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Council on the Ageing believes aged care policy is inadequate.

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LINDA MOTTRAM: The aged care sector is well aware that the grey vote could be pivotal in the coming federal election so, today, it is upping the ante in its battle to get the Howard government to rethink its aged care policy, with the release by the Council on the Ageing of four detailed reports on key policy areas. The council says that current policies are flawed and, in particular, that the health system is outdated where care of the aged is concerned, while there is a desperate lack of compensation for the struggling elderly. It has also expressed concerns about the opposition’s plans to roll back the GST. Sarah Clarke reports from Canberra.


SARAH CLARKE: Older Australians were a key target group in this year’s budget. Not only did the Treasurer dish out a one-off $300 handout for pensioners, he also served up tax relief for self-funded retirees. But the sector is still not satisfied the government is keeping pace with an ageing population, and in this election year it is flexing its political muscle. Today, the Council on the Ageing, the peak organisation representing the over-50 age group, is releasing four detailed reports demanding a rethink on government policy—spokeswoman, Veronica Sheen.


VERONICA SHEEN: The key issue in the report, Sarah, is that we need long-term planning for an ageing population and we need to consolidate the planning within a context that takes account of the economic realities, realities of government budgets, the realities that we have an ageing population.


SARAH CLARKE: The key priorities are boosting Medicare, offering targeted assistance for older workers, better income retirement schemes and ongoing compensation for older Australians struggling with the GST. Veronica Sheen says both sides of politics are offering flawed policies.


VERONICA SHEEN: We are most concerned about the impact of GST on older people’s spending powers. We know that there are certain groups, specially those on aged pensions with little or no private income who have taken the GST very hard. The extent to which there should be roll-back or better compensation needs to be debated out more. The problem is, Sarah, where additional revenue is going to come from, and that is a very big problem.


SARAH CLARKE: That is a message the Treasurer is also broadcasting. Peter Costello’s warning any roll-back of the GST will reduce the tax’s power to finance crucial government spending, including hospitals and nursing homes, leaving older Australians worse off.


PETER COSTELLO: We are in the position where we have put in place an indirect tax base that can fund social services. The Labor Party says it wants to roll back that base. If it is going to have the same level of social services, it will have to have other taxes higher, and those other taxes will be income taxes.


SARAH CLARKE: But the man responsible for taking the public pulse across the nation warns, despite government backflips and concessions, it is the GST still dominating talkback—Rehame’s Peter Maher.


PETER MAHER: Of course the GST is something that they believe has had a most detrimental effect on their life and they are very critical of what the government is offering there.


SARAH CLARKE: With more than 20 per cent of the population of some key marginal electorates aged over 60, Peter Maher says both sides of politics should be cuddling up to the older population.


PETER MAHER: One way to woo them back is to exempt them from any form of GST. If either political party is prepared to do that for the pensioners, for the grey vote, there is no doubt that will be the winning tactic.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Peter Maher ending that report from Sarah Clarke in Canberra.