Senate debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020



5:45 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to discuss the issue of ageism within our aged-care sector. Last week I met with some wonderful stakeholders from the EveryAGE Counts campaign who have been doing vital work to shine a light on this very important issue. Ageism is defined as stereotyping, discrimination and mistreatment based solely upon age. It impacts on people's confidence, quality of life, job prospects, health and control over life decisions. Sadly, ageism is a pervasive, sometimes hidden, form of discrimination. It comes in the form of prejudicial attitudes towards older people, discriminatory practices against older people and institutional practices which perpetrate stereotypes and undermine dignity.

Age discrimination in the workplace is rampant in Australia. We hear very real accounts from people experiencing age discrimination from the age of 45 years old. Ageism is costing people a huge part of their working life and their choice in being able to work past retirement age.

The EveryAGE Counts campaign argues that ageism is one of the key drivers of failures in quality and safety within our aged-care system. In fact it is ageism that has contributed to some of the high-profile examples of neglect and abuse that has led to the current Royal Commission into Aged Care, Quality and Safety. While we are uncovering more about how ageism operates in the employment and health sector, there has been little research into its significant impacts in aged care.

I would like to touch on some of the ways ageism is reinforced through our residential aged-care system and contributing to a broken system. Let's look at the current aged-care funding instrument. This instrument is biased towards accepting and managing a decline in the cognitive and physical health of older people. If a person's functional ability and health improves, then the provider is given less funding. This is counterintuitive to encouraging reablement amongst older people. I often hear from allied health professionals who are frustrated with the funding instrument. It should be rewarding providers for improving a person's physical, mental and psychosocial abilities. The continued segregation of older people into their own care system also reinforces ageist assumptions about the sameness of older people in their preferences and needs. While there may be some stand-out residential facilities, our system favours a once-size-fits-all approach when it comes to aged care.

The EveryAGE Counts campaign considers that there is a strong relationship between end-of-life care options and ageism in aged care. A vision for a good death in aged care and in the community is just as important as a vision for a good older life. There is a fundamental absence of a human rights approach and framework in age care. We need to review existing legislation by using a human rights lens to redirect it from speaking almost solely to providers. This is why the EveryAGE Counts campaign is recommending a stronger, explicit, funded human rights based approach within all aspects of the aged-care system.

The first step towards eradication of ageism in aged care is raising consciousness with policymakers, providers, practitioners and older people about its existence, sources and impact. We need to fundamentally change Australian attitudes and beliefs about ageing and older people. It will require sustained and targeted activities to tackle ageism. We need to embed the principles of person-centred care, consumer choice and control, co-design and reablement into the principles and practices of the aged-care system.

There is no quick fix for tackling ageism. These issues are complex and interrelated—we acknowledge that. The EveryAGE Counts campaign has made a number of excellent recommendations to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. I urge the government to consider these recommendations while investigating options for reforms in aged care. I hope that together we can tackle ageism and celebrate the process of ageing and older people across this country.