“Why are they getting away with it?” Academics point to voter apathy for Government’s failure to fix aged care – but can this be changed?

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More commentary from academics on the sector, this time on the Federal Government’s failure to take ownership of aged care – and it makes some key points.

The Conversation has continued its series on aged care with a piece by three academics from The University of South Australia, the University of Newcastle and Macquarie University asking the obvious question: why is the Government getting away with not fixing aged care despite over 30 major enquiries since 1997 that have highlighted a litany of issues?

Noting that the Royal Commission’s Interim Report highlighted the “lack of willingness to commit to change” by successive Australian Governments, the authors say most changes come years after review and provide only “piecemeal solutions”.

Government has failed to steer the sector

One major hurdle identified is the relationship between aged care providers and the Government (an issue also singled out by the Royal Commission).

“The government funds the sector and provides a relatively ‘light-touch’ oversight, while the providers attend to the day-to-day running of the facilities,” the authors write.

“However, there is concern this alignment has meant successive governments are not as involved as they should be and proposals for change are diluted by the influence of industry lobbyists.”

The writers also point to the argument that many providers are ‘too big to fail’ i.e. if they have their approval taken away, beds need to be found for their residents.

Ageist attitudes driving lack of voter appeal

Despite the publicity surrounding the sector, aged care still doesn’t attract votes, they add, pointing to a survey of 700 voters during the July 2020 Eden-Monaro byelection which showed that while 84% believed the aged care system was “in crisis”, this influenced the vote of less than 4% of respondents.

This is attributed to ageist attitudes among Australians, highlighted by the arguments made by commentators about older people during COVID.

This lack of importance gives the Government little incentive to improve the system, they conclude.

“If we don’t care enough or care about other things more, nothing will change. And, while this remains the case, the government will have no reason to do more than just tinker with an unsatisfactory status quo.”

Community campaign key to sector reform

These are not new arguments to those who have been working in the sector.

But they do highlight the importance of the sector’s planned media campaign and the need for it to capture the ‘hearts and minds’ of Australians.

The Government has indicated it will deliver further funding and policy reform after the Royal Commission provides its findings in February.

How much could depend on the willingness of Australians to put the pressure on our leaders.

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