care services. We are committed to more quality and accountability and we have improved those measures and also increased our investment in the aged-care workforce. Those extra services that are being provided are vitally important. Since the Rudd government was elected there are 10,000 more aged-care places across the country.

Our transitional care program has made a major difference in the lives of so many older Australians. Of those 2,000 transitional care places, 662 are now in place and operational. This makes a very big difference in terms of older people being able to leave hospital sooner. They are treated in a much more appropriate setting and it certainly has been great to see the success of that in making a difference in people’s lives. When it comes to providing future aged-care services, we have just had the latest aged-care approvals round, with more than 12,000 places in that round for 8,000 residential care places and 4,000 community care places. We understand that older people want to remain with their family, friends and communities and that is why we have those large numbers of places plus a $200 million capital assistance package as well.

When it comes to aged care we have provided much across the board to protect our older Australians and to provide services for them. We have improved the quality and accountability of our nursing homes. We have strengthened our police check requirements, we have improved the reporting requirements for missing residents and we have a website where people can check on the compliance history of a particular nursing home because we are committed to building an aged-care system for Australia’s future and we understand how important that is.

The shadow minister for seniors also mentioned health, which is somewhat remarkable considering the opposition leader as the minister for health in the Howard government ripped a billion dollars out of our health and hospital system. He froze the GP training places and he ignored the nursing shortage that we had in our health and hospital system. When we look at the achievements of the Rudd government in two years, we have made an investment to commit $64 billion to our health and hospital system over the next five years, put $600 million in our elective surgery program and invested $750 million in taking the pressure off our emergency departments. We have invested $1.1 billion in training initiatives. We understand how important it is to have a health and hospital system in place to provide services for Australians today and tomorrow. That is why we also have the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission process underway at the moment with more than 100 consultations into the future of our health and hospital system undertaken so far.

I want to touch on what the shadow minister for seniors was saying in relation to private health insurance. We recently saw the release of the Operations of the private health insurer’s annual report. Those who made dire predictions of a drop in the number of people in private health insurance funds were proved wrong yet again. The latest figures released just recently by the Private Health Insurance Administration Council showed the numbers of Australians taking out private health insurance continues to grow.

When we talk about the action we have taken to assist our older Australians and we outline increases in funding and services that we are providing and initiatives for training, one of the other major areas that we focus on is that of promoting healthy active ageing—providing support to our older Australians. We certainly know that our older Australians continue to contribute so much. No matter where I go, people will say that they are busier in retirement than when they were working because they are getting out there. Some people continue to work, some people volunteer, there are many people with major family commitments as well and the government supports them in many ways. One of our election commitments was to establish an Ambassador for Ageing. For the first time in Australia we have a person who is the Ambassador for Ageing to promote healthy ageing. We appointed Noeline Brown, who is an Australian icon. Noeline has done an outstanding job travelling the country talking to seniors’ groups about the contributions that they continue to make and she is truly remarkable. She is just over 70 and she does a remarkable job in assisting our older Australians and encouraging them. This was one of our major election commitments and it is also an acknowledgement of the role that our older Australians play. Noeline does an outstanding job.

The Intergenerational report the government released just last week was a very important report and it showed how critical it is to plan for the future and invest in productivity and participation whilst maintaining spending discipline. The report outlined many of the changes that we are going to see in the demographics of our nation and the increase in costs as well. In practical terms the ageing of the population means that between now and 2050 the number of people aged 65 to 84 will more than double and the number of people aged 85 and over will more than quadruple. That means the number of working people for every person aged 65 and over will fall from its current level of five to around 2.7.

This was a very important report in terms of the future and our future planning, which is of extreme importance. What we hear from the Liberal Party is that they are too backward thinking to come up with ideas for the future or to understand the reality for future generations and how we should be planning now. We certainly have a genuine plan for the future. They do not have any plans. They are a risk to the future because they are not looking at all the challenges that we face ahead.

As part of releasing the Intergenerational report we also launched a new $43.3 million Productive Ageing package. It provides vital training and support for older Australians who want to stay in the workforce, because we understand that there are many older Australians who would like to continue to work. That package includes 2,000 training packages for employers to allow eligible mature age workers to retrain as supervisors or trainers and also $500,000 in grants for Golden Gurus organisations. Golden Gurus is a wonderful initiative so that our younger Australians can learn from the wisdom and experience of our older Australians. That package also includes face-to-face job support and training for 2,000 eligible mature-age workers. We certainly have a lot of initiatives to help our older Australians who do want to continue to work.

I add that I am very lucky as the Minister for Ageing to meet with so many of the wonderful national groups that we have that do an outstanding job in providing services for our older Australians. Indeed, the shadow minister for seniors mentioned the launch of the revamped magazine 50 Something. This is a magazine that the National Seniors organisation put out. We were all pleased to be at the launch this morning. It was great to be there and to launch this revamp of this wonderful magazine with our Prime Minister on the front. It has a wonderful array of stories of interest to everyone. I will just read from the column provided by Michael O’Neill, who is the CEO of National Seniors Australia. He talks about the challenges we face in the future and the challenges that, as a nation, we have to work towards providing for. He says at the end of that column that we have to ‘seize the moment but allow the wisdom of decades past to guide the journey’. I think that really encapsulates all of the sentiments that National Seniors speak about and what this government believes.

We honour and respect our older Australians, and we do that through many avenues and also through the direct action we have in providing assistance for them. That is what is vitally important and what they require. We honour the fact that these are the people who built our nation. These are the people who worked hard, raised their families, paid their taxes, contributed so much and continue to contribute to that, and we certainly honour that and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect, especially through government initiatives that make a real difference to their lives. Under the previous government we had 12 years of neglect when it came to planning and providing that support, and in the two years that the Rudd government has been in we have brought in pension reform and more services in our health and aged-care sector, because we understand that this is what is very important to older Australians.

What is very unfortunate is that the shadow minister for seniors, when you look at her record in government, just blamed everybody else for every problem and did not take responsibility for it at all. If we would like to talk about the Liberal Party and their approach to older Australians, I would like to remind the House of when the member for Sturt was the Minister for Ageing. I have come across an article from the Sunday Age from 6 May 2007, ‘I’m too young for this job, says aged-care minister’. The article goes on to say that he was:

Describing caring for the aged as an “unenviable industry” …

I think he really highlighted the Liberal Party’s perception of older Australians and the aged-care sector when he made those remarks. He said, ‘I’m too young and have a young family.’ He thought he was too young to be the aged-care minister. I think that is absolutely an insult to older Australians. I consider it an absolute honour and privilege to be the Minister for Ageing and to meet firsthand our remarkable older Australians, who contribute so much to this nation. This government values all of those contributions that they have made, and we respect them and treat them with absolute dignity. Most importantly, we continue to provide all the reforms that are necessary for those people in providing support for their lives.

After 12 years of neglect, we have acted swiftly and decisively to provide for our older Australians, because we understand how important that is. We also understand—the Liberal Party does not understand—how we have to be planning for the future and our future ageing populations as well. We are tackling all of the challenges in front of us as a nation. What we have instead with the coalition is just a risk. They do not understand the issues and the challenges. It is the Rudd government that understands those challenges and, of course, one of those major challenges is the ageing of our population. We have certainly looked to the future and those challenges, and in doing so we totally respect our older Australians and the remarkable contributions they have made.


No comments