Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On aged care, and the Len Brown, Celia Wade-Brown triumphs

October 15th, 2010

aged careThe Greens/Labour Party investigation of conditions in the aged care sector in New Zealand paints a hair-raising picture of this country’s quality of care for the elderly. To date, the greying of our population and the care of the aged has been seen as a profit opportunity for the private sector, and not as a planning priority for central government The result has been unrelenting pressure to drive down wages and defer investment in staff training – both of which have been reflected in high staff turnover. While some carers do provide excellent care regardless, many submissions to the report highlighted the substandard care in a sector that has no mandatory staffing levels, and no regulations that govern the care and handling of residents.

As the report found, the horror stories about inadequate staffing resulting in massive time pressures, residents’ calls for help going unanswered, medication or diagnosis errors, overcrowding and terrible cases of neglect were all too common. Such findings come hard on the heels of the Auditor-General’s report last year that slammed the inadequate monitoring of levels of care in the nation’s 715 rest homes.

Clearly, a significant boost in funding for the aged care sector is essential. Yet as the report indicates, aged care hardly featured in budget increases this year with just 1.73% going into residential care, and this neglect followed on from last year’s cuts to home support services. Internationally, the most recent data available confirms how badly New Zealand fares in global comparisons with respect to its treatment of the elderly. According to the OECD Social Expenditure Database, spending on old age (which comprises pensions, early retirement pensions, home-help and residential services for the elderly) has steadily reduced from 5.2% of the GDP in 1998 to 4.2% in 2005. This is below the OECD average of 7.0% for 2005, as well as falling behind Australia’s 4.4%, the UK’s 6.1% and is even below the 5.3% average for the United States.

Given the Auditor-General’s findings though, there would be little point in shovelling more funds into aged care until we have adequate audits and oversight in place for the funds we are already spending. That’s why the Greens/Labour team’s leading recommendations focus on providing a fresh regulatory framework for the sector. Plainly, the care of the elderly cannot be left to unbridled market forces. The private providers need to be regularly monitored by the state, to ensure they are meeting adequate standards of care, and providing adequate wages and working conditions for the workers giving that care. This sector totally invalidates Health Minister Tony Ryall’s bogus distinction between health bureaucrats and front line workers : plainly, both are essential or the system will fail in its duty of care.

As the report recommends , successful reform will require government to :

Establish an independent Aged Care Commission and Commissioner (as is currently in the UK and Australia) which would operate along similar lines to the Mental Health Commission with an advocacy service and an 0800 number. A National Quality Manager, based within the Commission, would work with aged care facilities to encourage organisations to carry out quality improvements and measure progress.

As part of the Aged Care Commissioner’s initial term, a technical working party would be established (made up of experts from industry – including providers and the unions – and aged care specialists) to investigate the issues raised in our report, including auditing processes, developing a national Aged Care Strategy and Action Plan, and looking into the issues facing family carers, including respite care.

The Aged Care Commissioner would be tasked with developing and trialling new models of caring for people in aged residential care, based on a more person-centred care approach.

This would be a good start, and increased funding should then follow hard on its heels. All credit to the Greens, the Labour Party and Grey Power for shining the spotlight on the conditions in this sector – which is currently a national disgrace. Given the demographic realities, standards of care for the elderly are certain to deteriorate further unless this report is acted upon.
Central vs Local Government

The Key government now seems to feel it has a vested interest in the failure of both Len Brown in Auckland, and Celia Wade-Brown in Wellington. The battle lines over central government funding of the CBD rail loop in Auckland are already being drawn up. Key starting his press conference last Monday for instance, with a list of how much his government was already spending on roads and rail in Auckland, In his view, Aucklanders would need to temper their expectations of how much more central government would provide. How different the tone would have been if John Banks had triumphed. No effort would have been spared to ensure his success.

In Parliament this week, Transport Minister Stephen Joyce kept up with the same Scrooge-like responses when questioned by Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman about central government funding for the CBD Loop.

