Tag Archives: Australia

My submission in relation to the Foundations of the new Aged Care Act

Submitted on 28 August 2023

Dear Sir/Madam

Thank you for the opportunity to outline my thoughts in relation to the ongoing aged care debate and the relatively poor conditions that remain prevalent within the Australian aged care sector.

I acknowledge your reference material provided via the following URL (and elsewhere):


My background is one as an individual whose elderly parents both, sadly, spent the final phase of their lives in aged care facilities in Australia. I’m now, all too quickly, heading in the same direction. Other items written by me, some relevant to the topic of aged care, are listed at https://www.aust-thai.com/writing.htm

My siblings and I spent a considerable amount of time researching the options available to our parents, and studying the relevant government laws and guidelines. This included speaking to numerous staff or representatives of facilities and/or gov’t and non-government agencies. We couldn’t find anywhere suitable, and our parents quickly grew tired and disappointed whilst trialling possible alternative facilities.

One of the things that struck me during this process is the chasm between what was said/written/believed regarding services available for the aged, versus what is actually available to them on the week in question. Many of those working in the industry, and who appeared competent and well-meaning, appeared to have no knowledge or understanding of this discrepancy. The relevant factors here included the following:

  • Considerable geographical variations in services available, in associated waiting lists and time-frames, etc.
  • Changes that had occurred in guidelines or regulations or administrative procedures, subsequent to their last industry seminar/workshop attendance
  • The complexity and the time frames involved in *real-world* accessing of services or facilities or financial support, etc.

Another factor that was very apparent was the complexity – especially from the perspective of the aged – of the steps, stages and paperwork required to be completed to access services. This was magnified by the seemingly almost ongoing re-structuring of the relevant agencies, which meant that relevant individuals and their contact details changed. Change doesn’t mesh at all well with the needs and preferences of the aged.

My parents were fortunate (at least in others eyes) that they had sufficient assets to select the best available care options. The problem was that even the best available, excuse the French, sucked.

Indeed, my mother who passed away most recently, paid something in the order of $220 per day for what was an unpleasant and very much unwanted experience. Unfortunately for mum, her time here culminated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

On various occasions we had to ask to have her soiled sheets changed. Her facility was modern and relatively new. It had all the routine ‘nice things’ written on pastel-coloured posters on the common-area walls, e.g. ‘we respect our guests. ‘Please tell us if you’re not happy’, etc. It turned out that there were month (or more) long waiting lists to access services like podiatry or haircuts, promoted in the glossy brochures for the facility (the services, not the waiting lists).

In reality, the thinly disguised hospital ward look and feel, staff shortages, cost-savings and the continual squeal of patients’ in-room call-buttons. Even the quality of meals was variable from inedible to the occasional ‘good’. But brightly-coloured cordial was routinely served <face palm>. Never fresh juice. Thus they couldn’t even get right the one thing most likely to brighten an elderly person’s day. Their meals!

Another common problem was housing patients with dementia in general wards, where sooner or later their behaviour caused anxiety amongst other patients, and more work for already over-worked staff. When challenged, the facility manager’s invariably first say that dementia patients were only accommodated in designated wards (for which there was always a waiting list to enter). Then they said that any variations to this were purely temporary measures. Even though the same patients were still in general wards six months later.

Old folks are anxious about people coming into their rooms (esp. at night). They can’t see who they are (low lighting, eyes sleepy, blindness, etc.). Staff turnover means that even if their eyesight is ok, they may not recognise them anyway, and staff don’t introduce themselves.

On one occasion a male patient walked into my mother’s room at night and sat on her bed, without her consent. My mother pressed her alert button, and after a quarter of an hour or more, staff eventually came and escorted the man back to his room. This prompted my mother to begin eating meals in her room instead of the dining room. On other occasions a ‘cranky’ woman who lived on the same floor also entered my mother’s room, threatening her. Guest weren’t allowed to lock their doors, and in fact they were encouraged to keep them open. (Just a reminder: My mother paid $220 per day … are you with me on that?)

