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Aged Care policy meets Utopia, on steroids

Introduction by Croakey: Readers wishing to engage with an Aged Care Taskforce consultation on aged care funding principles must first negotiate a tortuous search process that is worthy of an episode of Utopia.

Thankfully, Charles-Maskell-Knight PSM is on the case… And please note: the deadline for submissions is 31 August.


Charles Maskell-Knight writes:

I was a Commonwealth public servant for over four decades, which gave me a lot of time and opportunity to observe some weird bureaucratic processes. But now that I have left, things seem to be getting weirder.

Several weeks ago, I began drafting an article on the Aged Care Taskforce, announced by Aged Care Minister Anika Wells as her National Press Club appearance on 7 June. I included in the draft a link to the document on the Department of Health and Aged Care website setting out the members and terms of reference, and a link to the communique from the Taskforce’s first meeting.

On 26 July I noticed an AAP report about the second meeting of the Taskforce held on 25 July.  The report included remarks from Minister Wells that we could look forward to “a big public consultation process” on the options, with details to be released “in the next couple of days”.

On 3 August, prompted by kite-flying from Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones on using superannuation to fund aged care, I returned to my draft article.

I found that the link to the terms of reference and membership of the Taskforce no longer worked. It pointed to a webpage telling me that “the page you were looking for could not be found”.

While the webpage included a search box, entering “aged care taskforce” turned up a lot of taskforces, but not the aged care one. (The link to the communiqué from the first meeting worked on 3 August, but it has subsequently been removed as well.)

How the link showed on 7 August

What next?

Somewhat perplexed by this, I asked the Department’s media team:

  • Where the terms of reference and membership could be found?
  • Where the communiqué from the second meeting was?
  • What was happening with the consultation foreshadowed by the Minister?

I received a reply explaining that:

“Information about the Aged Care Taskforce, including the Terms of Reference and meeting communiques, is now hosted on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, where the Taskforce secretariat operates – https://www.pmc.gov.au/domestic-policy/aged-care-taskforce. The Department of Health and Aged Care temporarily hosted this information.”

The reply also included a link to the communiqué from the second meeting – in a document hosted on the PMC website.

Now I’m sure it makes sense in bureaucratic terms for the department supporting a committee to have information about the committee on its website.

But who in the general public would think to look for material about the Aged Care Taskforce on the PMC website? (Especially as there has been no public statement that the secretariat will be provided by PMC.)

At the very least the Health website should include a page about the Aged Care Taskforce explaining that the secretariat is in PMC, with a link to the relevant page on the PMC website.

The reply from the Department’s media unit also stated that the consultation process is now open until 31 August. I was directed to “visit www.AgedCareEngagement.health.gov.au/taskforce to find out more, including the consultation question guide and how to provide feedback”.

So the Aged Care Taskforce secretariat is in PMC, and only the PMC website has information about the Taskforce, but the consultation process is hosted on the Health website. Despite this, searching for “Aged Care Taskforce” on health.gov.au does not bring up any links to the consultation process.

The communiqué from the second meeting – available on the PMC website – notes that “the Taskforce will conduct a public submission process, which will be available through the Aged Care Engagement Hub”.

However, people following the link to the Aged Care Engagement Hub (on the Health website) will find nothing on the landing page about the Aged Care Taskforce. They need to click a “get involved” button, and then scroll through half a dozen other requests for input before reaching the Aged Care Taskforce.

Insights from experience

I was surprised that I had missed Minister Wells’ announcement that the consultation process was under way, so I went through her media statements looking for it.

I found I hadn’t missed it – it simply isn’t there. As far as I can see, only people who had asked to be added to an aged care engagement mailing list would have been notified of the opportunity to participate.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would conclude that this confused or absent communication about the Taskforce and the consultation process was deliberately designed to keep participation down. But as an experienced ex-public servant, I am sure that it is simply the result of a series of stuff-ups.

At one level, I think the very existence of an Aged Care Taskforce to figure out how to fund aged care is a nonsense. Yes, aged care will place growing pressure on the budget over the next few decades. So will nuclear submarines, yet the Minister for Defence is not convening a group to work out how to raise $370 billion.

But if the Minister wants to persist with the charade that the Aged Care Taskforce matters, she should at least make sure information is easily available, and the chance to participate in the process is widely known.

She could direct the bureaucracy to put material about the Taskforce on the Health website where people would first look for it, and she could put out a media release encouraging participation in the consultation process. She could even run a few advertisements, perhaps using the space booked for the carers support program, which appears in my Twitter feed every day.

Anyway, readers with an interest in aged care wishing to engage in the consultation process can find it here. The deadline for submissions is 31 August.

• Charles Maskell-Knight PSM was a senior public servant in the Commonwealth Department of Health for over 25 years before retiring in 2021.  He worked as a senior adviser to the Aged Care Royal Commission in 2019-20.


See Croakey’s archive of articles on aged care