Reflections on the Federal Budget

Tonight, I have been in Parliament watching the Federal Budget on behalf of Older Australians. The budget will help your hip pocket and provide more aged care funding. We will need to see more accountability from aged care providers about their spending of this extra money.

This budget sets the scene for a Federal Election campaign over the coming weeks, with the hope of older Australians now pinned on election announcements for vital services like oral and dental health.

From what I’ve seen, there is not as much change in this budget as there has been in the recent years – but that’s not necessarily bad news. Tonight’s budget reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to the aged care reform process based on the recommendations of last year’s Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. The budget announced a further $468.3 million to support aged care services, bringing the total investment to $18.8B.

The continued investment maintains the rolling out of 80,000 home care packages over 2021-2023, funds 33,800 new training places for aged care workers, 8,400 new respite service, and delivers funding to link nursing homes with community pharmacists and on-site pharmacists to improve medication management and safety.

The Government will also implement, from 1 October 2022, a new residential aged care funding model that includes an additional $34.60 per bed, per day. Each nursing home around the country will have a target for the number of minutes of care they must deliver based on the clinical needs of their residents. This will be based on the initial stage recommended by the Royal Commission of 200 minutes per resident per day. The new star rating system will score a nursing home out of five on how well they met their target without publishing the exact minutes of care they should have delivered for the funding they received, versus the number of minutes they actually delivered.

While the increased transparency included in the Government’s reform package is appreciated, more transparency is required to ensure funding is being spent as it is intended.

Tonight’s budget also includes a $1.5 billion investment to provide a one off $250 payment to around 6 million Australians, around half of whom are pensioners. Also announced was a 50% reduction to the fuel excise for 6 months, reducing the price of petrol by 22.1 cents per litre. These new investments build on the 2.1% indexation to increase the age pension by $20.10 for singles and $30.20 for couples per fortnight announced earlier in March 2020 which is based on historical cost increases over July to December 2021. Waiting another six months for indexation to catch up to the price hikes being experienced now would not have been a viable option for many people living from pension payment to pension payment.

We call on the Government to commit to publish as part of their star rating system – how many minutes of care each nursing home is being funded to deliver,  compared to the number of minutes they actually delivered. Australian families deserve to know.

We continue to call on Government to consider a permanent solution for pensioners on the cost of digital engagement. In the modern world, the cost of internet connections, computers, mobile phones are no longer optional. For many people on welfare payments who don’t own their home, these things are out of reach, and the consequences are awful.

We were disappointed that the Government’s cost of living relief for middle income wage earners did not include low to middle income self-funded retirees living only off their superannuation.

We continue to look to the Government and Opposition for their response to the Royal Commission’s recommendation for a seniors’ dental program. Funding oral health is critical to maintaining quality of life in aged care and in the community. We are disappointed such a program was not in tonight’s Budget. It is long overdue.