Some other general points regarding aged care IRL:

  • The single use ‘God’s waiting room’ / Hospital Ward Lite, style of aged care facility is so out-of-date and uninviting that it’s appalling that people are still building and selling that style of property. In this archaic environment, even a fat affectionate cat which occasionally visits the common areas, is seen as a lavish cutting-edge treatment option.
  • Old folks like to deal with as few agencies/facilities/people as is possible (ideally only one), and to deal with them for years, not merely months. The opposite is happening.
  • Old folks are anxious about complaining (e.g. advertised services not being provided, services being provided by staff who are physically rough with them, etc.), for fear that there will be some form of retribution. They mostly remain silent, even asking their kids not to intervene.

Clearly there are no easy or quick fixes to the problems facing the aged, and those now trying to assist them. I would however mention one small step that could assist some of the aged, at little cost, and in a short time frame. This would simply involve allowing elderly who are in receipt of financial support via welfare, to relocate (either temporarily or permanently) to suitable lower-cost countries without losing whatever payments they were receiving in Australia. If you love them, set them free.

I would invite you to read my thoughts regarding this issue in a paper available at https://www.aust-thai.com/blog/uncategorized/government-to-further-impinge-on-the-rights-of-pensioners-to-travel-or-live-overseas/

In closing, don’t entirely believe everything you read about the current conditions with regards to the provision and availability of aged care services in Australia. There is a very high chance that – despite to best intentions of the majority of service providers – there will be *very* many exceptions to the rule. If in doubt then recruit some elderly folks and shadow them in their quest for care and support via hidden video. You will be surprised, and occasionally dismayed, at what you see and hear. It will certainly differ from that which is written.

Please, please, do what you can – as soon as you can – to advance the living conditions and the safety and happiness of Australian elderly people. They deserve so much better.


Bruce Bickerstaff  

It’s time we offered the elderly a better choice of care than that which is currently available. No, it’s well past time actually

Readers may have noticed that I have already written a couple of posts about care for the elderly. That was partly because my mother was, until recently, in an aged care facility. Sadly, she passed away last week. And I’m going to be writing more on this topic. Perhaps much more.

We here in Australia, recently conducted a Royal Commission into aged care. We’ve had earlier inquiries. We need some positive action. This is an issue that will eventually be faced by every single Australian, barring those who die young. That necessary changes are continually being shelved for further consideration, etc, whilst time and resources are found to ruminate over navel-gazing issues like gender pronouns, or problems faced by 1% of the population (think confusion re: gender) is worse than ridiculous … it’s simply appalling.

I have to confess that I have yet to study the final report of the last big inquiry, and I’m not sure when I will. What I’m going to delve into in this post is my own experience with navigating the Australian aged care system, looking at both its positive and negative aspects.

(21 December 2021: Note that what follows is only a working draft at this stage. Feel free to submit comments and/or make suggestions)

The positives

Many of the people that work in the industry – from some of the carers at the aged care coalface, to some of the public servants in relevant agencies, to many of those working in related charities and non-government organisations.

The outward appearance of most of the newer aged care facilities.

The considerable amount of money that’s already made available each year by the government

The negatives (Phew, get ready for this lot)

The cost of living in an aged care home if you don’t qualify for full government support. By way of example, my mother paid more that $200 per day, as she had appreciable savings/investments.

The difficulty in accessing and understanding information about aged care services that are currently available. And that’s even in those cases where the elderly are being actively assisted by family members.

The out-of-date, conflicting, and impractical information being provided by those working in the industry, even when the information/advice provided is often entirely well-meaning.

The limited social interaction for residents, for example, regular visits by family members, voluntary visitor schemes, etc.

The big gap between the posters on the walls, and in web sites, etc, about how a facility is run, the services it provides, about listening to the needs of residents via regular meetings, etc … and what actually happens in real-life.

Staff turnover, staff rotation (and staff shortages) with regards to those providing face to face care for the aged.

The level and nature of social and recreational activities available for the aged. The social/living environment in the homes, e.g. residents wailing, the continual noise of call-buttons pressed and beckoning carers to come and attend to specific residents.

The growing problem of intermixing residents with intellectual/ emotional/behavioural problems (incl. dementia) with the mainstream resident population. This is due in part to the increasing age of residents and hence the increasing incidence of Alzheimer’s and related problems.

