Federal budget 2021: Federal government promises 'transformative' aged care budget

Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt said Tuesday's budget would include a
Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt said Tuesday's budget would include a "transformative" investment in aged care. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The Morrison government has promised a "transformative" investment in aged care in Tuesday's federal budget, as advocates warn it must act now to fix the troubled system before it "falls apart".

Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed the federal budget will allocate more than $10 billion over the next four years, with speculation mounting that figure could be as high as $18 billion.

While that would mark the Commonwealth's largest ever investment in aged care, it would fall far short of the near $40 billion, four-year commitment which has been called for.

The government will also use the budget to detail its full response to the aged care royal commission, which urged sweeping reforms to a sector found to be chronically underfunded, massively short staffed and plagued by a culture of neglect and abuse.

Mr Hunt has flagged funding for extra home-care packages and residential aged care, as part of a five-year plan which would also address workforce, governance, quality and safety issues.

The sum allocated on Tuesday would not only be the largest investment in aged care, but the largest in response to any federal royal commission, he said.

"This will be transformative," he said.

"This royal commission, in years to come, will be seen as a fundamental line in the sand for aged care. It's a moment where we are saying not only is it about investment but it's about the deep, profound respect for older Australians.

"If we can produce not only the support, but the respect and care and dignity then I think we will have achieved something."

Industry advocates have implored the federal government to use the budget to finally fix a system broadly viewed as in disrepair.

Council on the Ageing president Ian Yates said the $18 billion figure reported on Monday was "in the league" of the scale of investment required.

The royal commission's final report identified an annual funding shortfall of about $9.8 billion, prompting calls for an investment in the vicinity of $40 billion over the next four years.

"The critical thing is to see a comprehensive range of changes to the system," Mr Yates said. "If you poured extra money into the current system you will waste money, because it will be spent inefficiently and on poor quality providers," he said.

Mr Yates called for a plan to eliminate the wait list for home care packages, which was 102,000 as of June 30 last year, as well as the introduction of an independent authority to oversee prices.

"Really, this is the last chance for government to get aged care reform right before the system really starts to fall apart," he said.

Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Patricia Sparrow said the budget needed to set in train a "complete overhaul of the system".

Ms Sparrow echoed calls for more home care packages, as well as funding to massively increase the aged care workforce.

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"It's the time now," she said. 'We've had lots of reviews, and it's time we got serious as a country about providing dignity and quality of care," she said.

National Seniors Australia chief advocate Ian Henschke said the government needed to outline a plan to address workforce shortages. This needed to include new programs to train young and older local staff, with Australia's international border closure locking out migrant workers.

"The nation will be watching on Tuesday night - the number of people who's lives will be affected by whatever is announced will be in the millions," he said.

Labor's spokeswoman for seniors and aged care services, Clare O'Neil, said extra funding needed to be accompanied by cultural change.

"It's not just about throwing extra billions of dollars at aged care providers," she said.

"This is about a fundamental change to the system to put older Australians in charge of their own care and giving them the power to make choices about how they want to be looked after."

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This story Federal govt promises 'transformative' aged care budget first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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