Health and elder abuse feature in 2019-20 state budget


Older Tasmanians can be happy with initiatives in health, elder abuse and housing.

With the theme of “Maintaining the momentum, investing for growth”, the government has forecast a surplus of $57.4 million next financial year — and a total of $567 million in surpluses over the next four years.

However, Tasmania will go back into net debt for the first time in 16 years, and plenty of it: $1.114 billion by 2022-23.

In his State Budget speech Treasurer Mr Gutwein promised the Government would hire more nurses, doctors, teachers, paramedics and police.

“This Budget unashamedly invests record amounts into infrastructure to drive our economy, to enable us to deliver record investments into health, education and looking after the more vulnerable,” he said.

Overall, National Seniors Australia welcomes the additional expenditure on health and initiatives on elder abuse.

Health


Tasmania has one of the worst emergency wait times in Australia. National Seniors budget submission emphasised the need to cut waiting times as a key budget priority for older Tasmanians.

As such, we are pleased then that the Treasurer has allocated the following in the budget:

  • Emergency services - $80 million of new spending to ease pressure on emergency departments and $90.6 million over three years for Ambulance Tasmania to build a better emergency department (with separate mental health area and paediatric area) and intensive care unit with space for 10 new intensive care beds.
  • Hospital infrastructure – $152.4 million for Launceston General Hospital and $1.6 million for Stage 2 of the Royal Hobart Hospital.
  • Staffing - $132 million to be spent in 2019-20 to open and staff new beds at Royal Hobart Hospital with 100 new beds to be opened over the next four years.
  • Elective surgery - $2 million for women's health services targeting those who have waited the longest on the elective surgery waiting list.

The National Seniors budget submission emphasised the need to cut waiting times as a key budget priority for older Tasmanians.

National Seniors hope the funding commitments for a bigger emergency department, funding for Ambulance Tasmania and money for new staff will translate into lower emergency department waiting times and better care for older Tasmanians.

Unfortunately, we continue to be disappointed there is still no commitment for a Northern Hospice as was recommended in our budget submission.

Elder abuse


National Seniors is calling on all governments to expedite nationally consistent Powers of Attorney legislation and create a national register for these documents as part of ongoing moves to better protect older Australians from financial abuse.

It’s great to see the Tasmanian Government playing its part, allocating $850,000 to implement the Tasmanian Elder Abuse Prevention Strategy.

This includes a community awareness campaign, a new website to help streamline referral pathways and training tools for Tasmanians who work in the sector to better understand and prevent elder abuse in our community.

Funding will assist to implement the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians (Elder Abuse) 2019-2023, which includes harmonisation of Powers of Attorney laws as a priority action.

Housing


The budget extends the eligible period for the duty concession for eligible pensioners that downsize their home to 30 June 2020 as part of “tax reform” measures.

While this is welcome there should be an ongoing commitment.

It is disappointing that the government is calling this “tax reform” when they are not willing to commit to it in the long term. The social and economic impact of this initiative should be assessed with a view to making it permanent in the next budget.

As part of the budget, $68 million has been allocated in 2019-20 for new social and affordable housing with $27.4 million allocated to buy and build homes for Housing Tasmania.

This is a welcome response to our submission, which called on the government to “address homelessness issues facing vulnerable seniors in Tasmania”.

However, we are disappointed more has not been done to target older people facing homelessness.

Concessions


State-based concessions and rebates for essential services have been maintained at appropriate levels for older Tasmanians.

We are pleased regulated electricity tariffs will be capped at no more than CPI for the next 3 years. This will ensure pensioners and self-funded retirees on low-incomes will not have to raid their household budgets to meet the cost of essentials.

Also of importance is the freeze on water and sewerage price rises in 2019-20. While the commitment to cap future water and sewerage price rises to no more than 3.5 per cent is welcomed, it does mean that pensioners will face increases in water and sewerage charges at a rate almost double inflation in future years.


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