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Task force to bring aged care back from the brink: Minister Anika Wells

Anika Wells' mother and former aged-care worker Deb Wells was present for her daughter's speech.

Anika Wells' mother and former aged-care worker Deb Wells was present for her daughter's speech. Photo: AAP

The unanswered question of the royal commission into aged care will be tackled by a new expert group seeking to lift standards, improve funding models and put people’s rights at the centre of the system.

Aged Care Minister Anika Wells will lead a task force of economic, finance, public policy, First Nations and consumer advocacy representatives who will provide the federal government with the next steps in sector reform.

Task force membership also includes a youth representative to ensure recommendations support future generations entering care.

The group will seek to address a major challenge for the government about how to make future aged care equitable and sustainable.

“We need co-design, support at home and policy settings that allow innovative models to be viable investments,” Ms Wells said in a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday.

“This is about the government investing in the care older Australians actually want, and they want to be at home.”

Senior Australian of the Year Tom Calma, Council on the Ageing Australia chief executive Pat Sparrow and former NSW Liberal premier Mike Baird, who now heads up aged-care provider HammondCare, are among task force members.

An interim report will be provided to the government in October, with a final report due by the end of December.

Aged care is personal for the Queensland MP turned federal minister, as she worked in the sector while studying.

Her mum, Deb Wells, was an aged-care worker for 15 years and travelled to Canberra for her daughter’s speech.

Ms Wells did not want Australians to be scared about the care they would be provided with later in life.

But she acknowledged since stepping into the portfolio 12 months ago she had largely been “triaging an absolute crisis” in aged care.

“Aged care was mired in crisis due to a lack of ambition, due to a shrugging of the shoulders (and) a resigned sigh rather than a raised concern,” she said.

“Like so many things neglected for so long, this will take time to deliver a system of care we all deserve.”

The government has already funded a 15 per cent pay rise for aged-care workers and introduced laws to amend the sector’s subsidy funding model, as well as reporting and transparency requirements.

From July 1, aged-care facilities will also be required to provide around-the-clock nursing in line with the royal commission findings.

But this measure has sparked warnings not all aged-care providers would meet the target, especially in regional areas with staff shortages, and may have to close.

Ms Wells said most facilities were going to meet the nursing requirements by the deadline and her department was assisting those who may fall short.

“The boat doesn’t leave the harbour on July 1 and everybody left on the pontoon is done for – I’ll keep trying on July 2 and every day after that until we get it done,” she said.

Existing aged-care legislation focused on providers but Ms Wells expected reforms – based on recommendations from the task force – to put residents’ rights at its centre.

The minister was confident the government’s ambition for the sector was working and Australians could be optimistic about the future of aged care.

“This has always been a complex and slow-moving area of public policy,” she said.

“We are bringing aged care back from the brink and it’s about damn time.”

-AAP

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