Plainly, the aim is to take the lustre of Brown’s election by starving his council of funds – thereby throwing the costs of the CBD Loop and other Auckland urban transport needs directly onto ratepayers. So much for all the rhetoric about Supercity Auckland. Clearly, if it can’t have its minions running the show, central government won’t be funding it. No matter that this recent report into the upcoming oil shocks makes a sensible case for less investment in roading, and for more investment in public transport.
All of which applies to Wellington as well, and totally validates Celia Wade-Brown’s programme for light rail, walking and cycling. Again, Joyce is not likely to stump up funds for her, either. For the foreseeable, central government is now on a mission to frustrate and overturn the public will, as it applies to local government.

The other fascinating aspect of the local government results has been that voters have finally buried the 1980s model of political leadership. All around the country, voters rejected the combo of alpha male leadership, highly centralised decision making, council amalgamation and the corporatisation of public services. The Supercity model was judged, and found to be unsafe for export.

Lest anyone try though, to depict the voter trends in local government purely in left/right terms it should be recalled that the model for fuzzy, warmly inclusive political leadership has been set by John Key. In Auckland, Len Brown won out as the warmer, more credibly inclusive candidate. All along, what Banks needed was a third party candidate on the left to split the Brown vote – yet thanks to a combination of personal failings and a virulent campaign to discredit him, North Shore mayor Andrew Williams could never credibly play a splitter role. The crucial miscalculation of the Banks campaign was to treat Williams – and not Brown – as the more serious threat. Whaleoil’s Cameron Slater helped Brown no end in that respect.

In Wellington, voters rejected the corporatisation of services and roading projects that the aloof and autocratic Kerry Prendergast embodied – in favour of a more inclusive, grassroots campaigner committed to the public provision of services. In Christchurch, the earthquake enabled even Bob Parker to project a caring and inclusive style of leadership – while temporarily burying those inconvenient past dealings with property developers that had formerly dogged his campaign. As mentioned, New Zealand has had it with alpha male leaders making ‘bold’ decisions that have only elite support. Key need only point to these results to silence those on the right of his party who want him to move further, faster.

For the next few months, the nation’s bellwether politician will be Len Brown. That’s why central government has such a keen interest in ensuring that he fails, and that the Supercity mayoralty becomes a poisoned chalice, For any number of reasons, Brown will need to ensure that any blame for Auckland’s problems gets sheeted home to where it truly belongs. He may well end up needing to campaign directly to the people (in public meetings and via social media) right over the heads of central government and the mainstream media to do so.


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    1. 8 Responses to “On aged care, and the Len Brown, Celia Wade-Brown triumphs”

    2. By pansy on Oct 15, 2010 | Reply

      The Parliamentary Research paper is saying that within 2 years we we face a series of recessions which could leave the current one looking like a stroll in the park. Yet the Report went largely unreported in mainstream media. Funny that. But congratulations to Clint Smith on an truly excellent paper on global oil depletion with a NZ perspective. The emphasis on imminence of the next oil shock (2012?) and its profound effects on NZ’s economy is what stands it apart. eg. the conclusion that domestic oil production cannot insulate New Zealand from global oil price shocks because New Zealand pays the world price for goods like oil.
      There is more on the hype and hoopla about NZ’s “potential” oil reserves and how they cannot save us from the effects of the next oil shock here…

    3. By Sean on Oct 15, 2010 | Reply

      The crucial miscalculation of the Banks campaign was to treat Williams – and not Brown – as the more serious threat. Whaleoil’s Cameron Slater helped Brown no end in that respect.

      In that case, a big thank you to Cameron Slater. With your help Whaleoil, the right man lost!

    4. By richarquis on Oct 15, 2010 | Reply

      Re: Tony Ryall’s frontline/ back office distinction. Just as you said about Cameron Bagrie’s report in your July 2008 article. This ridiculous report, a mainstay soundbite in National’s last election campaign, just will not curl up and die, because they keep feeding it. If only they showed the same attention to the elderly you discuss here, as they do to that 2 year old dinosaur.

