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New minister impresses in his first address

Abandoning his departmental script, Mark Butler spoke openly and was warmly received at the ACSA national conference.

Despite the challenges of a minority government, the new minister for ageing is confident of reform as aged care is not “a major fault line” between the major parties and independents.

Mark Butler said the caveat, however, was the sector – providers, unions and consumers – presenting a united front on what that reform should be.

“If the sector is divided on the major fundamentals, it will make getting reforms through parliament more difficult. I congratulate you on the work done to establish unity, through things like the Campaign for the Care of Older Australians. If you are able to maintain that discipline and present a united front on reform, the parliament will come together on that.”

Butler told the ACSA national conference the last thing aged care needed was “more band aids and Savlon”, which was why the government had asked the Productivity Commission to conduct its inquiry.

“It’s not the first review we’ve had into aged care, there’s been no shortage of them over the past 10 to 15 years. But this is the most important one we’ve had in a long time,” he said.

While he would not “rubber stamp” every recommendation from the PC inquiry, Butler said it presented the beginning of a serious reform process.

Butler said his goal for the next 12 months was to work with stakeholders in developing “an orderly response process” to the PC inquiry recommendations.

It was critical that aged care providers, unions and consumer bodies continued to work together constructively so that all perspectives are heard during the reform process, he said.

Butler stressed aged care was a “very clear, unambiguous priority” for the second term Labor government, which began during the COAG health reforms agreed to this year ensuring federal responsibility for aged care.

The COAG agreement had enormous potential to improve care of older Australians. The transfer of HACC will provide more seamless community care options; e-health will enhance the interface between acute and aged care; and better GP access would reduce avoidable hospital admissions, he said.

While acknowledging concerns around his added ministerial responsibilities for mental health, he said he brought a commitment and energy to providing the aged care reforms needed.

“You will struggle to find a minister who has spent more time in aged care facilities, dealing with the various stakeholders involved,” said Butler, who worked for 15 years at the LHMU.

Acknowledging the serious issues confronting the industry currently, such as workforce, wages and funding, Butler said aged care was at a critical junction. “The problems we’re facing now will seem like a stroll along Battery Point compared to the challenges we’ll face in the future.”

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