Taskforce plan "the only game in town" for aged care reform

Joint opinion piece

Chris Grice, CEO - National Seniors Australia
Lincoln Hopper, CEO - St Vincent’s Care

Being an optimist in the aged care sector is sometimes to believe in hope over experience.

Yet we still choose to cling to hope even as the window for reform is rapidly closing.

There have been two aged care stories during the current Parliament.

The first: rapid action on introducing extra care minutes, 24/7 nurses, and stronger regulation and sector transparency after the Royal Commission.

The second: a cautious, behind-the-scenes game as both sides of politics inch warily, untrustingly, close to historic bipartisan on funding reform. It is now time for that game to end.

Twelve months ago, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton cracked open the door to bipartisan reform for the sustainable funding of aged care. 

He said that "a respectful, dignified, world-class aged care system is only funded by residents or taxpayers," and that he wanted "to work with the Government to ensure that our aged care system remains sustainable." He closed with "I am a person of my word."

He is to be commended for opening that door.

Since then, the government-chaired Aged Care Taskforce has made 23 recommendations to do just that. Bringing together disparate sector players, navigating the evidence, and landing on a fair and equitable model.

In recent days, Aged Care Minister Anika Wells said the government is "committed to getting this done."

She should be commended for delivering that work.

But the time for words has now passed. Do both sides have the courage to walk through that open door together?

If the current and next generation of Australian seniors are to be properly supported, we need to settle this now.

To miss this opportunity is to invite a return to a pre-Royal Commission aged care sector.

And we swore we would never let that happen.

Back then, both sides of politics were on a joint ticket in condemning the atrocious state of aged care it exposed.

It’s now time for them to find that same common ground in agreeing to the solution.

Most of the aged care sector continues to operate in an uncertain financial environment.

Without a secure financial footing how can we prepare for the estimated 3.5 million Australians that are expected to access aged care services by 2050?

And that uncertainty has serious implications for the care needs of older Australians.

The Aged Care Taskforce’s recommendations provide the solution.

If embraced in full, the proposals would create a system that allows older people to remain in their home for as long as they can; would guarantee sufficient funding for quality and appropriate care delivered by a skilled workforce; and would provide the access to capital needed for the innovations of the next models of care.

In the absence of political support for a levy, the Taskforce proposed a rebalancing of the aged care funding model. One that is simple, transparent, and sustainable. The government will remain the major funder of the system with a focus on care costs, while Australians with means will be asked to make modest, co-contributions for their accommodation and everyday living expenses, fairly linked to their capacity to pay. To be clear, older people with means will not pay more for care, only for everyday costs that everyone routinely pays.

This will be underpinned by a strong aged care safety net for older Australians who need it.

The Taskforce’s recommendations – including the co-contribution measure – are fair and reasonable. They can be phased in with appropriate grandfathering and transparency measures.

Crucially, most aged care voices – from seniors to providers to advocacy groups – support them.

So why is there so much uncertainty in Canberra – on both sides of politics – about getting behind its recommendations?

The choice is clear. We can either have an aged care system where older Australians access their preferred model of high-quality care – whatever their income – or a system that condemns our parents and grandparents to lower standards, less choice, and poorer outcomes.

It’s that simple.

The time has come for some political courage from the Government and Opposition, and the crossbench.

Waiting in the wings for an opportunity to score political points is not in the interests of older Australians.

We need bipartisan – and multi-partisan – support for the solution…and there is no other game in town but the plan put forward by the Aged Care Taskforce.

Better and fairer care. Always.

In a rapidly transforming world, St Vincent's has created a refreshed vision and strategy to help shape Australia's health and aged care future.