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LASA: unified voice speaks loudest

The old political mantra of united we stand divided we fall still holds true. Any organisation – be it corporate or, particularly, membership-based – achieves greater success when it is unified and focused on common goals or operational targets.

Leading Age Services Australia was founded with a strong understanding of the strength of unity and the power of one voice. In the lead up to the development of LASA, 73 per cent of our industry’s biggest and brightest made it clear there should be only one peak body covering all age services providers.

Whilst this did not happen formally, it remains true that LASA is the only organisation that speaks on behalf of all segments of the age services industry.

LASA is only 2 years old, yet we have consistently taken a leading role, be it in the development of policy, advocacy to government or in the dissemination of concise advice and information to our members.

I am proud of how LASA is developing, with new national projects evolving to serve our members and allow them to get on with what they do best – providing care and services to older Australians.

During its formative phase LASA prospectus documents stated: “Leading Age Services Australia is committed to its entire client base, which crucially includes members from not-for-profit organisations, including church, charity and community-based organisations and public sector organisations such as bush nursing.

“Leading Age Services Australia works to meet the needs of members through firstly protecting the current level of benefits being realised as well as working to improve specific benefit provision into the future. Every member, regardless of ownership structure or service type will be able to recognise their interests in our core activities.”

LASA certainly lives this. Over the last two years, six advisory committees have been formed to ensure our policy development and advocacy comes from the ground up. These groups also provide us with a quick reference check on any mooted change or policy reform.

Earlier this year, I witnessed a first when we gathered industry thought leaders from across the country to develop key policies, spanning all service, delivery and organisational type. The development of these policies demonstrates that we are not simply reacting to the current environment but genuinely shaping and informing the future of age services. The whole process demonstrated to me the power of the LASA network, with its paid staff leveraging the commitment, knowledge and foresight of our members. The value of our policies is considerable, not only will they guide our organisation and our external advocacy, but also members will use them in their own pursuits.

The political landscape has not been predictable for the age services industry for some time and for a number of years we have been presented with considerable challenges, most recently with the removal of the aged care payroll tax supplement in the federal Budget in May and the subsequent cessation of the dementia supplement in June, a fiscal hit of more than $700 million dollars. For providers affected by both, this represents a significant operational deficit, with some providers on the brink of losing viability.

LASA’s advocacy response was swift. There were meetings with both ministers within 24 hours of the Budget being handed down. The precept of competitive neutrality has been disregarded with the removal of the payroll tax supplement for private providers and although the effect of this is yet to be felt, I predict it will have a significant impact.

As the government states, “In the interests of competitive neutrality, the Commonwealth currently refunds for-profit providers for the payroll tax that they pay.” Yet the Budget has perversely destroyed competition by removing the supplement, one that contributes to its own assertion that there is a “strong rationale for government involvement in aged care on equity grounds”.

LASA will not allow a state/federal blame game to threaten care and services to older Australians. The supplement has been in operation since 1967, hence it has no relationship to the institution of the GST. The original principle of the supplement was to remove the significant inequality in the aged-care sector that results from the levying of state payroll taxes on private providers only. This was seen as an important principle, given that all providers operate under the same Commonwealth subsidy payment and fee structures, and all are required to provide the same high standards of care and accommodation for their residents.

LASA’s advocacy will continue and will include state governments, particularly in NSW and Victoria as they face elections.

The removal of the dementia supplement for residents with severe behaviours was a demonstration of departmental intransigence in seeking the right formula and illustrates how poor outcomes result from a lack of co-operation with industry.

Across LASA we understand the current fiscal climate and the real desire of the federal government to curb unnecessary spending and to focus on outcomes. LASA supports the pragmatic approach with a strong correlation between funding and achievable outcomes. This is why we will continue to advocate for genuine co-design, not only with the dementia supplement but across the ageing portfolio. Government and stakeholders have acknowledged that the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) does not appropriately fund residents with severe behavioural and psychological symptoms. As a result, this behaviour and psychological symptoms of dementia supplement was developed.

We have stood up, providing a voice for the voiceless, and continue our frontline advocacy for providers who supply care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. LASA will work with leading academics and key stakeholders to ensure the best possible outcome. We will not, however, compromise on the demonstrated needs of Australians with severe symptoms related to dementia. As the overwhelming funder and regulator, the government must understand that it has a direct responsibility to provide funding that enables the provider to deliver safe and appropriate care.

Our members have shown an innovative approach and willingness to harness funding to provide positive and meaningful therapies and staffing. The ad hoc and volatile approach to funding the industry is not sustainable and possibly dangerous. LASA is hopeful that with good faith and a genuine commitment to co-design, steps can be made to remedy the current situation, something both I and key LASA members will advocate at a forum on September 11 charged with developing a workable solution.

In order to combat what I see as a lack of appropriate focus on our sector, considering the high level of regulation and reliance on government funding, I am calling on our industry as a whole to come of age. Nearly three years ago, work commenced on a formal merger of both the Aged Care Association of Australia and Aged and Community Services Australia. Despite state-based amalgamations in Victoria and Queensland, a national merger, unfortunately, was not realised. I believe the lack of a unified voice in age services continues to harm us in producing stronger advocacy to government and stakeholders for the meaningful development of better care and services for older Australians.

LASA is mature enough to acknowledge that it may not be the final vehicle for this unified voice but believes that with a single entity the united peaks would demonstrate a maturity concomitant with the care and services our members provide. The resolve of a single national voice would not enable government to sideline the interests of older Australians and play political games of favour with a particular interest group. LASA was created within the mould of a single powerful voice for an industry committed to helping older Australians live well.

Our members made the call for this long ago. In the 18 months I have been LASA chief executive, my activity and thoughts have been guided by this originating philosophy.

I ask other leaders to join me in the development of a united and powerful voice – one that is charged with the mandate to hold governments to account in their obligations to older Australians.

Patrick Reid is the chief executive of LASA.

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