This is a budget that has kept its promises to older Australians and gone further in some areas. Looking at the Budget as a whole, the Government’s focus on reducing inflation as soon as possible, helping get to from 7.75% this year to 3.5% in 2023/24, will be a welcome relief to older Australians on fixed incomes and will protect the savings of retirees and people saving for retirement.
This Budget also builds on the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission, and implements the Government’s Federal Election commitments to further reform aged care. As in other important policy areas such as health, housing and employment, this Budget puts financial flesh on the bones of the Government’s election commitments.
The Budget builds on the previous government’s work to implement many of the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission; extends measures that had only been short term funded; and funds the additional commitments Labor made during the federal election, including to extend care hours, require 24 hour nursing cover, improve transparency and improve the quality of food and the meals experience in both residential and home care.
Self-evidently much is being done and will be done in aged care reform with the nearly $4 billion committed in this Budget, with aged care wage increases still to come. We congratulate not only Ministers Butler and Wells on their hard work so far, but also the evident commitment of the Prime Minister and Treasurer to this reform process being given priority. Much more remains to be done to fully implement the Royal Commission recommendations and to achieve a world class aged care system of which all Australians can be proud and have confidence in. A full list of aged care initiatives is at the bottom of this email.
This Budget has kept the promises to reduce the PBS co-payment, revamp the primary health system, establishing Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, and rural health provision. These initiatives will both improve the health of older people, and also help with the cost of living. COTA Australia will continue to advocate for better dental care for older Australians.
The government’s commitment to addressing Australia’s housing crisis is welcome. Spiralling rents have been especially difficult for older people on fixed incomes. We look forward to the National Housing Accord delivering affordable housing. That Accord should include measures that promote more accessible housing that is suitable for everyone as we age. As that Accord is negotiated, COTA Australia will be focused on ensuring it fixes Commonwealth Rent Assistance, which currently falls far short of making rental housing affordable for pensioners and other low income people.
Older workers in Australia often face ageism, and sometimes regulated discrimination. Improving the participation rate of older workers should be a priority, both for their well being, and so the country can benefit fully from their skills and experience. The one-off $4,000 credit to the Work Bonus scheme until 30 June 2023, announced at the Jobs Summit was welcome, but longer term solutions are needed.
Reforms to the workplace relations system that enhance the flexibility for older workers are an important step. So too is improving the anti-discrimination framework – flagged in this budget. We look forward to working with the Government to develop longer term solutions to improving the participation rate for older workers.
The commitment to gender equality is clear and welcome in this Budget. Older women face many of the same pressures of all women, but after a lifetime of discrimination, face an accumulation of financial and social barriers. Initiatives in workforce, housing and education will all be of assistance. COTA Australia is particularly pleased to see the focus on the gender superannuation gap. We look forward to working with Government on future policies in housing and superannuation to solve the poverty trap faced by too many older women.
Paid Paternal Leave and Childcare
Taking care of children is not just a parenting question, it often includes Grandparents as well. When childcare is not accessible, Grandparents often sacrifice their own later careers to provide childcare in order than their own children can go back to work. The initiatives to expand Paid Parental Leave to 26 weeks, and to improve the affordability of childcare will help many older Australians.
Disaster resilience and preparedness
Older people are among the most vulnerable people to natural disaster. The longer term focus of the disaster readiness initiative is particularly helpful to older people living in disaster prone communities. We welcome the focus on reducing the cost of insurance, and making insurance more accessible and better understood. It means that when disaster strikes, older Australians on fixed incomes will not be left with nothing.
COTA welcomes the very comprehensive scope of the aged care reform initiatives funded in this Budget, particularly:
• Higher pay for all aged care staff to follow from the work value case currently before the Fair Work Commission, for which the Government has already made a provision
• At least 15,000 of the free TAFE training places being reserved for aged care to help address workforce pressures
• The creation of a dedicated Age Care Complaints Commissioner in the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission
• A substantial commitment of over $310 million in the essential upgrading of IT infrastructure and systems to support the new Support at Home program, greater provider transparency and other reform measures
• Full funding for 24 hour, 7 day nursing in all residential care services from 1 July 2023
• Increasing the minutes of care for each aged care resident from the new average of 200 minutes (including 40 of nursing) required from 1 July 2023 to 215 minutes from 1 October 2024
• Implementing a national personal care worker registration scheme and a Code of Conduct
• Creating an independent Inspector General of Aged Care as recommended by the Royal Commission and getting the Office of the Inspector General started in 2022/23,
• Providing better food services using a four year funded program to support and train the sector
• Implementation of the new Support at Home program by 1 July 2024, which will require testing and finalisation of the new single assessment service, design of the new service list and the IT systems needed to support greater choice, self-management, and transparency. In the meantime, the government will be moving to cap home care administration fees until unit pricing is introduced.
• Continuation of the Disability Support for Older Australians program from the end of 2022 to the end of 2023, an essential but still transitional step to fully implementing the Royal Commission recommendation for older Australians with severe disabilities to be treated in an equivalent way to the NDIS
• Implementing new measures to establish enhanced financial and care service transparency of providers to both the government and older people seeking and using care
• Supporting the new Independent Hospitals and Aged Care Pricing Authority to be ready to recommend independently determined fair and reasonable service pricing by 1 July 2024
This is a Budget that honours election commitments and seeks to steady an economy that at present represents real risks to older people. We welcome it and look forward to further advancing its initiatives to achieve a just, fair and achieving Australia for all, including older people.
In the lead up to the next Budget COTA will be strongly engaging on matters still under consideration, such as improving services for people with severe disability, and ensuring that the new Support at Home program really delivers for older people and their families.