Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Multicultural Aged care forum

Location: Mile End, SA


Thank you very, very much Rosa.

Can I start by acknowledging you in your role as CEO, the members of your Board of Management, and Multicultural Aged Care staff.

It’s my very great pleasure to be here with you today.

With my special responsibility for multicultural affairs, as well as being the daughter of elderly migrants, I understand how important an organisation such as Multicultural Aged Care is.

Over my many years of community work as a Senator, I have visited many aged care facilities throughout the country, some of which also deliver services to CALD communities.

When I was just 23, I was a founding board director of an aged care facility in Wollongong. And I have been involved in a wide range of community activities, especially in the CALD area, since the early 1980s.

There is little doubt that ageing and aged care are among the most important concerns in our CALD communities. The ageing of our population is one of the biggest social issues facing Australia today.

More than 450,000 people are now over the age of 85. By 2050, that number is expected to more than quadruple. In many respects this is a cause for celebration.

But as we now have longer life-spans, we also face more complex health conditions and changing disease patterns which contribute to increasing aged care needs.

We are also facing a shift in the size and composition of households. One in four of our older Australians come from a culturally diverse background.

The aged care sector has seen many changes and vast improvements over the years, but the industry remains a challenging one.

In the case of CALD communities, it is important to cater for language needs in aged care, both in aged care facilities and for care at home.

This is because those of us from non-English speaking backgrounds often revert to our native languages or dialects and lose much of our English language skills as we age.

Apart from linguistic needs, there is often also a need for cultural and religious understanding.

This is particularly important given that the large number of Australia’s post-war migrants now form the generation of CALD Australians in need of residential and home care.

I must say that, despite all my years of interest in this area, and despite my own CALD background, I was not prepared for the reality when it hit me personally.

Everyone’s story of ageing and aged care will be unique, but my personal experience will have elements common with many. Until very recently, my mother, who is in her 80s, looked after my dad who has dementia.

We first noticed a change in Dad about three years ago. He became forgetful. He would repeat himself. Our family doctor referred him to a geriatrician.

My mother was Dad’s carer. Dad’s illness took its toll on her health. But being from an Italian background, she felt it was important that Dad be cared for at home.

I don’t need to tell you that caring for our CALD elderly is a complex issue. It is not just the physical day-to-day needs, but the cultural overlays. In Italy, old people are cared for at home.

So many factors today, such as distances and work commitments, make it harder for the children of migrants, usually the women, to live up to the expectation of caring for their parents.

I know I share these experiences with many women, predominantly women, my age across Australia and not just from different cultural backgrounds. Many find themselves caring for young grandchildren and elderly parents at the same time.

With Dad having problems with day-to-day needs, we eventually were able to get a home care package. This was fine for a few months, but Dad’s wandering was such that Mum was no longer sleeping at night.

And my mother’s deteriorating health resulted in Dad needing to go into respite late last year. We found some respite at an aged care facility in the Illawarra.

Fortunately, I knew where to go, who to ask and where to find the information. Had Mum been on her own, it would have been a lot, lot harder.

My mother, like many migrant women, did not go to work but looked after the home. My father looked after everything, including the finances.

When my father got dementia, suddenly my mother was left to sort out finances and do things she had never had to do before.

Dad went into full-time care in February and Mum eventually prepared herself for the next hardest decision, to go into care herself.

Luckily, the aged care facility where Dad was had new units available and Mum moved in so she could be close to him. Regrettably it was not too long and only last month my father was moved to another facility for high care dementia residents.

My experience is but one of many. As I said, each experience is different but there are many similarities. With an ageing population the experiences are only going to increase.

As I said, we face a booming population of the aged, many of whom will have been born overseas. Services will need to be delivered across a broad spectrum to address the needs of a culturally diverse society.

Multicultural Aged Care is supporting these services with distinction. You have recently been able to celebrate your organisation’s 21st anniversary.

Since 1993, Multicultural Aged Care programmes have been delivering on the vision that older people from CALD backgrounds lead the lifestyle of their choice.

You have been supporting Home and Community Care-funded CALD agencies to deliver accountable, responsive and better-practice services.

And you have been administering the Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care (PICAC) programme in South Australia for 16 years.

You also provide information materials and training, engage with stakeholders and help strengthen the capacity of CALD community groups to meet the Home Care Standards requirements.

Your influence is considerable. Your nationally recognised library offers resources on CALD ageing and you have a state-wide mobile library service.

You also produce a CALD-specific palliative care training package and a range of resources such as workbooks, fact sheets and briefings.

Your efforts and achievements were recognised last year when you were named a finalist at the South Australia/Northern Territory Aged and Community Services Awards for Excellence.

Can I thank you for all your work across this important sector.

A longer and healthy life is something we all strive for. But it brings with it challenges. Creating a sustainable aged care system that will stand the test of time has required fundamental changes.

The Australian Government wants to ensure all Australians have equitable access to appropriate care, regardless of their background.

We also want older members of our community who require support to receive it in the most appropriate and caring way possible.

The changes to the aged care system we introduced on 1 July were significant, but necessary. These changes are about increasing the focus on the care recipient, and providing them with greater choice.

For older Australians and their families, the focus on choice is supported by greater flexibility in the use of home care package funding, greater control in decision-making and better information to aid their decisions.

For providers, the changes aim to reward investment, reduce the compliance burden and increase business flexibility by removing some of the constrictions relating to aged care places and funding arrangements, especially in residential care.

You are familiar with key changes that came into effect on 1 July including:

  • new accommodation payment arrangements which we hope will provide greater flexibility to pay for accommodation in an aged care home, where people have the choice of either paying a lump sum Refundable Accommodation Deposit, a Daily Accommodation Payment, or a combination of both;

  • new means testing arrangements in residential care and home care;

  • transparency of accommodation prices and services listed on the My Aged Care website;

  • the removal of the distinction between high and low care in residential aged care, which supports the flexibility of providers’ services and which I know was something that providers had been pushing for, for a long time; and

  • an increase in the maximum level of the accommodation supplement in residential care facilities that are newly built or significantly refurbished.

We have made these changes to ensure we continue to have the best possible aged care system.

The Australian Government’s continuing investment in aged care currently stands at more than
$15 billion a year and will increase to about $17.7 billion by 2017-18.

Organisations such as yours are an important part of the aged care system. The Australian Government shares your commitment to the comfort and support of older members of the CALD community and it is important that we work together.

Can I conclude by commending the staff and all involved with Multicultural Aged Care and can I thank you for your efforts in supporting the sector in South Australia for the past 21 years.

I wish you the best of luck with your vision, your projects and your activities as we enter the next chapter of multicultural Australia’s great success story.

You are already making a great contribution to this success.

Thank you.