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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Talking about Aged Care in the ALP and the Greens

The following article by Tristan Ewins examines the huge deficit of Aged Care services in Australia; and the need for progressive tax reform to fund a radical improvement in the sector.  The author regrets that Aged Care did not seem to have been prioritised by the Greens in a recent survey: but is hoping this will change with a shift of policy by botht the ALP and the Greens.

by Tristan Ewins

 The Greens are to be applauded for their recent web-video putting the case for a reformed Mining Tax to fund social welfare and services, and to invest for the future.

But while the Greens provided a survey asking people which areas they think the money from such reform ($100 billion) should be spent, they did not include Aged Care.  I was upset at this for a number of reasons – all related to the urgent need for reform in that area.

Firstly:  We have an ageing population.  Even to maintain current quality of service will require greatly increased funding.

Secondly: Staff including nurses are underpaid, and there are inadequate ratios. This impacts upon residents’ quality of life – as staff need to turn residents in their beds to avoid bedsores; check to ensure residents are eating their meals; facilitate exchange and communications between residents to ensure they remain socially engaged… Not having enough nurses and staff to check that residents eat their meals can result in starvation and literally a physical 'withering away' so that those concerned cannot even stand up or walk.

Thirdly:  The current funding mechanism is grossly unfair: requiring families to sell or take equity out against their homes operates like a regressive tax.  Yet levying more proportionately from the wealthy and the upper middle class is considered ‘taboo’ and referred to as ‘class war’.

Finally:  There are broader questions of quality of life for these most vulnerable Australians that barely register in our public discourse.  Provision of gardens could provide an escape and a diversity of scenery that in its way could radically improve quality of life.  Private rooms could help maintain a sense of dignity, private space and connection with past and one’s identity which could also radically improve quality of life. In the future information technology could be crucial in keeping residents socially and intellectually engaged.

Furthermore where possible residents should be taken on outings to create diversity and quality of life.  And those aged Australians who would be better suited to lower intensity care – eg: hostels – should not be forced prematurely into high intensity care in order to ‘save a buck’.

By the same principle there must be greater assistance for aged Australians to remain living in their homes – if that is what they choose; and for family/carers’ to provide the necessary support without having to make too great a sacrifice.

When the shortfalls are considered: service quality, the funding mechanism, the wages and conditions of staff – and the ageing population is also taken into account – a figure of an additional $3.5 billion/year to be invested in the system   - is not unreasonable at this point, with 'more in the pipeline' for the future.  Though this should be in the context of a funding mechanism which operates like a progressive tax – and enables investment in the quality of life for vulnerable families, and working class families who deserve better after spending a lifetime paying their taxes.   A more robust mining tax could pay for such Aged Care reform.

 My hope is that the Greens and the ALP will respond to this issue and run with it as we approach the next election.   But the Coalition often takes the votes of many aged Australians for granted.  They should also be pressed to ‘put their money where their mouths are’ when it comes to Aged Care.  The bottom line is that this is a matter of basic human rights – and of the acute suffering of our most vulnerable spending their final years in circumstances of public neglect, dehumanisation and despair.

 If any of you reading this are Greens/ALP members I urge you to take this issue up in your branches and via your parliamentarians.  For the Greens especially – their survey should have included reference to this most critical of issues.  Here at ALP Socialist Left Forum I think we would all appreciate an official response.

And if by some miracle there are Conservatives reading this – I ask them to look within their hearts – to their basic underlying humanity – To confront the suffering and neglect experienced by our most vulnerable aged – and to DO SOMETHING.  

In place of tax cuts instead commit funds for aged Australia.

Tristan Ewins

Around March 16 2012 Daniel Pocock at Facebook argued against using MRRT money this way:

“I definitely think the bias should be on construction of long-lasting public infrastructure. That will create jobs, more taxes, and the taxes on salaries should fund the welfare state. I think it is actually dangerous to use taxes from non-renewable resources (like mining) to fund ongoing expenditures (like welfare).”

To which I respond here:

 I appreciate that the MRRT money isn’t going to last at current levels forever.  Hence I can understand Daniel’s concern about being ‘structurally locked in’ to funding Aged Care or other social wage measures via the MRRT.

 On the other hand BOTH investment in infastructure AND welfare measures are necessary - and using the MRRT money could be part of that picture - using MRRT money to 'free up' *other* money for Aged Care.

