New Act must enshrine human rights, say stakeholders

Older Australians want human rights embedded in the new Aged Care Act, according to a…

Older Australians want human rights embedded in the new Aged Care Act, according to a submission to the federal government released on Tuesday.

Based on the findings of a joint enquiry into a consultation paper outlining the proposed foundations of the new Act, 13 consumer-focused organisations – including advocacy groups – are calling on the Albanese Government to put the voice of older Australians at the centre of the legislation, due to come into effect from 1 July 2024.

Patricia Sparrow

“What we’ve found is that, while of course older people have a diverse range of views, the vast majority are united on many things including on the need to embed human rights in the new Aged Care Act being developed by government, on putting safeguards in place to ensure every Australian can get access to the quality aged care they deserve, and on improving our aged care system for generations to come,” said chief executive of the Council of the Ageing Australia Patricia Sparrow.

Among the key findings presented to the federal government in the submission is the need for:

  • the implementation of mechanisms for monitoring and enforcing the rights of older people
  • a change culture implementation plan to outline how rights will be embedded into daily aged care operations
  • a person-centred complaints system that must be robust and effective, with alternative ways of handling complaints, overseen by a statutory complaints commissioner
  • supported decision-making in aged care, with an assumption that older people can make decisions for themselves.

“For too long, older Australians, whether due to systemic ageism or other factors, have not been given ownership of their lives when the time comes for them to access aged care,” said Ms Sparrow. “It’s time that changed.”

Joining COTA Australia in signing the 73-page submission are:

  • Association of Independent Retirees
  • Carers Australia
  • Dementia Australia
  • Elder Abuse Action Australia
  • Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia
  • Legacy
  • LGBTIQ + Health Australia
  • National Association of People with HIV Australia
  • National Seniors Australia
  • Older Person’s Advocacy Network
  • Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care Alliance
  • The Returned and Services League of Australia.

During the consultation process, COTA Australia and OPAN held a series of forums across the country seeking input on the new Act from older Australians.

Craig Gear

“The overwhelming majority of older people who attended our consultations support a new rights-based Aged Care Act – and they want us to get on with it,” said OPAN chief executive officer Craig Gear. “A significant number of older people also told us that the Act won’t be worth the paper it is written on if it isn’t supported by the necessary regulatory levers and enforcement pathways.”

Carers Australia CEO Jane Bacot-Kilpatrick said it was essential the rights of carers were also included in the new Act. “Australia’s family and friend carers are a core axis of the aged care triangle along with consumers and service providers, and they are key to the economic sustainability of system. Aged care reforms must be carer inclusive.”

Mary Ann Baquero Geronimo

Meanwhile, Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia CEO Mary Ann Baquero Geronimo called for the new Act to reflect multicultural Australia and embed diversity at the core of its practices.

“Older people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds aspire for an aged care system that supports them to maintain their cultural heritages, ensures that they are free from discrimination because of their race, ethnicity, religion, or their need for language support, and allows them to take action if their rights are violated.”

National Seniors Australia CEO Chris Grice said the royal commission and the pandemic both highlighted the need for a rights-based Act.

Chris Grice

“At the top of a long list of lessons from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic is that reform of the aged care system must embed the human rights of older people at its foundation.”

He added: “Creating an Aged Care Act and system explicitly built on a human-rights approach will empower older people to expect and claim quality, safe care as their right. It will also support and guide providers to deliver services that meet those expectations.”

It is anticipated the government will release an exposure draft of the new Act next month.

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