Speech by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Launch of Health Direct Australia’s Experience of Ageing Research

Location: Sydney

Thanks very much Colin. Could I also acknowledge Maureen Robinson, the General Manager of clinical governance, Professor Kath Ryan who looks proud if not expectant here this morning, and acknowledge the great work that you’ve done. And because today is essentially a consumer focussed day, could I acknowledge the consumer representatives that we have here – Ian Yates, the Chief Executive of COTA, and also Elena Katrakis, the CEO of Carers New South Wales. But most of all, our three representatives of the community, of consumers, Nora Lee, Catherine and Chris, who we’ll be hearing from very shortly.

It’s a real thrill for me to be here for the launch of Health Direct’s Experiences of Ageing Project. When I first came into the portfolio, and I was told about Health Direct, it took me a little while to work out what exactly a COAG company was. But Health Direct is commissioned to do some good work by both the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments.

One such project, one venture, which I think is really important is the My Aged Care gateway, where we are seeing unparalleled levels of information available for older Australians and for consumers. Ultimately I’d like to see that become something of a virtual marketplace. And in order to further facilitate and help that, from the 1st of July this year, we will have numbers of non-government funded organisations listed. At the moment, it’s only Government-funded, but we want to branch out to make sure that consumers have the fullest and best range of information available.

I’d love to see that site be almost something of a Trip Advisor style site for people, where they can get the information that they need. The My Aged Care gateway is an important way to help individuals to start thinking about their future as they get older, and to start planning for that. And thoughtful research, like Experiences of Ageing, is something that will further help people to focus on their ageing and what the opportunities are for them.

There are two things that I think are pretty good about what we are going to see and hear. One is that it recognises the challenges that people will face. But more importantly, it also recognises the opportunities that there are for people.

In our lives we know that there are certain facts that are unalterable. And as we age, there are new facts that are unalterable. What is unalterable is probably smaller than we general think, and that leads to the concept of re-ablement, which is a part of this story.

But there certainly are some new facts that emerge that are unalterable as we get older. But what we can control is what we do to plan for those eventualities. And what we can control is our response to those circumstances in which we find ourselves. Many things happen in life which are beyond our control. But that which we can control is our response to those circumstances And that’s what I think is an important part of what we’ll be seeing here today.

People, as they get older, we know want to be independent. They want to be in control. They want to continue to make a contribution. And what we in government need to do is to facilitate that. And in my ageing portfolio, what I ultimately want to see is greater consumer control – having the individual at the centre and in charge. Similar to what we’re doing with the National Disability Insurance Scheme, where a person is assessed, a plan is done that they develop, and then the support, the dollars, follows the individual. And they can take that support to the service provider of their choice. That is the direction I would like to see us go down in the ageing part of my portfolio – having the individual at the centre and in charge.

Can I just finish by saying that the fact that we are an ageing population is an unequivocally good thing. Without qualification. Yes, there are challenges. But a population that is living longer and living better and living healthier is the best sort of challenge that our society can have. It’s something that we’ve been working for collectively, as an advanced economy, that people live longer.

The statistic that really hit me between the eyes when I first became the ageing minister, was that there are 3,000 centenarians in Australia today, and by 2050, there will be 50,000 centenarians. That’s fantastic, that’s fabulous. It’s a great national resource. It’s a great opportunity for mentoring of younger people. I never want to hear people talking about the tsunami of ageing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. We should be optimistic, and this project today is part of that optimism. Can I congratulate all of those involved in this important work.

Thank you very much.