There are just over two weeks to go before the polls open and Australian voters have their say on which political party will lead the nation, but the major parties are under fire for having failed so far to make any solid promises to voters when it comes to the issue of aged care – and that’s despite the fact that older Australians are among the age groups most likely to vote.
While topics such as immigration and climate change seem to be stealing the biggest headlines as the election approaches, advocacy group Leader Age Services Australia (LASA) has called on the major parties not to forget about older Australians.
LASA CEO Sean Rooney said that with just 15 days to go before polling day, neither the government Coalition or the Labor party had made a policy announcement concerning aged care, despite the government and the opposition having previously vowed to improve the current system.
“In announcing the Royal Commission [into Aged Care Quality and Safety], the prime minister committed to ‘providing older Australians with access to care that protects their dignity and recognises the vital contribution they have made to the nation and our society’,” Rooney said. “Labor welcomed the royal commission, saying it should not be used as an excuse for neglect on carrying out necessary reforms immediately. The opposition leader said Labor would make aged care ‘a central national issue’, but so far in this campaign both parties have been silent.”
“Aged care is just as important as health and education,” Rooney added. “But yet again, it seems our older Australians are being forgotten.”
In the lead-up to the election, the Coalition has pledged to make Australia’s health system “the best in the world” with a $1.6 billion package, which includes a guarantee for ongoing funding for Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), as well as pledging $40 billion to add a series of life-changing medicines to the PBS over the next four years.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also vowed to significantly expand access to MRI scans, ultrasounds and X-rays covered by Medicare, as well as record funding for Medicare-funded blood tests and an additional $31 billion in public hospital funding from between 2020 and 2025.
Meanwhile, Labor’s plan for health includes the $2.8 billion Better Hospitals Fund, as well as the “biggest cancer care package in Australian history”, in which he vowed to invest $2.3 billion to slash out-of-pocket costs for cancer patients.
On the issue of education, Labor leader Bill Shorten announced an extra $14 billion for public schools over the next decade, which is the equivalent of more than 13,000 extra teachers and 23,000 extra teacher aides. Labor has also said it will waive upfront fees for 100,000 TAFE students, plus reserve tens of thousands of places for people studying early education, or the skills they need to work in aged care, in a bid to combat skills shortages in those areas.
The LNP, meanwhile, has focused on vocational education, announcing $585 million to fund more than 80,000 new apprenticeships, along with a pilot scheme of up to 10 industry-led job pathway programs to benefit young people.
LASA’s Rooney described the “silence” from both sides on aged care as alarming, adding: “We’ve heard nothing about what’s happening for the nearly 130,000 older Australians on the home care waiting list, only silence about the 42 per cent of residential care facilities operating at a loss and nothing about investing in the aged care workforce.
“Older Australians and those that care for them deserve real vision and commitment from the next government of this country and they and their loved ones have a right to know where the parties stand on aged care before they head to the ballot box.”
LASA – the national peak body representing for-profit providers of age care services across residential care, home care and retirement living – has put forward a series of policy solutions and called on all Australians to challenge their local MPs to raise the profile of the issue.
“Making the system better should be a priority for all political parties and candidates,” Rooney added. “We need to ensure that older Australians can access the care they need, and that this care is adequately funded to reflect the actual costs of delivering quality care and services, whilst we also attract, train and develop high performing staff.
“Older Australians need a better aged care system, and older Australians deserve nothing less.”
LASA has also encouraged all Australians to take part in a national day of action on May 14 to let MPs know that “aged care is an issue of national importance”.
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