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Address at the National General Assembly of Local Government, Canberra.

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Ms Julie Bishop MP Minister for Ageing

24 November 2003

Address by the Hon Julie Bishop MP Minister for Ageing National General Assembly of Local Government Canberra 24 November 2003


Cr Mike Montgomery, delegates, and I acknowledge the West Australians here today. It's a long way to come for a conference!

We like to think of ourselves as a young country - it has only been a hundred years since Australia, the nation, was born.

But the fact is our population is ageing - both numerically (that is in the increase of people over the age of 65 in our community), and structurally (the increase in the proportion of people in the population aged 65-plus).

So while the Australian population increased five-fold in last century, the number of people aged 65-plus increased 15-fold.

The Treasurer's Intergenerational Report released in 2001 caught our nation's attention on the impact of our ageing population.

Now, our population is not ageing as rapidly as some other comparable countries, such as Japan or some of the

European countries, but nevertheless we must plan now for the impacts of an ageing population, particularly at the time our Baby Boomers reach traditional retirement age - that's going to start in about 2011.

All Australians, each individual, each business, each community, every level of government, will feel the impact.

Your State of the Regions report released yesterday, highlighted the potential impact on local government.

My message to you today, is that the Australian Government is keen to work cooperatively with you, and with the States, and with the community, to help face those challenges.

Changing Demographics

Now, I say 'potential impacts' deliberately, for there are many solutions to the challenges we face.

For example, if 20 years ago we had only looked at the statistics on the ageing population and nursing care required, we would have focused on delivering solely more aged care beds in nursing homes and other residential care facilities.

However the Australian Government has also listened to the concerns of the many thousands of older people who want to live independently at home, in their community, for as long as possible, before entering residential care, if they need to at all.

And this is a message that has been coming home to me as I have travelled around a number of electorates since being made the Minister for Ageing.

People, if they had a choice, they wanted to live at home in the community.

And so, by listening to these concerns, we have been able to deliver a 700 per cent increase in funding for aged care in the home through Community Aged Care Packages.

There are now more than 27,000 packages to provide support for people to live in their homes and in their local communities, and we are on the way to meeting our target of 34,000 packages by 2006.

In some areas local government is an important partner in delivering services to help people remain in their homes longer, particularly through the Home and Community Care program.

Since coming to Government in '96 Home and Community Care funding has increased by the Howard Government by more than 70 per cent.

The Government's contribution to this joint Commonwealth-State/Territory program will be $732 million this year, an increase of more than eight per cent over last year alone.

So while we need to find solutions to the challenges of our changing demographics, we must also look for ways to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the fact that Australians are living longer.

Life expectancy today is over 82 years for Australian women, and over 77 years for Australian men, compared with 59 years for women and 55 years for men just a hundred years ago.

So, Australians are now living a third of a life longer than they were in 1901.

Fertility and mortality rates in Australia have declined over the past three decades and are expected to decline further.

Over the next 40 years, the number of young dependent people aged under 15 will fall by around five per cent; the growth in the number of working age people aged 15 to 64 will gradually slow to almost zero; and the proportion of people aged over 65 will approximately double from around 12 per cent of the population now to 25 per cent of the population.

The number of people aged over 85 is expected to quadruple

Impact on Councils

As your State of the Regions report shows, the impact of an ageing population will be felt differently in each region, each community, each local Council area.

Currently, South Australia has the highest proportion of people aged 65 and over, but projections show that by 2019, Tasmania is expected to be the oldest state.

Older populations are expected to be concentrated along the coast, especially in Queensland, but not necessarily in metropolitan areas.

The area with the oldest population in Australia in 2019 is expected to be Bribie Island on the Queensland coast.

In total, over 170 statistical local areas are projected to have one-quarter or more of their population aged 65 or over by 2019.

The demand for more services, and infrastructure and support will be particularly felt by local government.

Many councils have already moved well beyond the traditional focus on 'roads, rates and rubbish' to the delivery of a wide range of economic, environmental and social services.

While there may be differences between councils, there is clearly a growing involvement in health and welfare services including senior citizens' centres, meals-on-wheels, immunisation and food safety and the like.

