In witnessing the ongoing catastrophe that is Australia's aged care system, I'm reminded of my own experience in special education during the last 50 years.
When I began working in disabilities in the school sector in 1971, post-Vietnam and discharge, the world inhabited by this particularly vulnerable group was very different from the current situation. Whilst there are still areas in special education requiring further reform, the following improvements have been made -
Staff are for the most part trained for their specialty and receive the specialist support they need. This support includes occupational and physiotherapy.
The staff-student ratio is generally set at a standard that facilitates needs-based support.
There are the same numbers of professional staff as paraprofessional staff. In most special schools, a group of five or six children will have one professional and one paraprofessional available at all times.
The paraprofessional staff (teacher aides) work to an award that brings their remuneration to a point well above the minimum wage.
None of these factors featured in the sector when I began working in it, but were introduced progressively as time went along, much of the improvements coming on the back of the Whitlam money which began to appear, based on human rights legislation, in the mid-seventies.
This financial support was transformational.
And there lies the rub, of course. Nothing will improve for this vulnerable aged care sector until the money provided by the taxpayer supports care, rather than private profit.
I am reminded of this every time I drive past the very large aged care facility near my home run by one of the country’s largest private providers. The sight of the CEO's late-model Maserati in the staff car park is instructive.
Howard’s deregulation of the sector in the mid-nineties is largely responsible for the sad and sorry state it is in now. Once it became a licence to print money for investors, profit was all that mattered.
The only sure-fire way of increasing profits (and pushing up the share price) is to cut staffing to the bone. Hence situations where there is one registered nurse on the floor for over one hundred residents.
There are three institutional sectors housing and supporting vulnerable people which should never be privatised for profit. They include prisons, special schools, and aged care facilities.
There is a stark need for a non-profit clause. This means that profits in the sector can only be derived from non-care aspects of the activity.
I won’t hold my breath waiting for this given the moral standing of the current federal administration.