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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1389

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (18:31): I rise tonight to speak on the topic of aged care, aged-care service improvement and the Healthy Ageing Grants scheme. Australia's population is undergoing a profound change: more of us are living longer. The population aged 65 years and over is projected to increase from 3.2 million people at 30 June 2012—or 14 percent of the population—to between 5.7 million and 5.8 million people by 2050, which will be equal to 25 percent of the population. At the same time, the proportion of working-age people is projected to fall. This has created, and will create, many issues for the aged-care sector.

One of the biggest issues that has emerged from the aged-care sector has been the ability to recruit and train enough staff to cope with future demands. According to the Department of Social Services, in 2012 there were approximately 352,000 estimated employees in the aged-care sector. The DSS has projected that, in order for the demand to be met, an extra 475,000 staff will need to be recruited by 2050. This represents an enormous challenge for the government to deal with and further highlights the need for the Abbott government to have a dedicated minister for ageing. Instead, they neglect the challenge and continue to demonstrate their lack of interest in this important area of policy. This challenge could, and should, be addressed right now.

Additional challenges include the provision of residential and community care, the provision of a decent quality of life for the aged and the challenge of maintaining quality standards in care facilities. But the Abbott government continues to frame these issues as an economic burden. The Abbott government continues to only speak of these issues in terms of cost. I do not believe that these issues should be seen as a burden; I believe that this should be seen as an opportunity to provide a better standard of living for older Australians.

Through my discussions with the community and community groups, the issues around retirement are continuously raised with me. Often when people retire they are faced with feelings of insecurity; they no longer feel valued or useful. But these are skilled people who still have a significant role to play in our community. They have skills and talents that can be passed on to younger generations and, importantly, they can use their life experience to be mentors and to guide younger people through important decisions in life. This expertise and mentoring could lead to better employment opportunities for those who are prepared to engage. Why then doesn't this government explore this as an idea moving forward? This demonstrates that older Australians can and do have a significant role to play in our society, but instead the Abbott government continues to harp on about the costs of the ageing.

The Aged Care Service Improvement and Healthy Ageing Grants scheme, or ACSIHAG, was established to provide funding to organisations and groups that strengthen the capacity of the aged-care sector; promote healthy and active ageing to respond better to existing and emerging challenges; and to better support services that engage with the minority groups and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. At the estimates hearings last week we discovered through our questioning that 618 organisations had applied for funding but only 54 actually received it. When quizzed on which organisations failed to receive funding, the assistant minister could not provide a response. We have a government that is still refusing to provide any sort of detail as to which organisations and which projects have been refused.

Older Australians should not be treated as an economic burden; they should be treated as people who have a valuable contribution to make to our communities. This is a government that is dysfunctional and inward thinking. Older Australians deserve so much more from this government. But, as we have seen over the last few weeks, the Prime Minister of this country is more concerned about governing for his own job than for the broader community.

Aged care is an area in which we face challenges. We have offered to work with the government to resolving these issues, but it needs leadership and, unfortunately, the Abbott government has never placed the priority on ageing that it should. When we were in government, we had a minister for ageing who was a member of cabinet, because ageing issues go across all portfolios. It is a poor reflection on this government that they do not give ageing the priority that they should. (Time expired)