COTA Australia welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on the 2021/22 Federal Budget. Whilst the response to the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to overshadow the social and economic environment of the country, a commitment to and funding of reform and a range of initiatives to improve the lives of older Australians is still required.
By the time the May Federal Budget is delivered, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report will have been delivered to Government and released. The findings and insights from the recent Retirement Income Review provide insights into how to secure the financial future of older Australians. Along with the COVID-19 pandemic impacts on older members of the population, there has never been a more important Budget for older Australians than the budget to be delivered in May 2021.
COTA urges the Government to capitalise on this opportunity to convey a clear and coordinated commitment to older Australians as a pivotal centrepiece of the 2021 budget. A concise funded roadmap outlining by when the Government’s decisions on transforming aged care, following the Royal Commission’s recommendations, will be delivered is critical. Further, following the Review, action to make retirement income policies more effective, adequate and equitable must be announced, together with articulating greater assurances about the future security of retirement income policies – reinforcing the Government’s long-term commitment to the Age Pension, the Medicare based health system and major Government contributions to aged care. Without such commitment retirees will continue to be apprehensive about drawing down on their retirement investments.
While a great number of initiatives could be presented to support older Australians, our submission centres around key priority areas of Aged Care, Income Support, Retirement Incomes, Employment of older workers, and ensuring a whole-of-Government approach to ageing.
This Budget is the opportunity for Government to lay a foundation and to pave the way in a post-pandemic future. A key feature of any such recovery must be targeted and dedicated support for older workers, who have lost the greatest number of positions and hours across salaried staff. Older workers made redundant through COVID-19 are the least likely to return to return to work. Urgent investment is needed to ensure this cohort are provided with the support and skills they need to thrive in a rapidly changing environment for the workforce.
No doubt, meeting the increasing cost of living proves a large challenge for older people – particularly for those who have significant out-of-pocket healthcare, energy or communications costs, or are struggling to meet the skyrocketing costs of private rental.
Older Australians need a comprehensive plan from the Australian Government, demonstrating that all areas of Government are thinking and acting in a coordinated fashion to improve the lives of mature age and older Australians. Given the breadth of the portfolio areas that touch on older people’s lives, COTA Australia’s maintains its view that a focused Whole-of-Government Strategy for Older Australians is required. Additionally, we submit that a new printed communication channel to older Australians is needed to replace the loss of many alternative printed communication channels permanently lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Summary of proposed measures
Retirement Income Measures:
- Legislate to remove the Superannuation Guarantee payment threshold of $450 per month per employer.
- Legislate to require the Superannuation Guarantee to be added to paid parental leave.
- Legislate the Retirement Income Covenant without further delay and Include consumers in future consultations on its implementation.
- Mandate – within a reasonable timeframe for implementation – the provision of financial advice to consumers by superannuation funds about their likely retirement income. Such measures should include ‘wake up packs’ for over 50s and a refocus on their forecast income to be available in retirement, rather than a focus only on a lump sum. A mandated suite of standard calculations and formats to be used should be included in order that the information is comparable.
- Commit to a well-resourced and structured consultation with stakeholders and the community – including with consumers – on the findings of the Retirement Income Review and potential policy measures that might follow from its findings beyond those recommended above for immediate implementation.
Aged Care Measures:
- Commitment to a timeframe and funding in the 2021/22 Budget and the Forward Estimates to implement major and transformative aged care reform on the back of the Royal Commission’s final report.
- Fund an integrated home-based care services at a sufficient level to reduce wait times so that no consumer will need to wait more than 30 days after assessment; and develop an implementation plan to deliver this within two
- Invest in and implement promptly the recommendations of A Matters of Care: Australia’s Aged Care Workforce Strategy.
- Invest in government IT upgrades to provide the basis for more streamlined and mandated B2G provider reporting, software-based quality control systems, and genuinely consumer centric services.
- Provide sufficient funding for the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to implement better consumer engagement in their quality assessment processes and a rigorous schedule of unannounced visits to residential aged care facilities and home care services; and provide the Commission with a wider range of powers and regulatory tools.
- Replace the Aged Care Approvals Round bed allocation process with new arrangements that place control in the hands of consumers and families and encourage good providers to expand and assist the exit of poorer providers, by implementing the recommendations of the Impact Study (which Government has had for over a year).
Mature Age Employment Measures:
- Promote the uptake of the Career Transition Assistance Program, including funding for an advertising
- Implement early promotion of the Career Transition Assistance Program via Centrelink communications to mature age applicants of Jobseeker (irrespective of when they commence receiving payments).
- Include people over 55 in the JobMaker program.
- Trial alternatives to Restart wage subsidy programs to increase mature age employment amongst the long term unemployed.
- Provide formal legal advice by the Australian Solicitor General or similar around the ability for job advertisements to identify preferences for mature-age
- Trial alternatives to the Restart Wage Subsidy program.
- Establish a roundtable to discuss technical solutions to matching employers and employees using online job boards
- Build a mature age employee/employer match into government job
Income Support Measures:
- Increase the maximum Commonwealth Rental Assistance (CRA) by a minimum of 40% and benchmark future rises in the CRA to median
- Review the structure of CRA to ensure that Commonwealth funds provide maximum assistance to older people experiencing rental housing stress.
- Investigate the development and implementation of an alternative rental assistance model.
- Remove the Liquid Asset Waiting Period for all people and withdraw legislation proposing to increase the waiting period from 13 weeks to 26 weeks currently before the At a minimum the Liquid Asset Waiting Period should not apply to unemployed people over the age of 55 years.
- Implement early promotion of the Career Transition Assistance Program to mature age applicants of Jobseeker (irrespective of when they commence receiving payments).
- Increase the maximum single rate of JobSeeker and review the
Whole-of-Government Approach to Ageing Measure:
- Initiate the development of a whole-of-government strategy for older Australians and an ageing Australia
- Develop and deliver a bi-annual (or more frequent) all of government publication to communicate specifically with older Australians.