An ageing population results in a growing demand for these services.

And the ability of Councils to fund those services has been the subject of a number of recent reports, including your own State of the Regions report, and the Hawker Inquiry report, which was tabled in Parliament and released today.

You will be aware that the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, Senator Ian Campbell (a fellow West Australian), has welcomed the Hawker report as it gives the Government an opportunity to examine its relationship with Local Government, including funding.

The Government hopes to be in a position to respond to the report during the first half of next year.

Aged Care Planning

In my specific portfolio area of ageing, local government plays a key role as it is the level of government most directly responsible for regulation of the built environment of Australians.

This role involves both planning for current and future aged care facilities, and also developing communities that cater to our ageing society.

Our growing aged cohort is already increasing the demand for more aged care places.

Over the past five years the Australian Government has allocated an extra 52,700 places for residential care and community care, and we are well on the way to meeting our 2001 election target of 200,000 places by June of 2006.

The Australian Government has been working closely with other levels of government, particularly local government, as well as providers, to ensure new aged care places come online in a timely and efficient manner.

It appears to me that there are several reasons why places may not be delivered on time, including delays in obtaining Council planning permits, delays due to resident objections and appeals to Council planning decisions.

As you are aware, an aged care approved provider who is provisionally allocated aged care places has two years to make them available.

This time limit is set to ensure providers have enough time to build new accommodation and obtain the necessary planning approvals.

A review by the Department of Health and Ageing of provisional allocations made before 2000 found that a sizeable number had not become operational, and in more than 40 per cent of these cases, the major causes were delays in obtaining local government approvals, and appeals against approval decisions.

This causes problems not just for providers, but also for Councils, in that existing and future aged care residents are unable to access the residential care they need and deserve in their own local communities.

The Australian Government is keen to work collaboratively with the States, Territories and local government, and already, we are seeing results from our efforts, through the Victorian Planning and Building Approvals Issues Forum.

The Forum has brought together a range of stakeholders with the aim of enhancing planning processes, particularly fostering the relationship between the three levels of government, the aged care industry and local residents.

And I am certainly looking forward to receiving the report on the first phase of the Forum and its progress to phase 2.

I suggest the Forum be considered as a model for other states to follow, in our attempts to foster the development and accelerated provision of aged care in our communities.

Ageless communities

This cooperative approach demonstrates that it is not just government who can, or should, respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by our ageing population.

Business, non-government organisations, the community and the individual all need to consider the potential direct impacts that an ageing of the population will have on them.

Already, the Australian Government has demonstrated that it takes the matter of population ageing very seriously.

The Prime Minister, in a speech in November last year to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia listed the demography of Australia as one of nine key whole of government issues.

The Government has established an interdepartmental task force reporting to the Treasurer to focus particular attention on the issues of labour force participation, superannuation and retirement incomes policy, and managing expected increased government spending in areas affected by demographic change.

It is the significant impact of the health and aged care budgets that has meant that the Health and Ageing Portfolio generally, and successive Ministers for Ageing in particular, have been at the forefront of government efforts to highlight demographic change.

As the new, well, relatively new, Minister for Ageing I see it as my role to reflect the values, the priorities and the 'worth' that our nation places on our older Australians, in the policies that are delivered in aged care, and to act as an advocate in cross-portfolio areas of policy responsibility.

The primary vehicle for our endeavours has been the National Strategy for an Ageing Australia.

The National Strategy, costing some $6 million over four years, was funded initially in the 2000-2001 Budget to support the adaptation of Australian society to an ageing population.

The Strategy provides a framework to guide action by governments, business, the community and individuals, to meet the needs of Australians as they age.

The Strategy focuses on five themes:

● retirement incomes;

● a changing workforce;

● attitudes, lifestyle and community support;

● healthy ageing; and

● world class care.

Local government will clearly need to confront many of these same issues.

In terms of affecting policy change in the areas identified through the National Strategy, retirement incomes could be argued to be largely the province of the Australian Government and you will be aware of the changes to superannuation law that were recently passed.

