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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 995

Senator CHAMARETTE (4.33 p.m.) —I thank Senator Lees for sparing me three precious minutes of her time. I will touch on two issues that are relevant to this topic. Firstly, the emerging thesis of age as a rationale for health care is a thesis that actually debases old age at a time when it should be affirmed. I will expand on this in the adjournment debate. Secondly, I want to look at the issue of the roles of carers in the health debate.

  With regard to the impact of age as a rationale for health care, giving the aged poor their pension and providing them with medical care is at the very least a prerequisite for their self-respect and dignity but it is not a sufficient condition. More importantly, it is the manner of the giving that counts and the moral basis on which it is given. Propositions such as these undermine respect and dignity as components of a moral society.

  If age becomes a limiting factor in the provision of medical treatment, apart from the obvious appalling consequences to which many people have already taken objection, the consequences for women cannot be under-estimated. I think this gender issue in relation to the facilities being provided to aged people in our community is a very important one. Not only are there many more elderly women than men, but these older women are poorer, more apt to live alone and less likely to have informal social and personal supports than their male counterparts.

  Furthermore, a disproportionate number of nursing home patients are women. The use of an age criterion for determining how to allocate health care resources seems to manifest society's perception that youth is valuable and advanced age, particularly female age, has less worth. We need to look at the differential impact of this on women in our community.

  In relation to carers and their needs, the issue of caring is emerging as another issue that will affect the lives of women enormously. Carers are one of the least visible underclasses of our society. They continue to bridge the gap between what is provided and what is actually needed with little reward or recognition. The government has not sufficiently addressed the budget allocations for this very important area.

  Until we all start to ask who will care for us as we age and who we will care for, the reality of caring cannot be adequately resolved. Senator Forshaw referred to the government's national plan—the psychogeriatric units—but he needs to recognise that the government has failed to address the Burdekin report recommendations, in particular, the need for immediate special funding for dementia specific care units.