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"Active Australia International Year of the Older Persons Project", 19 February 1999, The Mural Hall, Parliament House: transcript of address at launch.

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19 February 1999







Well, thank you very much, Senator Bishop; to my other - Senator Bishop, good Heaven’s, what a bad start. Bronwyn, I’m sorry. That’s what happens when you spend an hour-and-a-half on the golf course early in the morning. It takes your mind off business. It makes me very active, Jackie. But to Bronwyn; to my other ministerial colleague, Jackie Kelly; to all the other groups who are represented here today and I particularly acknowledge Peter Bartells, the Chairman of the Australian Sports Commission, and all the other organisations that are involved in the sort of aims and the sort of projects that we have in mind for the International Year of Older Persons.

Not every international year which is designated by the United Nations or other international bodies draws unifying support within the Australian community. But it’s fair to say that this year, which has been set aside to recognise the contribution of older people to the building of Australia and to the nature of Australian society that we have at present, is something that has the enthusiastic support of not only the Australian Government but the enthusiastic support of all Australians.

Our aim in this year is to recognise the contribution that older people have made to the Australian nation and to also pursue a number of underlying policy objectives. To recognise the desire of older Australians to remain in their own homes. To recognise the desire of older Australians to remain very active. And to implement a number of programmes which work towards those aims.

I’m very proud of a number of the initiatives that the Government has already implemented in the three years that it’s been in power to assist older Australians. I think particularly the extension of the Seniors’ Card to something like 225,000 largely but not entirely self-funded retirees. I think particularly the extension of the Gold Card to 50,000 World War II veterans, a very special group of older Australians to whom all of us owe everything in terms of our current lifestyle and the fact that we can live in freedom in this wonderful country of ours.

We have linked the pensions to 25% of male total average earnings. We’ve made changes to the thresholds in relations to taxation for self-funded retirees. We’ve provided a capital gains tax exemption for small businesses where the proceeds are rolled over into an approved retirement fund. And we’ve, very importantly for rural Australians, we’ve eased the assets test on retiring farmers so that they can transfer their farm to their family without affecting their eligibility for the pension. And also very recently, and I know something widely welcomed by the Australian community and particularly by older Australians, we’ve introduced a 30% taxation rebate for private health insurance, which means that something in order of 81% of all Australian taxpayers will effectively have a full tax deduction for their private health insurance.

We are particularly committed, in relation to the care of the frail aged, we are particularly committed to providing as much assistance and as many incentives as possible to assisting people to remain in their own homes. It is the overwhelming desire of older Australians to remain in their own homes all their lives or, given the circumstances, as long as possible. And we introduced a Staying at Home initiative more than a year ago which over four years increases the number of community aged care packages from just under 10,000 to 22,000. And we’re also going to provide greater support for Australia’s 1.5 million carers. And I have to say that some of the most heroic Australians and some of the most wonderful Australians I’ve met are those older people caring for often a disabled or handicapped child in very, very difficult circumstances. And we have introduced additional measures to assist them, as indeed we’ve provided additional support for the domiciliary nursing care benefit and also additional assistance in relation to those who suffer dementia. And in relation to residential aged care, we’re increasing funding by more than $165 million a year. And over the next 10 years $1.3 billion will be provided to upgrade and build new premises.

You are, of course, aware of the very significant benefits for older people coming out of the Government’s taxation reform package. And particularly the increases in the pension of 4%, that a further 45,000 people will qualify for a part-pension and the pe nsioner concession card, the increase in the tax threshold, the reduction in tax rates and also very welcomed to many self-funded retirees, the abolition of provisional tax. Now, all of these things are initiatives of the Government which have taken place over the last three years.

The theme of 1999, the Year of Older Persons, is Australia, a society for all ages. And that is a theme which is designed to recognise the contribution of people of all ages to the building of the Australian community. And I hope that during this year we as a nation can recognise the immense contribution of older Australians to our society and to build partnerships between the Government and the community and the Government and business organisations to better meet the needs of older people.

And as a permanent reminder of this international year I want to pursue a substantial advancement in the health care delivered to older Australians. We want to increase the ability of older people to continue living in their own homes and to participate actively in their community. And more specifically in relation to that, we’re going to provide, through Medicare, for general practitioners to be involved in multidisciplinary care planning and case management for those with chronic and complex needs. We want to give incentives at the practice level for general practitioners to achieve multidisciplinary care plans for those over 65 and with chronic and complex needs. And for those over 75, to pay doctors to undertake an annual health assessment to focus on issues of prevention and better management of chronic illness, with these assessments to be done at the person’s home where necessary. We’ve committed - and this was announced at the time of the passage of the health insurance legislation - an additional $25 million for further co-ordinated care trials to address the health care needs of older people who are chronically ill or disadvantaged.

