Can banking inquiry lead way for aged care?

By Chief Advocate Ian Henschke

A lot can happen in a week. Last Thursday I flew to Sydney to meet Minister Ken Wyatt as part of his round table discussions about the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Those attending are known as “aged care consumers” and “advocates”. It’s good that National Seniors is “in the room”.

As your advocate, I go to these events and act as your voice and I also voice the concerns of the wider community.

Sitting with me was a National Seniors member, Deanna, who gave a consumer’s perspective.

Deanna’s mother had dementia and she gave up work to care for her. She used up her savings while caring for her mother for seven years. Her mother only received a home care package a few months before she died.

It was a powerful afternoon and the Minister heard from a range of people from advocates for war veterans in care to those giving voice to 6,200 young people with a disability who live in aged care, because there is nowhere else. One of them, in a wheelchair and suffering a brain injury, said poignantly and simply: “Aged care is for old people, not for young people.”

This round table happened the day after our Interim CEO Professor John McCallum released a report on the problems of aged care literacy. The report highlighted some alarming gaps in community knowledge about aged care. People are struggling to understand the system and most people haven’t heard of the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner.

Meanwhile, the banking Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne handed down his interim report. One reaction came from one of Australia’s top lawyers, Maurice Blackburn partner Josh Mennen. He said the banking royal commission interim report had “exposed a financial services industry driven by greed and self-interest and that it is in urgent need of reform”.

I’m sure many people agree and hope that law firm and others take legal action - both class and individual - against the banks who have wronged customers.

The interim report set out damning observations on the issues of responsible lending, financial advice and conflicts in the selling of financial products, as well as the role of the regulators.

“It poses serious questions about the conduct of the financial services industry and shows that for too long the balance has been skewed towards the banks and financial service providers, instead of customers,” Mr Mennen said.

Could a similar critique be applied to the aged care system? Have we been let down by the regulators? Has profit been put ahead of people?

We hope the aged care royal commission will look forensically at where and how the almost $18 billion a year in government funding is being spent. We also hope it will look at the existing body of evidence around complaints about, and failures of, the system, so we can prioritise actions and formulate ways to fix the problems.

One thing we do know is that as a society we can and must do better - and this task is not the responsibility of one side of politics or whoever is in government. Collectively, we must get it right. 

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