The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

18 September 2009

NO.026

Address to Fundraising Lunch for Alzheimer's Australia (NSW)

Sydney

18 September 2009

Thank you John [Watkins] for that warm introduction. It's a real pleasure to be here today to speak with you all and to lend my support to such a worthy cause.

Today I'll discuss what the Government is doing to respond to the global economic crisis and the strong foundations we're laying for the recovery. And I'll also talk a little about the initiatives we're taking in health reform and in particular to support and complement the work of organisations like Alzheimer's Australia.

But just by way of introduction, earlier this morning I was at the University of NSW to launch the Australian Institute for Population Ageing Research. Part of that launch included a new Leaders' Forum and the launch of a Longevity Index which will track the sustainability of current retirement incomes and an individual's ability to maintain their standard of living.

Why do I raise that to kick off proceedings today? Because the ageing of our population is slowly, inexorably and unrelentingly bearing down on us and it has massive implications for policy makers and I'll say a bit more about that later.

But because of this fact the organisation John now leads is one that will be called on more and more in the future. And Alzheimer's Australia is very lucky to have someone like John working with them. His record of public service is distinguished. A member of the NSW Parliament for 13 years, a minister for almost 10 and Deputy Premier for three years. In that time he held some of the most difficult and challenging portfolios – Police, Education, Finance and Transport. At one point he was both Police Minister and Transport Minister for a period of six months or so. Add to that – loving husband to Deborah and father to Melanie, Sarah, Charles, Sophie and little Xavier.

I know how hard it is being a senior politician with three children. So I can say with first-hand knowledge it's extraordinary you managed to do everything you did with five! I'm not sure how you did do it though John, you must have had some kind of secret energy booster none of us know about to pull all that off. The only explanation I can think of is that it must have been all the really positive feedback the Sydney media would have for you day after day.

That's the thing about public life – it can be thankless sometimes. But you don't do it for the high praise and plaudits. You do it because you have a deep-seated desire to improve your community, your State, the nation. And he did these things with the highest levels of professionalism, commitment and compassion.

I know him to be a man of enormous integrity who has a very proud record of achievement – but also as someone who has remained very humble. Now, he's bringing those same values and the wealth of experience he has in public administration to this very challenging health and social issue.

He'll need all of those attributes in huge doses – the challenge is huge.

In 2007, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated the number of Australians with dementia would grow from around 175,000 in 2003 to almost 465,000 in 2031. A recent report commissioned by Alzheimer's Australia from Access Economics forecasts over 1.1 million people will have dementia by 2050. And around one-third of those people will be living in New South Wales.

As the population ages and the number of people with dementia grows, so too will the challenge for those caring for a loved one with dementia. It's also a challenge for our health system. People with dementia and their carers use a range of health services – GPs, hospital services, pharmaceuticals and residential aged care and community care programs. We believe that longer term reforms are needed to address growing pressures in the health sector.

As we position the economy for recovery, we also need to ensure that the least well-off in our society are supported. But the Government cannot do it alone. Organisations such as Alzheimer's Australia provide invaluable services and support to people with dementia and their families. This includes the National Dementia Helpline, counselling and support services, and information and education activities.

The Government is providing around $28 million nationally to Alzheimer's Australia to deliver the National Dementia Support Program over the three years to June 2010. But we are very much partners in this challenge because Government cannot solve all the associated challenges. Fundraising events like today are an important part of raising awareness and understanding of the disease, and help garner community support for the continuation of Alzheimer's disease initiatives.

Economic Stimulus

As you know, the global financial system is experiencing the most significant upheaval since the Great Depression. The Government has been focused on guiding Australia through these difficult times.

Our economic stimulus was deliberately and carefully sequenced in three stages. First, direct cash payments to households to support consumption. Second, small-scale infrastructure investment through the biggest school modernisation program in history as well as nationwide community infrastructure. And thirdly through investment in large-scale economic infrastructure – roads, rail, ports and broadband.

The first phase provided timely, temporary and targeted cash payments to Australia's low and middle income families, pensioners, seniors, carers and veterans. And I'm sure many of those carers that received payments under our stimulus would have been caring for a relative with dementia. I wear it as a personal badge of honour that when we were faced with the massive decision of how to immediately stimulate the economy it's people like carers who were front of mind. Our stimulus is recognised as world's best practice – doing so much to support jobs and stimulate key sectors of our economy, and to position us to benefit from the global recovery.

Health Reform

But importantly, the Government is also laying the foundations for longer term prosperity with a significant reform agenda, particularly in the health sector. And an often unheralded part of those reforms has been the changes to Commonwealth-State financial relations through the Council of Australian Governments, including historic health and hospital reforms.

Early last year we established the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission to develop a long-term health reform plan for Australia. We received the Commission's final report, 'A Healthier Future for all Australians', three months ago. It has more than 120 recommendations on health reform.