Lack of sufficient attention by nursing staff leading to problems that include the assault/intimidation of residents by other residents, residents being routinely told to relieve themselves into their adult diapers rather than staff taking them to the bathroom (which may require 2 or even 3 staff for larger unsteady residents). This then leads to further problems such as residents being left to lie for extended periods of time in urine-soaked bed sheets.

Aged care – there has to be a better way

I recently made a brief submission to the Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

The quality of aged care facilities in this country is miserable and we must, and surely can, do better.

The new facilities are cosmetically rather good, and the marketing material is fabulous. But the reality for residents is different. They really are just ‘god’s waiting rooms’ with a better range of colors and designs. But, as the Royal Commission will no doubt discover, even the newer style facilities are plagued with problems. These include poor maintenance (e.g. air conditioners not working properly and lengthy delays with repairs), variable and often quit poor food quality, patients with behavior programs mixed in with general patient population due for dedicated wards being full, and high staff turnover.

Furthermore, if you don’t qualify for government financial assistance then your stay might be very costly.

I am concerned that the Royal Commission will just fiddle around the edges of a real solution, with more regulations that may or may not be consistently and uniformly monitored and enforced .

What we need though is a reinvention of the design of facilities especially with regards to the creation of mixed use facilities.

Here’s couple of references I came across. No wonderful solutions here but these, and papers like them, might be useful in at least getting the conversation started:

Terry Robison’s ‘US$59.23 per night’ Holiday Inn retirement plan goes viral (27 February 2019)

Why a hotel is not a viable retirement option‘ (11 March 2019)

(This blog post is a working draft – please check back again later)

About taking your cat from Australia to Thailand

What follows is a copy of an article I wrote for August 2013 edition of MelbThai magazine.

A Cat’s Tale: Monte the ‘meow farang’

A difficult decision faced by many people moving to Thailand is whether or not to take the family pet with them. Our cat ‘Monte’ travelled with us, and I wanted to share a little about what we learnt during that process. Much greater detail is provided in several posts that I contributed to an online discussion thread at http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/topic/88593-importing-a-pet-into-thailand/page-4 (see posts #91, #92, #95 and #114).

The next decision to be made is whether to make all the necessary arrangements yourself, or to use the services of a specialist pet transportation company. The latter option is more expensive, but may be essential if you don’t have a lot of free time and/or the skills and patience needed to navigate bureaucratic ‘red-tape’. Brace yourself, because you’ll need to deal with regulations and procedures mandated by the Australian Government, the Thai Government, and the airline/s of your choice.

Below I’ve listed the key steps to be followed should you choose the Do-it-Yourself route:

1. Obtain an IATA approved cage of adequate dimensions, plus a suitable water container

2. Obtain an animal import permit for Thailand

3. Apply for an export permit from the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service (AQIS), and organize a time to meet with relevant staff to discuss the process

4. Undergo a pre-trip medical examination at an AQIS accredited vet, including a flea bath and worm treatment. You’ll need to have your vaccination certificates with you

5. Attend a meeting at AQIS to present your papers and collect your export permit

6. Obtain the necessary papers from your chosen cargo company (NB: separate from the airline), including sticker for the cage, air waybill, etc. They will need a copy of both your import permit and export permit.

7. Deliver your pet to the freight depot at least six hours prior to your flight.

  1. Submit your pet and paperwork for inspection by Quarantine and/or Customs staff at the point of entry into Thailand.

Further information and forms are available from:  http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/wildlife-trade/live/household-pets.html


You will naturally worry about your pet suffering trauma but I can report that our furry companion emerged unscathed. He quickly settled into his new surroundings and was soon discovering the joys of ‘pla tu mow’. Happily he also appeared to pick up ‘pasa Thai’ much faster than his owner, and thus experienced no undue difficulty in communicating with his Thai brethren.

A final factor to consider is that your pet’s journey will probably be a one-way trip. The prevalence of rabies in Thailand means that many countries will only allow the entry of animals (that have been living in Thailand) after very lengthy and costly stays in quarantine facilities in one or more intermediary countries.

Addendum 2016:

Monte lived happily in Thailand and managed to avoid the soi dogs, etc, until passing away in his sleep aged 16 years, lying down at the base of a statue of Buddha.