All levels of government have shared responsibilities in relation to engaging and retaining mature age workers, encouraging healthy ageing, promoting positive attitudes to ageing and supporting world class aged care.

Already the Australian Government is acting, through initiatives including:

● a series of workshops with employers on the issue of mature age employment, including a national symposium

in late August with the National Seniors Association and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; ● introduction of the Age Discrimination legislation which is currently before our Parliament;

● funding in the 2003-04 Budget for a series of measures that make up the Focus on Prevention package, which

aims to integrate prevention of chronic diseases into the wider health system; ● we're sponsoring the Senior Australian of the Year Award as part of the Australia Day Awards; and

● there has been a significant increase, over the term of this Government, in the quality and quantity of care and

care services for frail older Australians - something that hasn't received a great deal of media attention in the coverage of the Australian Government's $2.4 billion MedicarePlus package was the substantial increases for doctors who treat residents in aged care facilities.

Under MedicarePlus doctors will receive a Medicare rebate of around $140 to provide comprehensive medical assessments for new and existing residents of aged care homes.

We will also be providing funding of up to $8,000 to a GP who provides services to aged care residents who do not have a regular doctor, including after hours and in an emergency, and who participates in activities in partnership with the residential home to improve the quality of care to residents.

Govt support for Ageing in Place

In its submission to the Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002, the World Health Organisation observed that age-friendly built environments can make a critical difference between independence and dependence for older people.

Further, a recent report to the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council argued that opportunities for a healthy and productive lifestyle can be increased substantially through improvements to the built environment.

Providing the planning infrastructure and community support to allow Australians to 'age in place' with safe, accessible and adaptable communities, housing and aged care facilities, is a particular challenge for local governments, given your urban planning responsibilities.

But you are not facing this alone. The Australian Government is actively supporting and promoting your efforts.

Over the past three years, the Australian Government has funded the Master Builders Australia National Lifestyle Housing for Seniors Awards.

These Awards recognise and promote leading practice in the building industry in developing innovative housing options for older Australians.

The Government's also got a multi-faceted strategy for engaging local government in a planned and coordinated national approach to population ageing issues.

This includes sponsorship of a Planning for an Ageing Community Award through the National Office of Local Government to highlight and promote local councils who are addressing the social, the economic and the environmental implications of an ageing population.

And I was pleased to announce at your dinner last night that the Nillumbik Shire Council had won the inaugural award for its 'Homewise' kit to promote 'age-friendly' design and planning, and I also comment that the Sutherland Shire Council's 'Sizzling Seniors Program', which is not about a sausage sizzle but is about supporting physical activity amongst its older ratepayers, also received a special commendation.

The second element of the local government initiative is sponsorship of this Assembly.

Our sponsorship enables me to have a direct dialogue with you, to demonstrate my commitment to addressing the issue of population ageing and to seek your input and your ideas on how we can work together.

We are also convening an Assembly workshop on Tuesday, with four experts offering a range of perspectives, to assist in your consideration of planning for an ageing Australian population, that major demographic shift.

The final component is funding to the Australian Local Government Association to enable you to engage an Ageing Development Officer, and that's Ally Peck.

Ally will work with State Local Government Associations and individual local councils to translate population-ageing issues into practical local initiatives.

She will be your resource. Keep her busy. Give her ideas. Seek her advice.

We are funding Ally's position because we recognise the critical contribution that local government makes to this important area.

However, it will only be worthwhile if you, the experts, can guide her work and efforts so that the outcomes are relevant and do-able.


Population ageing is a major issue for our nation. It is becoming more of an issue for individual councils.

It is important to remember, that none of our initiatives to respond, from the $2.4 billion MedicarePlus package, to the funding of the Ageing Development Officer with the Australian Local Government Association, would be possible without the Government delivering on the fundamentals of national security, a strong economy, and social cohesion.

I mention those three achievements today because they are not an end in themselves, but provide the base from which we can deliver the reform and the policy necessary to meet the challenges of our ageing population.

I would like today to be the beginning of a partnership between our two levels of government, to work together to meet these specific challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. I wish you well in your deliberations. I look forward to working with you.

Thank you.