I do want to, and I particularly welcome the emphasis here today on encouraging older people to remain physically active in their local communities. The Active Australia International Year of Older Persons campaign that we’re going to launch today will highlight the benefit of physical activity for older people, indeed, for Australians of all ages and is one of our major initiatives for the year. And I particularly mark there the contribution of different agencies, the Australian Sports Commission, the Health Department and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, to deliver benefits in that particular programme.

Twenty years from now there will be almost twice as many people over the age of 65 as there are now. And this fact presents particular challenges and for this reason I’ve established a Ministerial Reference Group chaired by the Minister for Aged Care, Mrs Bishop, to develop a national strategy for an ageing Australia. And it will provide the vehicle for consulting the community about the type of policies and programmes needed in the years ahead to meet the demands of older people.

I’ve asked that group to focus on four themes. Firstly, helping Australians to be independent and to provide for their later years through employment, life-long learning and financial security. Secondly, delivering quality health care through new approaches to service delivery, co-ordinated care and independent living. Thirdly, improving attitudes to older people and ageing, lifestyle issues such as personal safety, housing, transport, recreation and community support. And fourthly, encouraging healthy ageing and the role of general practitioners of maintaining the wellbeing of older people. And I understand that that group will release a preliminary discussion paper in the next month or so with further discussion papers later in the year.

And in the area of recognising in a symbolic way the year, we’re going to mint a commemorative coin set, we’re going to print the commemorative stamp issue and we’re going to fund a national touring photographic exhibition and book called ‘Images of Our Elders’ to promote positive images of the contribution of older people. And we’re going to expand the Safe at Home programme to improve the personal and physical security of all the people living in their own home should the trial be successful.

And a great practical benefit will be our support for the partnership between the Australian Bankers Association and seniors’ organisations to familiarise older people with automatic teller machines, electronic funds transfer, the Internet and telephone ba nking. And additional funding will also be provided to establish a Building Safer Communities programme which will target areas of community concern including burglaries, home invasions, assault and robbery, particularly against older people.

The Mature Age Workers Project will involve developing promotional material for job network members and employer associations to encourage them to assist older job seekers into employment.

Ladies and gentlemen, as we approach the Centenary of the Federation of Australia there is, I find, throughout Australia a surge of interest in the history of our country and a surge of interest in the contribution that people of different generations have made to the building of the modern Australia. There is a growing pride in what Australia has been able to achieve. There is a sense that there are now, in relation to some of the great historical events of our nation, of course, a dwindling number of Australia who had personal experience of involvement in them. And as we near the Centenary of Federation we have an opportunity to honour the contribution of all of those Australians that have made this country what it is today.

I want 1999 to be a year that recognises the ongoing contribution of mature Australians. I want it to be a year which produces, amongst younger Australians, a wider appreciation of the contribution of generations that have gone before them. I want it to be a year that recognises that economic and physical security are the two of most important things that older Australians can have. The security of a home, the security of a supporting family, the security of financial stability and adequacy and also the sense of physical safety of being able to walk the streets of this country in physical safety and security, all of those things are tremendously important.

I want to thank my ministerial colleague, Bronwyn Bishop, for the tremendous leadership that she’s giving as the portfolio Minister for Aged Care. It’s a new appointment and I think Bronwyn brings very special skills to that job and I think she will make an outstanding contribution through the year.

I do recognise the importance of the presence here today of my Minister for Sport, Jackie Kelly. The emphasis on physical activity and the need for Australians of all ages, and not just older Australians but some of the less fit younger Australians, to be more physically active and more physically energetic I know is something that Jackie is very particularly committed to.

I think 1999 will be a great opportunity to emphasise what older Australians have done but, more importantly than that, what older Australians continue to do for this country. To recognise that we are, in the main, a society that is lucky to enjoy longer, healthier lives, that the excitement that many older people derive from new careers, new opportunities, new experiences and new activities is something that is adding very greatly to the quality of life. And what they give back through experience and understanding and having lived through experiences that younger Australians have not lived through, all of that will go to a greater enrichment of our community.

I commend all of the organisations involved in making life better, more fulfilling and bringing closer links between different generations of Australians. I thank you very much for attending today’s gathering. Bronwyn has a few more things to say and a few other observations to make about some of the activities but I know that 1999 will be a great year in recognising the contribution of older Australians to our modern Australian community.

Thank you.