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Fifield’s focus

In an exclusive interview, Australia’s new federal minister for ageing talks about how he will approach the role. 

Tony Abbott’s announcement that ageing would be included within the social services portfolio caused mix reaction from the aged-care sector; nevertheless, Australia’s new minister for ageing, Mitch Fifield, is excited about his new role.

Aged Care Insite spoke with Fifield, who is also assistant minister for Social Services, manager of government business in the Senate and the Liberal Senator for Victoria, to ascertain his short- and long-term priorities for the industry.

ACI: Only a couple of weeks into the role – what’s your short-term plan for engaging the sector and starting to work on reforms?

MF: I will continue to meet with aged-care consumers and providers and seek further briefings. An important next step will be creating a new high-level steering committee and initiating negotiations for a five-year agreement. The committee will cover the broad spectrum of stakeholder interests.

ACI: Long-term vision?

MF: I have a vision of a flexible system that is focused on the provision of high-quality care for older Australians. This government supports real reform, and a simplified system that expands and provides more flexible arrangements for older Australians living in the community. Another focus will be cutting the administrative burden that providers have to deal with in the sector, a great deal of which takes caregivers away from their primary role. Against that, I will have absolute focus on maintaining safety, care and quality standards in the sector.

ACI: Some have suggested that having a minister with additional responsibilities has meant a “lack of concern” for the aged and the aged-care sector. What is your response to this?

MF: This government is fully committed to the aged-care sector. Having disability and aged care under one minster will not mean less attention for ageing issues. To the contrary, it will provide for more consistent policy development across both areas. There are strengths that each area of the portfolio will be able to learn from the other.

ACI: What is your response to those suggesting this will mean a lack of representation for service providers and organisations?

MF: I plan to work hard to make real improvements across both of these important [groups], and will put a high priority on making sure I hear directly from service providers and consumers. Our commitment to engaging with the sector and developing a five-year agreement reflects this.

ACI: How do you see the added ministerial responsibility for ageing affecting your involvement with the aged-care sector, as opposed to your previous role?

MF: As assistant minister for Social Services I am delighted to have responsibility as the dedicated minister for ageing and disabilities. The Social Services portfolio creates some exciting opportunities. Having held the shadow disabilities and carers portfolio for the past four years, I am extremely pleased to continue to work with and for people with disability, their families, carers and the organisations that support them. I am really looking forward to the added ministerial responsibility for ageing. I am keen to get to know and work on reform with those in this important area, and am particularly interested to explore how we can ensure the aged care and disability systems work well together.

ACI: How will your past experience help you successfully handle the ageing portfolio?

MF: I’ve already started to meet with aged-care stakeholders, and will continue to draw on the wealth of knowledge in the sector as I establish myself in the role. There are obvious linkages between my two areas of responsibility, and my four years’ experience in the disability portfolio will serve as a good base. I bring to the aged-care portfolio an open mind and willingness to learn. It was the same approach I took when I came to the disabilities portfolio without having a personal experience with disability. My approach was to meet people, listen and learn.

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