National Seniors launches policies
Fixing pensioner poverty and the aged care crisis, better dental care and eliminating chronic home care waiting lists are key initiatives older Australians are demanding of candidates this federal election.
Leading advocacy group National Seniors Australia has launched its Federal Election 2019 Policy Priorities of Older Australians, cautioning candidates that 30% of all voters were aged 60-plus and were demanding practical solutions to a range of issues.
Chief Advocate Ian Henschke said the election was a national watershed opportunity to rectify years of policy neglect and stagnation on seniors’ health, wellbeing, finances and security. These were systemic issues all but forgotten in both the Federal Budget and Budget Reply last week.
He said the election policies were a sensible investment in the health and safety of older Australians and would enable government to better manage public spending in the ballooning areas of health and aged care.
“In this election, we are calling on all political parties to adopt our policies to lift age pensioners out of poverty, cut health costs, ensure older Australians receive the aged care they deserve, and end the erosion of retirement income,” Mr Henschke said.
He said the poor standard of living of many pensioners was a national disgrace requiring swift action by whichever party won government in the expected May election, to ensure older Australians in need were afforded a fair-go, respect and practical support.
“Our policies address the essentials of life and top of the list is affordable dental care,” Mr Henschke said. “Poor oral health is linked to chronic diseases, including stroke and heart disease, but is out of reach of many pensioners and those in aged care.
“Along with a growing chorus of respected health professionals, National Seniors is demanding a funding boost for dental care. We want a scheme that provides an annual subsidy to help maintain dental health.”
Taking politics out of the age pension was another key policy and National Seniors wanted the establishment of an Age Pension Tribunal to independently set the age pension rate.
Mr Henschke said the tribunal would take responsibility for calculating a fair and adequate pension rate and any supplements based on need and circumstance.
“Its decisions would be accepted without debate in the same way monetary policy is set by the Reserve Bank,” Mr Henschke said.
“This, along with cutting the age pension taper rate from $3 to $2, would help ensure a better standard of living for more Australians in retirement.
“The current government’s lifting of the taper rate in January 2017 had a punitive impact on older Australians, discouraging them from saving for retirement, and must be reversed.”
Assisting pensioners to access housing and better connect to internet services were also important ways to alleviate pensioner poverty, because one helped provide a roof over their head and the other a window to the world.
Mr Henschke said the private rental market was out of reach for many older people but could be improved by lifting the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance.
“The maximum rate of assistance could be set by our proposed Age Pension Tribunal so pensioners who rent receive enough income to meet reasonable living costs, no matter where they live,” he said.
Fix pension poverty
- Establish an Independent Age Pension Tribunal.
- Increase the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA).
- Provide a subsidy to connect to the NBN or another appropriate internet service.
- Expand the provision of basic dental care for pensioners, including those in aged care.
Address aged care deficiencies
- Triple the number of level 3 and 4 home care packages.
- Require all aged care providers to publish staff-to-resident ratios.
- Ensure all aged care staff in direct care roles have basic dementia training.
Increase income in retirement
- Retain access to franking credits for self-funded retirees.
- Reduce the asset test taper rate from $3.00 to $2.00.
- Exempt up to $250,000 of home sale proceeds from the age pension means test.
Arrest rising health costs
- Require all specialists to publish fees on a public register and ensure that all GPs make patients aware of choice when referring to a specialist.
- Limit private health insurance premium increases to no more than CPI until reforms take effect.
Protect pensioners from future rises in energy costs
- Reinstate indexation of the Energy Supplement.
Improve Centrelink wait times
- Cut Centrelink telephone waiting times for older Australians and reduce age pension processing times.
Protect older Australians from elder abuse
- Accelerate efforts to create nationally consistent Powers of Attorney legislation and a single national register for these documents.