FINALLY: Colin Claridge welcomes the PM's call for a Royal Commission into aged care.
FINALLY: Colin Claridge welcomes the PM's call for a Royal Commission into aged care.

OPINION: Quit the blame game on aged care

IT'S been 18 years since one Bronwyn Bishop (as minister for aged care) copped the furore following revelations of elderly residents at a Victoria nursing home being bathed in kerosene.

Obviously, with the exposure this past week of horrific abuse adding to other reports of recent years, a system of neglect has been allowed to continue.

It seems that until now, no one in government has been prepared to take on the vested interests.

We should welcome the prompt action by PM ScoMo in calling a Royal Commission.

Let's hope its terms of reference are quickly resolved and not bogged down in partisan political rubbish.

Because no sooner had ScoMo's announcement been made than Question Time this week became witness to yet another episode of the blame game, with both sides blaming the other for funding cuts in aged care.

So already the House isn't off to an encouraging start on this issue.

The truth is that neither side can hold their heads high.

By casting the spotlight on neglect in nursing homes, it's also vital that both politicians and the media make clear that not all nursing homes are guilty.

Confidence must be maintained during the term of the Royal Commission.

Many horrible things are going to be examined at a time when many senior Australians are still entering that phase of life.

The onus is therefore on relatives to maintain vigilance and ease unwarranted fears.

That onus has always been on relatives, but what is obvious is that they've not been backed up with a proper regulatory framework.

After all, when approximately 70 per cent of the money flowing into the coffers of the operators comes from the government, the Australian taxpayer should have a greater say in how the industry is operated.

Residents should be a greater priority than the shareholders.

How have we allowed the welfare of some of our most vulnerable to become just another business model?

When the Royal Commission was announced, the immediate reaction from the market was a dramatic drop in the share values of the largest operators.

What does that tell us about where some priorities lie?

Surely, there is a major problem in a system where the operators are allowed to set their own standards, particularly in relation to food quality and staff-to-resident ratios.

We are entitled to question what effects the profit motive has had on resident welfare.

This issue again demonstrates the perils of successive governments (of both persuasions) blindly cutting red tape without any serious thought to the consequences.

Not all red tape should be regarded as a strangulation on business.

Sometimes it is a necessary restriction against dangerous excesses.

The financial services Royal Commission is a clear example of what happens when you basically allow an industry to dictate their own rules.

Why are some nursing home operators resisting calls for a set standard of staff-to-resident ratios?

Why have some operators been allowed to employ staff on 457 visas?

Staff who apparently are under-qualified and don't even have proper English language skills.

Is this systematic of an inadequately resourced regulator?

How much do we value the work of nursing home staff?

If pay scales are an issue affecting obtaining and retaining the best staff, it again indicates the problem of allowing a profit motive to drive a business model in this sector.

Simply telling good people that if they aren't satisfied with the pay to leave and get a better job won't wash in this case.

Major operators have already made their resistance to possible stronger regulation clear.

But as the Australian taxpayer is the major source of their income, we are surely well within our rights to demand that whatever government is in place at the time the Royal Commission makes its findings doesn't cherry-pick the recommendations in order to appease certain "stakeholders” to the detriment of the actual people who matter.

Otherwise, we could be still talking about this problem in another 20 years from now.

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