For reform, ask the Butler.

The recent commentary on Julia Gillard’s ministerial reshuffle has tended to concentrate on the negative, with allegations of weak leadership, favouritism and discussions of leadership battles thrown into the mix.  However amongst all the critique, a clear positive which has emerged from the new appointments is the priority of ageing and aged care to central government policy.

The recent promotion of the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, to Cabinet together with the expansion of the portfolio to include social inclusion, comes at a crucial time for aged care reform. That’s him above but, don’t worry, he looks much less manic in the flesh.

Without any set commitment to process and timeline, there have been concerns that Julia Gillard would not deliver on her promise for aged care reform in her second term of government. These views were reflected in an INsite news survey which showed that almost half of the respondents were not confident that government would implement changes as put forward by the Productivity Commission.

While opinion on the likelihood reform may be mixed, since the release of the Productivity Commission’s report on 8 August, the minister has been consulting with both industry and consumers. Could Mark Butler’s promotion be one step closer to change, indicating that reform is imminent?

The move was met with universal approval by the aged care industry and stakeholders right across the ageing agenda; with Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA); Aged Care Association of Australia (ACAA); Council on the Ageing (COTA), Australian Medical Association (AMA), Uniting Care Ageing, National  Uniting Care AgeingNational Seniors and Hammond Care all welcoming the decision in one form or another.

This is the first time that the ageing portfolio has been elevated to Cabinet status and the decision appears to indicate that the first steps of reform will happen in this term of government, with expectations that this will be reflected in the 2012/2013 budget.

It’s becoming increasingly critical for Government to act quickly and implement the full package of the Productivity Commission recommendations in its ‘Caring for Older Australians’ report.

As we come to the end of the year we passed a watershed mark. On 01 January, 2011 the very first Baby Boomers turned 65, with tens of thousands entering retirement age. We must begin planning for the needs of our ageing population, not just for the current generation of older people, but for anyone who will age in Australia.

The aged care sector is pining for reform; for a system that will provide residents with more choice, better access and more staff, but needs the government to do it.  In the past, Mark Butler has always been happy to discuss changes, but has been vague about what and when changes would begin.

Mark Butler’s promotion could herald a clear and structured process of reform. We are on the verge of some significant changes; the aged care sector must take this opportunity and strike while the iron is hot to ensure promises are delivered.

Ellis Jones is an integrated marketing and communication agency with a specialist health and ageing practice.

image credit : Jesús Garrido