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Aged care sector urges Government to implement rights-based Aged Care Act

Twenty-five aged care and community peak bodies are calling on the Federal Government to commit to implementing a rights-based Aged Care Act that incorporates older people's rights at its core to build on the Government’s current aged care reform agenda.

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A group of aged care and community peak bodies want a commitment from the Government around a rights-based Aged Care Act. [Source: Shutterstock]

The Government will be looking to make a new Aged Care Act - replacing the Aged Care Act 1997 - by 2023, as part of their response to the Final Report from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Last week, the Federal Government was consulting with the aged care sector about specific updates to the Aged Care Act 1997 and Aged Care (Transitional Provisions) Act 1997 through the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No.2) Bill 2021.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN), Craig Gear, says an aged care transformation sparked by the Royal Commission was a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to rebuild the sector based on prioritising the rights of older people.

While the Government has accepted this Royal Commission recommendation to make a new Aged Care Act, Mr Gear believes a lack of focus and language about 'rights' in discussions about a new Act is concerning.

"What everyone wants as they get older is to keep their independence and stay in control of their lives, as is their right, but currently the system does not support older people to do this," says Mr Gear.

"We've heard many instances of older people's rights being abused, disrespected and disregarded, in evidence to the Royal Commission and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Implementing a rights-based Aged Care Act was the top recommendation from Royal Commissioners, the Honourable Tony Pagone QC and Lynelle Briggs AO, and must be the top priority in transforming Australia's aged care sector.

"The Australian Government has taken a number of really important steps in response to the Royal Commission, and we need them to take another crucial one.

"We're calling on the Australian Government to enable older Australians to exercise their rights by ensuring that a rights-based Aged Care Act gets developed and implemented, and we look forward to working with them to achieve this."

Mr Gear believes an improved Aged Care Act will ensure older people have rights and the ability to exercise them from the start of their aged care experience.

He adds that Australia has a unique opportunity to work with older people, aged care providers, and Governments to build an aged care sector that puts the rights of older people at the forefront.

The new Aged Care Act was the first recommendation from the Royal Commission and highlighted the importance of this Act in transforming the aged care system.

The coalition of aged care peak bodies suggested rights that should be included in the new Aged Care Act, including: 

  • The right to services being available in a timely manner, integrated with the community, to be locally available, and to be in the least restrictive environment

  • The right to liberty, freedom of movement, and freedom from physical and chemical restraint

  • The right to have diversity supported and promoted

  • The right to quality end of life experiences with appropriate and timely access to palliative care supports and expertise

  • For people providing informal care, the right to access supports in accordance with needs and to enable enjoyment of the rights to social participation

Additionally, the coalition wants the many principles from the Royal Commission's Recommendation 3 - Key Principles to be incorporated into the new Act.

CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree McCabe AM, says, "Rights-based approaches are all the more important for people living with dementia, some of the most vulnerable people in our community, who experience discrimination and are often more disempowered than other older people."

While the Government has accepted the Recommendations 1 to 3 from the Royal Commission, the coalition of aged care organisations believes that the language of rights has not been at the forefront of discussions on the Act, instead, there has been a reference to a "consumer-focused Aged Care Act" and discussion on "values and principles".

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) Federal Secretary, Annie Butler, says, "Older people's human rights in care delivery have been ignored for far too long, the new Aged Care Act must be underpinned by human rights and require a highly skilled workforce that can meet the needs of older people."

The group wants an Act that is backed by those in the aged care sector and protects older people and their families and carers. Additionally, the workforce needs to have the right numbers and skill mix to meet an older person's care needs.

Ian Yates AM, Chief Executive of Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, says, "Importantly, the Australian Government is committed to a way forward to address these issues raised by the Royal Commission, and now we want to see a best practice, rights-based approach to the very development of the new Act."

The coalition of aged care and community peak bodies includes COTA Australia, Dementia Australia, National Seniors Australia, Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia, Carers Australia, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Allied Health Professionals Australia, and others.

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