May 21, 2021

John Hewson speaks out on aged care battleground: “There’s still a long way to go”

Aged care battleground

The budget was an “election budget on steroids” and a “political fix”, Hewson stated at this year’s ACSA (Aged & Community Services Australia) National Summit. 

But reform must continue and will require a “substantial lobbying effort” to keep the government on track, Hewson explained.

By making aged care a political issue, the government has left itself open to aged care becoming a difficult issue in the lead-up to the election, and there is an opportunity for ACSA to lobby the government to ensure the initial reforms outlined in the budget are built on.

Earlier this year, the Australian Aged Care Collaboration, an alliance of six aged care peaks including ACSA, said it would target 15 marginal electorates with a population of more than 800,000 voters over the age of 55, if the budget response was insufficient.

Considering that changes in only two or three seats could force a change of government, the political potential in such a strategy is clear.

Image: Former LNP leader John Hewson and Moderator Peter Mares, from Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership, at the 2021 ACSA National Summit.

A new aged care act

With the government committed to delivering a new aged care act by 2022, Hewson said ACSA should have a clear idea of what it wishes the new act to look like.

ACSA could even deliver a draft version of the act to the government, he suggested.

Aged care needs to be above politics

Hewson told the summit the economic reforms in Australia during the 1980s drove an incredible increase in productivity, but they were only possible because they had bipartisan support.

Aged care reforms need a similar bipartisan approach and should be above politics, he said.

Mutuals and cooperatives better suited to aged care

Hewson said he expects to see a greater presence of mutuals and cooperatives in the sector, rather than for profits, because the profit motive has “distorted” the system.

Even churches might need to “rethink” their involvement in the sector, Hewson said.

Eventually we’ll have to pay more for aged care – or wind back services

Hewson predicts Australia’s economic performance will “slow” as time goes on, and the growth the nation is currently enjoying is unsurprising, considering it’s coming from a “deep base”. 

The government usually does not fund recurrent spending – such as spending on aged care, childcare, mental health and the NDIS – with debt, yet the government’s recent spending in these areas has been funded by racking up loans.

At the same time, the costs of these services – at least in aged care – are likely to increase rapidly due to the ageing population and demand driven care.

At some point, Hewson said, the government will have to find alternative ways to fund recurring spending, or the risk is they will begin winding these items back, including for aged care.

“A political fix”

Hewson said it would be “generous” to say the government provided half the funding aged care needs, a figure the Grattan Institute put at $10 billion per annum.

The government’s budget has no long-term strategy and leaves big questions unanswered.

There was no commitment to clear the home care waiting list or reduce waiting times to 30 days, there was no increased scrutiny of providers, there is no requirement for a minimum training standard in aged care, there was no support for an independent aged care commission, and the mandated care minutes won’t be implemented until 2023, despite there being an “immediate need” for that level of care today.

Hewson said the administrative burden of mandated care hours could become “significant” for providers, and yet the government had done nothing in this regard to help them.

The government should be driving initiatives, “not just leaving it to the providers themselves”. 

HelloCare is a proud media partner of the ACSA National Summit 2021. Keep up-to-date with the latest insights by reading HelloCare.

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  1. The Aged Care sector needs transparency. At the moment no-one actually knows where the money goes.


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