The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission found that Australia's health system has many strengths and its health outcomes are among the best in the world. But it also found that the health system is under growing pressure, especially as the health needs of the population change. Demographic changes, like population ageing, will increase the demand for health and other services required by older members of our community. And as life expectancy increases, dementia will become more common, boosting the demand for care services.

A key message from the Commission's report is the need for aged care services, including community aged care, to respond to population ageing with greater flexibility and efficiency. This includes greater choice for people needing aged care services over where they receive care and the type of care they receive, and better integration of the various aged care programs.

How this is done is one of many issues the Government will be considering in developing its response to the report. As that consultation takes place it will be important to hear what organisations like Alzheimer's Australia think about options for health reform. And I understand that Alzheimer's Australia has provided a submission to the Commission and it's great that organisations like Alzheimer's Australia are engaging in the reform process.

The Government wants to build a health system that is focused on people, provides better access to high-quality care in a more integrated way, and maximises the focus on prevention. But we need to do so in a fiscally sustainable way. We have set strict spending targets as part of our medium‑term fiscal strategy and plan for economic recovery. Our response to the report will be consistent with this fiscal discipline.

Health Initiatives

Over the next four years, the Government has committed $44 billion to the aged and community care sector, including $120 million per year in support for the Dementia Initiative. This includes:

  • About $90 million per year for Extended Aged Care at Home Dementia packages;
  • About $24 million per year for dementia research, prevention, early intervention and improved care initiatives; and
  • About $7 million for training aged and community care staff, carers and community workers, such as police.

It also includes research grants offered by the NHMRC and funding for three Dementia Collaborative Research Centres, including one at the UNSW.

In March last year, my colleague, the Minister for Ageing, established a Dementia Advisory Group, comprising people with expertise in dementia, to help guide the Government's thinking on this important health issue.

But funding programs in specific areas – in isolation – is not a recipe for success. That's why we're taking a more comprehensive approach.

Pension Reform

And our reforms to the pension should be seen in this light.

The global recession has caused many challenges, not the least of which has been to highlight the importance of the pension. That's why – even in the most difficult economic circumstances imaginable – the Government is providing greater financial security to Australia's 3.3 million aged, carer, disability and services pensioners. It's one of the things I'm most proud of. It's something our predecessors couldn't manage even while it was raining gold bars during the boom years.

Our pension reforms in this year's Budget will deliver substantial increases in pension payments starting in just a few days. The payments structure for pensioners is also being reformed, and we're providing more support for carers.

Starting from next week we will provide an extra $32.49 per week to single pensioners on the full rate of pension, bringing the single rate of pension up to two-thirds of the couple combined rate. Couple pensioners will receive additional assistance of $10.14 per week combined through the new Pension Supplement.

Carers

Over 2,200 carers who care for adults with Alzheimer's disease are in receipt of Carer Payment and they will benefit from this increase in pension payments.

The Government is also supporting carers who receive Carer Allowance. Over 9,000 carers caring for adults with Alzheimer's disease are in receipt of this allowance.

Carers receiving Carer Allowance, along with those receiving Carer Payment, will benefit from the new Carer Supplement. An annual $600 Carer Supplement will be paid to Carer Allowance recipients for each eligible person in their care. An additional $600 Carer Supplement will also be paid to Carer Payment recipients. This new supplement provides additional ongoing assistance and greater financial certainty to carers by replacing previous Budget one-off bonuses.

The first payments of Carer Supplement were made in June 2009. But more than this, we also understand that while direct financial support for carers is important, caring for a loved one with dementia can be an incredibly physically and emotionally demanding role. And carers need to be able to take well deserved breaks.

As Ms Kaye Pritchard, a volunteer from Alzheimer's Australia, noted at a hearing of the House of Representatives Inquiry into Better Support for Carers, the need for respite care is a constant cry from carers. The Government will continue to provide support for carers through programs like the National Respite for Carers Program. Respite care is obviously critical in giving carers the down time they need to come back refreshed and continue with the tireless work they do.

Conclusion

In wrapping up I just want to thank all of you for the support you're offering today for Alzheimer's Australia.

Here's a stat worth pondering – since the onset of the global financial crisis, 60 per cent of not-for-profit organisations have reported a reduction in their income. This comes from the PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Fundraising Institute Australia and the Centre for Social Impact joint study 'Managing in a downturn' released just a couple of months ago. The authors surveyed 263 not-for-profit organisations and also found:

  • Around 65 per cent of respondents reported that their income from at least one of their chief fundraising sources had decreased; and
  • That large organisations were suffering less from the economic downturn, with 44 per cent indicating that their total income decreased over the last six months, compared to around 71 per cent for small to medium organisations.

That's understandable – there's simply more compunction from business at the moment to philanthropy and that means the task of trying to extract critical donations from the corporate sector is made that little bit harder.

So I wholeheartedly thank you for the support you're offering today and now I am happy to take some questions and engage in discussion with you.

Thank you.