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Ageing Not a Problem

My Chronicle column this week is on ageing, concluding with a shameless plug for my community forum this Friday.

Ageing Not a Problem, The Chronicle, 4 December 2012

When I hear people talk about the ‘problem’ of ageing, I’m tempted to reply: ‘it beats the alternative!’. Thanks to better food, quality healthcare, economic growth and a stronger safety net, life expectancy in Australia is now 84 for women and 80 for men, about two years longer than it was a decade ago. Older Australians are also healthier, with one study showing that the mobility and mental acuity of a 70 year-old today is comparable to that of a 60 year-old a generation ago.

Last month, I held a community forum with Minister for Ageing Mark Butler. Over 160 people came along to hear about the government’s Living Longer – Living Better reforms. Based on an 800-page Productivity Commission report and extensive hearings around Australia, the package recognises that while the aged care system has served Australia well, it is not fit for purpose in the coming decades.

The reforms recognise that the current aged care system is overly focused on nursing homes, despite the fact that most people say they want to stay in their own home. So we’re increasing home-care packages, and giving people more control over their care.

Many people find it difficult to get the information they need for themselves or a loved one, so we’re adopting a suggestion from peak body COTA for a single ‘gateway’. For those who enter nursing homes, we’re also ensuring that people have the choice between paying a bond (as two-thirds currently do) or paying on a rental basis.

In the next generation, we’ll be needing more qualified aged care staff, so we’re helping train more registered nurses and carers. We want to close the pay gap for nurses working in hospitals and nursing homes, to stem the flow of talented workers leaving the aged care sector.

We’re also making sure that people are able to die with dignity, by helping everyone clearly communicate their wishes to friends and family. And despite the fact that hardly anyone wants to end their life in hospital, about three-quarters die there. So we’re improving access to palliative care, such as the high quality care available at Clare Holland House in Barton.

After outlining the reforms, Mark Butler and I were inundated by questions on everything from pensions to health expenses, advance care directives to disability care. One of the great things about representing a Canberra seat is that people are never backward in coming forward, and I appreciate the chance to engage on important issues like these.

Given the strong interest in aged care, I’m holding a second forum on the same topic. It’ll be on Friday 7 December, from 10.30-11.30am in the Griffin Centre on Genge Street in the city. If you or a loved one are looking at aged care options, I encourage you to attend. You can RSVP by email (Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au) or phone (6247 4396). I hope you can join the conversation.

Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fraser, and his website is www.andrewleigh.com.

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