Thanks to Dr Yalmambirra for the Welcome to Country and the timely reminder of the importance of respect and flexibility in the work that we all do.

And welcome to everybody to the City of Albury – there are 270 people attending the Tri State Conference and we also have 25 exhibitors and I appreciate you all finding time in your busy schedules to come together and convene to deal with some really, really importance issues, not just for your services and the people you care for but, I’d argue, really important issues for the nation.

Whilst we thank HESTA for their support for this event and their continuing contribution in partnership with the work that we do, I would also like to thank them for their thought leadership, addressing issues that are important to our sector and important to our nation,

Because I would argue that this year is going to be a landmark year for the issues of ageing and aged care in our country.

The Aged Care Royal Commission final report is due out in November. By all accounts, what this will be recommending is a fundamentally different system for how we enable and support the growing number of older Australians.

Whilst at the same time, 2020 will see the United Nations launch the Decade of Healthy Ageing, so across the world there will be a focus for the next 10 years on how communities, societies, governments and, indeed, nations best respond to the global phenomenon of an ageing population.

And put all that together, that is why the Conference focus here today is on Ageing Well From Policy To Practice and certainly, we look forward to some of the leading thinkers and doers assembled here to re-imagine what that might actually look like.

I must say, being in Albury brings back a number of personal memories for me – I have a strong connection with this place. As an infant, I spent a number of years here in Albury but also a number of local communities – Tumut and Talbingo – and they all hold a special place in my heart.

But I have to tell you, I also know from traumatic personal experience, what it is like to live through a bushfire.
And with this in mind, our hearts go out to all those individuals and families and communities nearby and also in other areas of Australia that have been impacted by the bushfires, particularly those who have tragically lost loved ones.

And whilst there has been significant bushfire threats and impacts on many aged care operators and retirement villages, thankfully, we have not seen any loss of life in those settings.

With this in mind, my heart has swelled with pride when I have heard countless stories of people who work in our sector who have done amazingly selfless acts, to stand by the beds and to visit people in their homes to protect them through the bushfires, often forsaking their own personal safety or protection of their own homes.

It was interesting, I was talking to a LASA Member in the Illawarra recently who said to me: “Their stories of heroism are humbling.”

And there are many of these stories and I am certainly looking forward to catching up with Anne Brewer, from the Buchan Bush Nursing Centre, who will be participating in our panel tomorrow on emergency responses during the bushfires.

Anne basically lost her own house in the fires but at the same time, she continued to deliver all-important care to her community.

We’ve also had Sandi Grieve, from the Walwa Bush Nursing Centre, who shared her community’s story of survival during the recent bushfires in an online article and Sandi finished her story with a classic quote: “Love and kisses to those other sectors impacted by the fires – bloody lucky we’re a tough bunch.”

There is nothing like telling it how it is, Sandi, so we look forward to that session tomorrow.

This forum also includes LASA Members who had to evacuate their facilities and also Department of Health and emergency services experts.

I think it is really important that we take the time to learn lessons from these disasters because – let’s be honest folks – they’re going to be with us for some time to come, and there’s nothing more important than making sure we’re prepared and we minimise the loss of life and the threat to facilities and communities.

But look, you know yourself, it is not just bushfires that are impacting on providers and age services.

I can rattle off the list – there are ongoing challenges in residential care, there’s workforce pressures everywhere we look, the long wait times for Home Care Packages in communities and recent regulatory changes are causing considerable stress and pressure, too.

All of these things are causing considerable stress and pressure on age care providers, and all of this is going on with the backdrop of a Royal Commission.

Whilst we’re looking at that, what are you out there doing?

All you want to do is deliver the best possible care you can, and I have to tell you that I’m acutely aware of how much harder this is becoming.

So with this in mind, we at LASA have been putting significant focus on ensuring our Members do have that strong voice, to represent your views on issues of importance and, also, that helping hand, to assist you in this time of challenge and change.

As I have said many times before, the issues of ageing and aged care are issues of national importance and how we care speaks to who we are as a nation.

That’s why the work that you, our Members, do is so important.

The Royal Commission’s Interim Report – released last year – has drawn a line in the sand for our sector, for our aged care system and, indeed, the nation.

The report sets out a case for fundamental change, a re-think of how our nation addresses ageing and aged care in Australia.

Now this is, as I have said before, a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to get this right – but that opportunity comes with a great responsibility, a responsibility to get this right for older Australians now and into the future.

Now, as the Royal Commission goes about its important work and we look towards the inevitable transformational changes that will follow, it’s our responsibility – individually and collectively – to show leadership right now.

Let me tell you that LASA’s approach to this is quite simple: We’ve committed to be more in 2020.

So, we’re going to be more accountable, more assertive, more expansive and more collaborative in the service of our Members and in realising a better aged care system for older Australians.

When I talk about accountability – and I will touch on this later on, when I present a session on our Membership Charter – it is fair to say that the recent reforms and what the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and the Royal Commission are telling us is that we, as services and as a sector, need to be more accountable.

Older Australians, their carers and advocates are demanding this and the community expects nothing less.

That is why all of us have this increased focus and all of us need to be able to demonstrate the quality, safety and value of what we deliver.

With regards to being more assertive, our approach to advocacy has been deliberately more assertive, as we seek to influence the decision-makers to address the critical issues that are affecting our Members and older Australians who you care for and support.