      Re: LB and CWB. This is exactly the sort of thing I was concerned would happen. Just like Dick Hubbard getting backstabbed by Bruce Hucker, and the support councillors voting against any progressive agendas, resulting in the misconception that Hubbard was ineffective, which was a big factor in JB regaining the position due to voter apathy caused by misrepresented apportion of blame. Now it’s happening on a much greater scale, but who will dare challenge JK? He’s so nice, after all. How could his challenge to LB to “make Auckland work” possibly be misconstrued as anything other than a motivational push? Oh, of course. By pulling back the transparent veneer.

    5. By martin on Oct 16, 2010 | Reply


      Labour has to come out and back Len at the election. What do the famous cities of Australia, America, Europe and Asia have?

      Yes, credible public transport. Used by workers of all salary bands to commute to work.

      Lets not damn Auckland further with faint support.

    6. By Elyse on Oct 16, 2010 | Reply

      As an Auckland rate payer I would be happy to contribute to a public transport system. I hope Len Brown does go directly to the people.
      John Key’s statement was bitchy sour grapes and a thinly veiled attempt to threaten Aucklanders.

    7. By Ian on Oct 19, 2010 | Reply

      The problem is that despite being told by researchers around the world that the aging population is exploding, governments have done nothing about it. In the mean time pension funds are evaporating and school leavers are not attracted to the grind that exists in the health setting.

      Tony Ryall sees the fix as ‘frontline services’ – in reality hip replacements, cataracts, hernia repairs, etc. but fails to prevent illness and disability from occuring. The only way to improve aged care is more support, which means more tax – please let it be via capital gains!

    8. By Robert Miles on Oct 20, 2010 | Reply

      There is a common factor in the victories of Bob Parker, Celia Wade Brown and Len Brown. Their all urban rail and public transport supporters and Parker and the new Wellington Mayor have been hot for light rail. I don’t think either National or the Labour MPs really understand the desire of Auckland and Wellington for public transport. Most of our MPs continue to hold the prejudices that developed in Britain in the l930s among planners, local government planners and elements of the public that it was essential to do everything to close down the tramways and light rail so the average man and his family could have space to get a car, use it in the city and move to garden suburbs furthur out. Herbert Morrison UK British Cabinet Minister and grandfather of Mandleson was one of the prime architects of the downfall of the tram in London and the UK and with the London planners deserves the blame for the temperorary downfall of the tram much more than Goodyear, Firestone and General Motors who Barry Commoner blames. It was never the intention to take out the streetcar trolleys in the Big USA cities. Chicago and NY simply had too large populations for trams to get thru the entry points by the l940s. They survived in Boston,San Fran, Philadelphia and Toronto and a degree in New Orleans. Abandonment in Washington 63 and LA 61 was due to Motorways and Fashion.
      The NZ Lab and Nat caucuses seemed desperate for the provincial and ethnic vote and have little interest in most actual and potential commutters. Neither party has been enthused about urban passenger transport since WW2. To them rail was more suitable for freight. ( I disagree I think rail became unsuitable for rail freight long ago other than coal, logs and bulk milk and distances are too short and grades too steep in this nation- unless electrified).Working class people are seen as wanting to escape from public transport. However the urban liberal white population and many Chinese and Indians who want to use public transport in Auckland and Wellington are far more numerous and annoyed with the provicnial orientation of key, goff and norman than they percieve.
      In my view light rail is eminently affordable between Wellington rail and the airport as a street Melbourne style tramway thru the trolley bus terminal. A Britoamrt Onehunga tram line with exits thur both Q street and via the University would make sense and a basic Christchurch system from New Brighton -Fendalton- University- Riccarton loop and Princess Margaret to Papanui. Outside Auckland street light rail is affordable by councils but the state should pay the cost of the light rail vehicles.

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