Opposition leader Anthony Albanese laid down his vision for an ageing population in a speech on Wednesday, invoking memories of his mother.
“Having grown up in council housing, I have a deep appreciation of the difference governments can make to the lives of Australians,” he said.
“Having seen what my Mum went through in her later years, I want to be able to make a difference for older Australians.”
A single mother, Maryanne Albanese raised her son on her own. Later in her life she became ill, and died at the age of 65.
“She died too young,” Mr Albanese said.
“If Mum had got the care that she needed earlier, her later years would have been so much better.
“I don’t want us to all shrug our shoulders and resign ourselves to this simply being the way that it is.”
Mr Albanese said he wants Australians to see the “opportunities” in an ageing population, rather than to see the demographic as an “economic time bomb”, as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has described the trend.
Superannuation must be fixed
Mr Albanese said he wants to make superannuation “better”. He said Labor supports the legislated increase in the Superannuation Guarantee to 12 per cent by 2025.
“With economic growth and productivity you can have both higher super and higher wages,” he said.
He said the “imbalance” that sees women retire with half the average superannuation of men – and many with no superannuation at all – must be “addressed”.
Helping older Australians find work
He said Labor will establish Job and Skills Australia, an agency that will help older Australian find work, for those who wish to keep working.
“Today, over 170,000 Australians aged between 55 and 64 are on unemployment benefits just when they should be building their nest egg,” he said.
“For too many Australians over the age of 45, if they become unemployed they will struggle to get another job and instead spiral down towards a pretty lean retirement.”
A 3 per cent increase in workforce participation by Australians over 55 would grow the Australian economy by $33 billion per year, he said.
Pensioner Dental Health Plan
Mr Albanese said Labor went to the last election with a Pensioner Dental Plan.
Government data shows every year, more than 200,000 older Australians don’t see a dentist because it’s too expensive, he said.
“It’s no surprise that one in two have gum disease; one in five have no natural teeth,” he said.
Ensuring an appropriate environment
“Urban environments” must also be designed to cater to the needs of older Australians, Mr Albanese said. Urban sprawl must be limited and homes must be easily adaptable, he said. Mr Albanese spoke about co-locating aged care facilities with kindergartens and preschools.
Aged care system is “broken”
Mr Albanese said the aged care system is “broken” and must be fixed.
“Look no further than the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, where desperate families and exhausted, under-resourced aged care workers are telling their stories,” he said.
He said aged care workers need “proper pay and proper training”, and Jobs and Skills Australia will address the issues of staffing numbers, qualifications, skills and experience in aged care.
The Government must “abandon” its plans to “privatise” the aged care assessment team workforce, and must “act on the Royal Commission recommendations”.
Aged care minister: “Labor can’t be trusted”
Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck said Mr Albanese’s speech contains only “empty promises” for older Australians and raised the possibility of Labor imposing a levy to fund aged care.
“Labor can’t be trusted when it comes to aged care and senior Australians know it,” Minister Colbeck said.
Minister Colbeck said the Morrison Government has called a Royal Commission into Aged Care, and continues to deliver major reforms. He said the government has already spent more than $537 million in response to the Royal Commission Interim report.
Minister Colbeck said reforms to ACAT were recommended by the Tune Review and that the Royal Commission described them as “urgent”. However, the royal commission has said they do not support the proposed changes.
An important first step: COTA
Council on the Ageing Australia said Mr Albanese’s proposal was an important “bipartisan” step that puts “the needs of older people above politics”.
COTA chief executive Ian Yates welcomed Mr Albanese’s recognition of the contributions made by older Australians to society and the economy.
“A plan to ensure access to meaningful and flexible employment in later years is essential for our economy’s increased productivity,” Mr Yates said.
“Older Australians at the peak of their experience are eager to continue working but find themselves locked out of the workforce due to ageist and illegal hiring practices and outdated attitudes.
ACAT reforms do not amount to “privatisation”
However, Mr Yates said COTA does not support the Labor Party’s claim that ACAT reforms are the equivalent of “privatising” the services.
“A single consumer-focused professional national assessment service with many local access points has been recommended for years by successive reviews and by COTA and the National Aged Care Alliance. This is an essential front door for a reformed aged care system,” Mr Yates said in a statement.