Again, whether it’s funding for residential aged care, whether it’s home care waitlists, all of these issues are important, all of these are impacting on the work you do today, and all of these things are issues that we could address right now, that would make the aged care system better right now.

So, heading towards the May Budget and beyond, rest assured we will continue with our assertive approach to bring focus, influence, evidence and balance to our advocacy in seeking change, in a way to make your jobs easier and that will deliver better outcomes for older people.

I want to talk about being more expansive: To further back our case for greater support for aged care, we are also expanding the things we talk about publicly.

For example, we are calling the nation out – following the lead of the Royal Commission – on ageism, on respect for our elders and on the inconvenient truths of ageing in Australia.

That is, notwithstanding the unfolding and significant shifts in demographics in Australia as our population ages, the Royal Commission found – and let me quote this – “as a nation, Australia has drifted into an ageist mindset that undervalues older people and limits their possibilities.”

Now I’d argue that this represents missed opportunities for us as a nation, both economically and socially, and it gets back to the point I made earlier that how we care for older people speaks to who we are as Australians.

I don’t think there would be anybody in this room who would say “we’re happy to live in an ageist society”, that either consciously or unconsciously biases against older people.

The reality is that Australia has reached a “new normal” in regards to older people in our communities and while our population ages, we are presented with a plethora of issues that are calling out for national leadership and national action, that effectively addresses ageism in all its forms.

You see in the news every week now, whether it’s ageism, elder abuse, retirement ages, retirement incomes, intergenerational equity, housing ownership – all of these issues are symptoms of what is actually going on, which is us not dealing as a nation with an ageing population.

Finally, we are being more collaborative. If we are going to realise the outcomes that we truly desire as an aged care sector, but also as a country, in responding to the needs of the growing numbers of older Australians, we need to do this together.

We can’t continue to operate in silos – fragmented, under-resourced – in ways that, notwithstanding the best efforts, are not getting the outcomes that we want for older Australians, for our Members, or indeed, for the nation.

What I would argue is that the Royal Commission is going to recommend a transformational approach to aged care in Australia, I’d argue that this will require an equally transformational approach to how we represent and how we develop the aged care sector.

That will compel all of us – the peak bodies, all the operators – to actually sit down and explore new and better ways to overcome the fragmentation of voice, the suboptimal resourcing and the competitive tensions that we find within our sector.

And whilst we are out there being more accountable, assertive, expansive and collaborative, let me tell you that we are also continuing to provide support for our Members on key issues, specifically through our new national Centre For Workforce Development and Innovation.

There are a suite of programs we have developed around key issues such as expanding the rural and remote workforce, uplifting governance and compliance standards, looking at better ways for dementia care, improving customer support and service, and realising better quality food and nutrition.

I’m very pleased that we’re about to launch our new national Mentoring Program, that aims to support emerging leaders in age services by partnering with them and bringing them into partnership with established leaders, in a facilitated and formalised mentoring program.

It’s an Australian-first for our sector and we believe it will help futureproof the industry.

This five-month Mentoring Program complements and streamlines existing professional opportunities and systems you may have in place and is a key way to give emerging leaders one-on-one support and guidance to actually help them build skills, confidence and capacity in their work and to start plotting out their path forward.

It says to them: “We value you, we value the work you do and we actually want to see you continue to commit and have an outstanding and rewarding career in our sector.”

With workforce, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Royal Commission’s workforce hearing last Friday. Hands up who watched the hearing and did anybody get the report on what is recommended – only a few hands.

Well, in this hearing the Counsel Assisting put forward to the Commissioners a number of recommendations in regards to what we might do differently or better in supporting our workforce.

In a nutshell, the recommendations align with LASA’s ongoing calls for more staff, for better skills and qualifications and for appropriate remuneration for aged care workers.

Because as you know yourselves, getting workforce right is fundamental to getting care right, and we need more staff who are valued, who are supported and who are accountable.

Counsel Assisting’s recommendations actually give us a pathway now to realise just this.

They also assert that if we’re going to have more staff and have them better skilled and qualified and pay them more money, guess what? The current funding system needs to be overhauled, in order to be able to accommodate that.

And we do note that part of the solution put forward by Counsel Assisting was the introduction of mandatory minimum staff-to-resident ratios in residential care.

Now when we respond to this recommendation, we will put forward an alternative approach that we believe will be more appropriate, more flexible and more successful in realising better outcomes for older Australians in care, rather than just looking to rely on a minimum staff-to-resident ratio.

In closing, let me just say congratulations to the 17 individuals and organisations who are finalists in our Excellence In Age Services Awards. I wish you all well for tomorrow’s Awards ceremony.

As we kick off Tri State for 2020, I want to remind you of the words of a key Royal Commission witness, Dr Lisa Trigg.

Dr Trigg gave evidence in 2019 and her parting advice to the Commissioners was that they would not necessarily find the answers to our aged care problems from studies overseas.

Dr Triggs said: There are people in this room who know what you need to do. There are people in this room who have the answers, who’ve been doing this staff for 10 or 20 years and I suppose my biggest wish is that those people become the most important people in the system, and they’re the people who will guide your work in what this needs to look like.

As I have said before, providers of age services must be seen as part of the solution and not all of the problem.

We have the answers and it is our opportunity – indeed, our responsibility – to ensure we bring forward these solutions, in the service of older Australians and the nation.

Thank you.