Address to the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) and the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI)

Developing an Agenda to Advance Research on Ageing in CALD Communities

THURSDAY, 10 MARCH 2016

Parliament House, Canberra

 

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It is a real pleasure to be here at this vitally important national roundtable.

 

I firstly congratulate all of you for your initiative and purpose in organising this forum.

 

Your tireless efforts have given powerful voice to the needs and aspirations of countless Australians and reaffirm our national responsibility towards the well-being of all of our citizens.

 

I particularly acknowledge the work of FECCA, whose Review of Australian Research on Older People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds (March 2015) has been most informative for myself and my colleague Shayne Neumann, our Shadow Minister for Ageing, as Labor develops our policies in this critical area.

 

Indeed, many of you have devoted your entire careers to advocating for our older Australians - ensuring we recognise not just the obstacles, but also the opportunities in this area; and you challenge us to not only address the issues confronting us today, but also to actively think about and tackle the issues that we, as a nation, will face in the future.

 

We meet at a time where the face of our nation continues to grow older and more diverse.

 

By 2055, a quarter of our population will be aged over 65 – nearly double the number recorded at the 2011 census and older people from CALD backgrounds are a significant and growing section of our nation’s population.

 

In fact, within the next five years, around a third of Australia's older population will have been born outside Australia.

 

In some areas of my electorate of Greenway alone, older CALD Australians comprise the majority of users of aged care services.

 

We should all rightly take great pride in this statistic and celebrate it as a national triumph – as a reflection of our burgeoning multicultural society.

 

And yet, as proud as we all are, I am also acutely aware from my own experiences that it also represents a national challenge.

 

As I go around doorknocking and gathering information from my constituency, I initially believed that the main issues affecting Australians from CALD backgrounds would be centred on immigration, visa categories and so forth. But let me tell you, probably the single biggest issue these constituents and advocacy groups raise with me is aged care. 

 

They say, for example, “I’m a second generation Australian, my parents came out sometime after me, now they’re getting towards the age where my wife and I can’t look after them at home any more. They’re getting to a stage where they’re going to need help". 

 

Such statements reflect an unfortunate truth - for too long we have lacked a national policy and commitment to provide adequate services and opportunities for older people from CALD backgrounds.

 

And this will only be exacerbated over the coming years.

 

Just as one example, it is estimated that by 2050 there’s going to be around a million Australians with dementia because we’re living so much longer. 

 

With 1 in every 8 Australians with dementia today already not speaking English at home and with one of the first impacts of early onset dementia being loss of a second language, imagine how many extra resources our communities are going to need: not only are we talking about nursing homes or in-home facilities, but we’re talking about recreational facilities, respite, and other forms of specialist care.

 

These challenges need to be recognised and catered for in our nation’s approach to aged care. To generate opportunities out of challenges requires vision and leadership and it starts by changing the way we think and talk about ageing in our multicultural communities.

 

For too long multicultural Australians were treated as a singular and uniform group and, as such, our policies have failed to fully recognise that the needs of older CALD individuals vary considerably from person to person - shaped by their unique cultural heritage and practices, as well as their family and social networks and experiences and, of course, English language proficiency.

 

This is something which Labor not only understands, but is committed to addressing.  Indeed, we did so in Government.

 

But unlike this current Government, the Labor Opposition at least has a dedicated Shadow Minister for Ageing in our Shadow Cabinet.  And in Government, we will also actively address Australia’s demographic changes and advance policies across portfolios to meet the needs and aspirations of all our senior citizens.

 

For example, we will protect and strengthen Medicare and our universal health care system, secure retirement incomes with a fair pension and strong superannuation, and we will invest in a world class workforce which is informed, educated and motivated to tackle one of the top growth and increasingly complex industries in this nation.

 

We know that the aged care sector, particularly to meet the needs of CALD-specific services, will require a workforce of multi-skilled individuals who need to be trained and qualified now.

 

Crucially, a Shorten Labor Government will also ensure multiculturalism is placed at the centre of both social and economic policy making in this country.

 

We recognise that the growing need for culturally-sensitive aged care can only be genuinely advanced with a firm grasp of the evidence and a high regard for real-world experience.

 

This means truly working with and listening to the legitimate concerns and goals of older CALD Australians because, as we all know, the most powerful advocates for a change in attitudes are those who have been unfairly subjected to the reality of policy shortcomings.

 

Their views, their experiences, provide some of the most powerful insights and we are committed to engage with them with sustained dedication and cooperation and with tangible government support and action.

 

Labor has a vision and we have the policies that reflect on the many and varied questions surrounding a multicultural and ageing Australia. 

 

This vision, however, cannot be achieved by elected officials alone. It requires the support of organisations and individuals in the community to realise it.

 

That is why today’s national roundtable is so important. Through this gathering we have an opportunity, as well as an obligation, to not delay or hesitate, but to actively address the changing landscape of ageing and advance policies that ensure every older Australian shares fully and equally in the promise of our nation.

 

With renewed dedication and effective action we can more effectively reaffirm the ideals enshrined in this building and which bind us all together as Australians.

 

In a very real sense, therefore, this gathering is just beginning. The results of this roundtable will be invaluable in the pioneering work that lies ahead. It will inform our long term policy development and help us to focus on the opportunities of this area rather than the limitations.

 

It has been an honour to be able to speak to such a distinguished audience and I am very proud to work alongside you as we strive to enrich the lives of every Australian now and in the years to come.

 

ENDS