Why the Government will never support an independent Aged Care Commission – Ian Yates weighs in

Published on

One of the key points to come out of the Royal Commission’s final hearing last week was the divisions between the Counsel Assisting and Commissioner Lynelle Briggs AO (pictured above) – and between the Commissioners themselves – on the Counsel Assisting’s recommendation for an independent Aged Care Commission that would be responsible for administering and regulating the sector. Commissioner Briggs argued strongly instead for a revamped Department of Health and Ageing – and this wish seems more likely to come true.

Here’s why.

Government will not give up oversight of billions of dollars, Commissioner Briggs points out

Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Gray QC had argued that the Government had historically ‘taken a backseat’ in leading the sector – and an independent Commission was the best option for redesigning the aged care system.

Commissioner Briggs was not convinced that this was the best course of action though, saying she detected a “growing determination” in the Government to fix the aged care system and asking the public to also consider a second model based on a reformed Department of Health and Ageing.

The Commissioner hit the nail on the head.

“At least for the foreseeable future, aged care will continue to be funded primarily through parliamentary appropriations,” she noted. “I would expect that all governments would want clear oversight of over $20 billion in outlays.”

The Government will never give up control of the sector to an independent body, especially when it is clear that it will need to provide billions more in funding.

While it may cede some functions to other bodies – as it has done with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC), the Department has held onto some of its regulatory powers – a clear sign of this reluctance.

Briggs a seasoned bureaucrat who understands Government

Commissioner Tony Pagone backed the Counsel Assisting’s recommendation, saying that Commissioner Briggs’ comments were “not intended to be a final decision by us.”

But consider where both Commissioners are coming from – Pagone is a former Federal Court Judge known for his dedication to civil liberties and human rights causes.

Briggs however is a seasoned bureaucrat who has herself helped lead the transformation of a major Government body (Medicare) and is well versed in the machinations of Government.

Ian Yates says NDIS already pulled back into Government sphere

COTA Australia CEO Ian Yates (pictured) agrees that the Government is unlikely to hand over control of a major program such as aged care.

He points out that Australia has already seen independent bodies established by the Government reeled back within the structure of Government such as the NDIS.

“What we need is for Government to accept and give aged care the priority that it should have alongside the health system,” he said.

Risk that aged care could have less influence

Ian adds that there is also a risk if aged care is removed from the Government sphere, it will no longer be part of the core decision making and have diminished influence.

There was no evidence presented by the Counsel Assisting to show that an independent body would result in better outcomes in place of a stronger Department, stronger Minister and stronger Budget, he went on.

“The Government is going to decide policy,” he said. “They are not going to let an independent body make policy and say ‘we will just pick up the bill’. Government has to be convinced of it.”

Are the bureaucrats therefore likely to be convinced that an independent Aged Care Commission will be the best option?