MRRT money could also be put in a Sovereign Wealth Fund with the profits from that being directed - sustainably - into Aged Care and other services as well.  The point, here, is that Sovereign Wealth Fund investments could provide a source for social wage expenditure for decades into the future.  But since then that fund would be slow to build up it begs the question where the money would come from for Aged Care now. 

That means there would have to be tax reform elsewhere.  I support such an agenda 100% - raising in the vincinity of $20 billion new money a year for programs like Gonski, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Aged Care and welfare reform.  The question is whether Labor and the government can be convinced of the need for such a far reaching agenda. 

Arguably Labor is now in the position where only a radical policy shift – only a radical ‘delivering of the goods’ – can shift voters’ perceptions and voting intentions.  Radical reform of Aged Care could be part of this ‘big picture’ policy agenda which could turn the tide for Labor again by re-engaging with working class Australia.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Labor‘s Socialist Objective in the 21st century - principles for economic democracy and equity ?

From the author, Geoff Drechsler: The following is an open letter to Australian Fabian News. I posted it here in the hope it will generate some discussion on some of the issues raised in the book 'Looking for the Light on the Hill: Modern Labor‘s Challenges.'

by Geoff Drechsler

One of the 'more' curious aspects of the current debate around modernising Australian Labor is the recurring proposal to abandon the party’s socialist objective, and commit Labor wholeheartedly to a neo liberal economic model. Troy Bramston‘s Looking for the Light on the Hill: Modern Labor‘s Challenges takes up this theme also. This is 'curious' because we are presently witnessing the greatest failing of free market neo liberal economics since The Great Depression, largely stemming from a lack of regulation and governance. So, it is a strange time to be advancing a position supporting free market economics, particularly in a debate about the future of a social democratic party, when one looks at the concrete realities of the current situation.

In this debate, the reality is that the choices being presented are between the principles of economic democracy and of equity of the socialist objective or a neo liberal agenda of privatisation and deregulation that has progressive social policy grafted to it, with the aim that the latter will mitigate the effects of the former. Since the late ‘80s, there has been a shift to the right in terms of economic policy by social democratic governments internationally, and all these experiences have shown the reality that such programs have meant less equitable outcomes for Labor’s people, and led to declining electoral support.

Locally, this approach is exemplified by the recent activities of the current Queensland state government and the former NSW government. Both have driven supporters away electorally, and are unlikely to deliver equitable outcomes in the long term.

Many of the opponents of the socialist objective use warnings of some grim imagined Sovietesque economic basket case, that they claim would be the practical manifestation of any implementation of the socialist objective too. This is disingenuous.

As a social democratic party, participating in politics in an advanced industrial country like Australia, it would be much more instructive to look to the labour and social democratic parties of Europe and their experiences, in regards to economic policy and programs.

In this debate, one country’s experience is informative, Sweden, because the Swedish social democrats developed an alternative economic model that achieved economic growth and equity in the post-war period. And the Swedish social democrats understood that free market economics were incompatible with the interests of working people and social justice, so attempted to develop their own economic model, rather than rely on existing mainstream economics. Just like the first Labor activists in Australia who drafted the original socialist objective here. The Swedish social democrats goal of economic democracy centred around 2 themes-industrial democracy and collective capital formation, which it was envisaged would lead gradually to the transformation of private ownership of the means of production to social ownership.

The Swedish economic model is also interesting because nationalisation as a strategy was rejected early on, and Sweden has also never had a large public sector either.

Practically, this alternative economic model lifted Sweden out of the Great Depression earlier than other advanced economies and, in the post-war period, led to high rates of economic growth and lower rates of unemployment than comparable economies. The Swedish social democrats themselves experienced an unprecedented period of electoral success over the same period.

The end result is a country with a high standard of living, more equitable distribution of wealth and a modern dynamic developed economy. All in all, an economic program worth further examination in any debate around the socialist objective.

We need to see this debate in terms of the need for an economic model that meets both the party’s economic and social goals, and clearly free market economics has already discredited itself, as recent history shows. Sadly, one only needs to look to the US to see the shrinking middle class, the product of a sustained neo liberal economic agenda over the last few decades.

A quote from Keynes’s is probably an apt conclusion at this point-“Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”