5 DECEMBER 2018
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
In Western Australian Noongar language I say “kaya wangju” — hello and welcome.
I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we’re meeting, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to Elders, past and present.
Thank you Jane Halton (COTA Australia Chair) for your warm welcome.
I acknowledge the Hon Julie Collins. Senator Rachel Siewart, it’s always good to see you. I know you often challenge me and I’ve enjoyed watching your debates in the other place. Emeritus Professor Anne Edwards; Ronda Held, who is the Executive Coordination Group Chair for COTA; Ian Yates, who I feel is like a coat - I see him so often in this place that I feel as though I should put him across my shoulder and carry him. But it’s always great to see Ian in here - he’s a champion for senior Australians and I thank you for the work that you do.
To all my other parliamentary colleagues and distinguished guests, and Jane Halton in particular - we go back a long way, Jane, and Jane and I both worked in health and we had a healthy respect for each other, even though we disagreed on some points between the Commonwealth and the State.
We want senior Australians living to 100 to have the best possible outcomes and have the opportunities that they so richly deserve.
I want to thank COTA for your intensive work to compile and deliver the State of the Older Nation Report. When I first became Aged Care Minister, I was determined to listen to what senior Australians had to say, and reports like this are important in the way for us to hear more local voices and build a clearer understanding of people’s needs. On a happy note, and one that we can all relate to, 80 per cent of those surveyed say they feel younger than their age, and more than half are feeling at least 10 years younger. And based on this morning’s ABC News item, I’m aiming to live to 150.
I’m also aiming to have my daily dose of omega, my little bit of alcohol each day, my very moderate exercise … connecting to community but fully enjoying life, because that seems to be an ingredient I hear from senior Australians. And I’m also please to see this survey also shows almost 80 per cent of respondents feel their quality of life is good, while more than half feel secure about their finances.
However, it’s vital for us to address the needs of those who feel they’re on the other end of the spectrum. I want to reassure you: we are listening and responding to the choices they are seeking, and we are profoundly committed to ensuring the rapidly growing population of valued senior Australians can enjoy their aging years and continue contributing to their communities.
When I first came to this House, I talked about elders. I said, in my maiden speech, that what I wanted to see in Australia was the respect that Indigenous Australians showed for their elders to translate to broader society; that we should treasure and value the elders within mainstream society, that their knowledge, their wisdom, and their guidance was still as equally important in those years of living to 100 as they were as equally to us as their children. And that the work COTA is doing and the way in which they are undertaking the advocacy role for senior Australians is absolutely critical.
I also want to acknowledge Linda Burney - I hadn’t seen you come in, Linda. It’s great to see you here as well.
But if we take the modelling that Indigenous Australians have for their elders and we apply it across our nation and we have the intergenerational connection between the young and the old, our society would be very different. It would be one of richness, of interrelatedness. And I take that on the basis of what I read on the State of the Nation one pager, but equally on what I see in a Bunnings store, where you have the young and the old walking side by side sharing knowledge and working towards a common goal.
COTA has certainly done that. It’s played a strong advocacy role in shaping what’s happening in the aged care sector. It’s played an advocacy role representing over 8 million Australians in being a voice for the way in which the person who is the recipient of this service is considered by those who plan those services, and it’s important that we understand the wrapping around. But equally, in driving the constant message of co-designing. Because if we want things to work effectively, then we are better off sitting, working together, finding that solution that better enables a senior Australia to be valued, to be immersed in the right services at the right time and in the right places, but also to be respected and given the integrity that they deserve, because they are the people who build our nation.
And I want to finish there, because I think that the reflections of all of us, and seeing the key leaders from each of the state COTAs here, represents the way in which we want a future. If we take the notion that we are living to 100 more frequently, and if we take a projected figure of 20,000 Australians by 2050 living beyond 100 years, that changes the context.
And I’ll finish by just sharing this – I once worked for a funeral parlour; I lived in the flat above and in that flat I was there by night time being an undertaker, by day time I was teaching. But what I saw was the impact of death and grief on men when they lost their wives. Because the loss of someone in our lives who are important to us, does impact and you used to see the husband being buried some six to eight months later because we hadn’t as a community wrapped ourselves around the level of support. And this report really identifies some very critical things that I have to think about. But certainly, colleagues of mine in this room will need to contemplate. But the other thing that I found is that women – I never ever saw a wife after we buried her husband. I shared that with Malcolm Turnbull and he said – well, what’s the reason? And I said – probably because the albatross around their neck is gone; they’ve got the freedom to fly, to be the individual instead of being the carer. And he reacted to that by saying – why aren’t you doing more to look after people who have reached those years of their life?
So that’s what we’re working towards and I’m more than happy to co-launch your report with Julie Collins because, as I said at the beginning, whilst Julie’s on the other side, she’s been a great voice in being a strong advocate for senior Australians and it’s great that we were able to do a bi-partisan approach on this issue. And I will use this report in the things I do over the few months that we have left in this space, before we go to whatever else is ahead of us.
Thank you very much. Thank you.