Older people’s issues finally ‘front and centre’, reflects Ian Yates

After 33 years with consumer peak body Council on the Ageing, outgoing chief executive Ian Yates shares his reflections on the aged care sector and more.

Reflecting on 33 years with consumer peak body Council on the Ageing – including 20 years as chief executive of national body COTA Australia – Ian Yates says it’s hard to point to just one important change he’s witnessed over the three decades.  

However, the advocate for seniors settles on issues about older people and ageing now being “front and centre” in Australia. 

“When I started, the way I used to talk about it was we were knocking on everybody’s door saying ‘you’ve got to think about ageing. You’ve got to think about ageing coming.’ And now you don’t have to do that. In fact, people are mostly knocking on our door,” Mr Yates told Community Care Review

“Part of that is demographic and part of that is because we’ve done a good job of arguing – making the case – and developing good policy. A simple example of that in aged care that I talk about is when Labor last came to power in 2007, neither party released an aged care policy. In 2022, it was front and centre.”

Mr Yates joined COTA South Australia as chief executive in June 1989 – a position he held for 24 years. Since 2002 he took on concurrent leadership roles with COTA Australia including CE of both the state and national peak for some of those years before spending the last decade as just CE of COTA Australia.

While COTA Australia advocates on many areas of policy affecting seniors, the organisation and Mr Yates have been focused on driving aged care reform for close to 15 years. 

In 2008, he led the development of the National Aged Care Alliance’s Vision for Support and Care of Older Australians and in the years that followed he was a key contributor into the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry’s Caring for Older Australians. Mr Yates also played a major role in the Gillard government’s 2012 Living Longer Living Better reform package and the subsequent More Choices for a Longer Life package in the Coalition’s 2018 federal budget.

Top aged care achievements

While Mr Yates finds he has no “one favourite” aged care achievement, he’s been involved in several he’s particularly proud of.

“The one I fought longest and hardest for and only fully won in the government’s response to the royal commission was getting rid of ACAR [Aged Care Approvals Round] and bed licenses, and [getting] a system of putting bed licenses in the hands of older people,” he told CCR. “I’m extremely pleased about that because it had a lot of opposition right up to the very end.”

Ian Yates speaking to the media on budget night

My Aged Care is another significant achievement, said Mr Yates. “That was our idea – not to call it My Aged Care but a gateway into aged care.” As was the “aged care navigators” which COTA Australia championed and are coming to fruition as Care Finders. 

“All those are important,” Mr Yates said.

“And in a non-aged care area, for example, the expansion of the Pension Loan Scheme into the new Home Equity Scheme, which does have implications for people in aged care. It means they can access aged care.”

The other significant aged care change “is the quantum shift in a little more than a decade in home care packages,” said Mr Yates. “It’s not that long ago, we had 60,000 [packages] and it was a big, big thing. In Living Longer Living Better they were going to add 80,000 in a decade. And now we are going to have 276,000 by the middle of next year,” he said. “And that means we have more people in packages with significant dependency at home than we have in residential care.”

Mr Yates points out these are the achievements of many – not his alone. “Some of them like the gateway and navigators I led the thinking on it. Home care has been a cumulative fight by a lot of people. And similarly, the ACAR was a Productivity Commission recommendation before they even had their commission review – the research paper they did. But I have pursued that vigorously, politically and publicly and that’s how you get it done.”

‘A lot more to be done’

As his departure draws near – Patricia Sparrow takes over as COTA Australia CE on Friday 16 December – Mr Yates said he was filled with different emotions. 

On one hand he feels satisfaction about the planned nature of his exit. “As I’ve tried to do throughout my career, I’m doing a very professional approach to the question of transition.”

On the other hand, he’s looking forward to a much-needed break. “We might have done this earlier, but the pandemic interfered. And during the pandemic, I’ve not had more than a couple of days off at any time. It’s actually 2018 since I have had a long holiday. I’m looking forward to stopping for a while, and to not be responsible for running an organisation, staff and budgets … while potentially, still being involved in policy and advocacy.” 

The other feeling Mr Yates said has been present over the last couple of months comes from recognising that in spite of all the achievements, there’s a lot more to be done – and he won’t be the one articulating COTA’s position. 

“So that – frankly – feels a little unusual, which is not surprising,” said Mr Yates.

The key aged care reforms and initiatives that remain to be achieved include the transition to a much more consumer-controlled residential care system,” he said.

“The culture has to shift and a lot of the reforms in the royal commission are going to help that. But many providers are still being dragged there rather than picking up the ball and running with it.”

And while Mr Yates’ time at COTA comes to end, he retains his roles with the Council of Elders, the National Aged Advisory Council and the Quality and Safety Advisory Council as they are individual appointments.

And we can also expect to hear more about him working in one interesting and familiar policy area next year “that will keep me a bit busy for a while” – but he’s unable to share details about what that might be at this time. 

“I am contemplating some work that will give me not full-time but a contribution above and beyond the committees,” Mr Yates said. 

Overall, Mr Yates said he was leaving COTA Australia feeling both positive about the past and present and optimistic about the future. 

“I’m pleased with many things that have been achieved – some of which are those higher profile things that people are aware of and lots of other things that just get achieved quietly,” he told CCR.

“Over many years, I hope COTA continues to be a very strong advocate for the interests of older Australians – which more than ever needs a vigilant, active professional advocacy organisation.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, it was announced Ian Yates had been appointed Interim Inspector-General of Aged Care.

Main image: Ian Yates

Story updated 13 December 2022

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