The Injustice of the Portability of the Australian Age Pension

With the decision by many Australians to take early retirement or being affected by redundancy we find people moving overseas and living off savings or investments for their final working life years.

Most are not aware that this can cause problems when they reach the Age Pension age qualification and return home to claim this.
People who may have spent over 40 years in Australia working and paying taxes can find themselves in a position where although they are entitled to the pension, or part of if they have investments, it is not portable for 2 years.

Another person who stays in the country until he is 65, or whatever age he now needs for the Age Pension, can cheerfully leave the country the day he qualifies and be paid while overseas.

This is not a situation where people who have worked overseas for years can claim a full pension outside of Australia, the Australian Working Life Residency law makes sure of this, you must have spent 35 years in Australia at working age to take a full pension offshore for any length of time.

I can see no rhyme or reason to the 2 year portability law, a person who returns to Australia for a few years before he applies for the Age pension will qualify for portability while someone who does not wont, even though they may have worked longer in Australia in total.

To make it even more unfair, the decision whether the time spent overseas is too long to qualify for the pension portability is not in any legislation, it is made by Centrelink.
Someone who spends the final 12 months of his working life period can possibly be at the same risk of portability loss as someone who may have been away for 10 years.

Most people I know who have been forced into this situation have accepted it and returned to Australia for 2 years, often undergoing considerable hardship with partners or family left behind and finding themselves placed in a position of having to make a new home for a 2 year period while trying to spend as little as possible.

I think everyone effected should appeal and complain to the highest level, become a serial pest, write, ring and email the relevant ministers, camp on your MP’s doorstep and in particular ask WHY????

It is a law that benefits no one, self funded retirees are not restricted and the taxpayer support their pensions through tax breaks to the same extent as the Age Pension.

Stay safe,


Australian government further impinges on the rights of pensioners to travel or live overseas

In early 2012 I wrote a submission to the Australian Government Inquiry into the Asian century called ‘Parity for Pensioner Pariahs’. In that submission I addressed the topic of ‘portability’ of welfare benefits, and considered its impact on the ability of Australian citizens to access affordable care facilities overseas.

Fast forward to May 2014 and I’m fuming about changes to the rights of Australian welfare recipients to travel and live overseas announced in last night’s Federal Budget.

Under current regulations the Disability Support Pension (DSP) can be paid for absences from Australia for up to six weeks, on multiple occasions in any one year. In addition, a small number of exemptions are granted depending on assessment on a case-by-case basis.

It is now proposed that DSP recipients who leave Australia on or after 1 January 2015 will only receive DSP for a maximum of four weeks in a 12-month period. The Government claims that this move will result in savings of $12.3 million over five years.  

Another change that was announced was that of limiting the six week portability period for student payments from 1 October 2014
to generally align the portability period for student payment recipients (Youth Allowance, Austudy and ABSTUDY) with the rules for job seekers. Recipients of student payments will no longer be eligible for payment while overseas on holiday.

In addition, the relevant Minister has indicated that he would like to see a uniform approach taken to all welfare recipients. Thus it is highly likely that further restrictions will eventually be imposed in relation to, for example, recipients of the aged pension.

This tightening-up of regulations was foreshadowed by the media, for example in an article in the Courier Mail entitled ‘Travel bans to ground disability pensioners’. Extracts from that article, together with my response, are provided below.

“Disability support pensioners will be banned from travelling overseas for more than four weeks at a time as part of Budget crackdown on welfare cheats.”

Oh, ok, let’s label pensioners who travel/live overseas as “welfare cheats”, despite them presumably meeting all existing eligibility requirements.

 “The Government will tighten “portability” rules for the Disability Support Pension to crack down on recipients taking holidays at taxpayer expense or living in places like Bali while claiming they are in Australia.”

Loaded statement. They are a taxpayer expense where-ever they are located – unless they can be coerced into relinquishing the right to welfare support accorded to other Australian citizens.

“Taxpayers spend about $100 million a year on payments to 7,313 disability support pensioners who live overseas.”

Irrelevant point – would this amount be any less if they stayed in Australia the whole time?

The Government has already cut trip times for these pensioners from 13 weeks to six weeks to reduce the risk of them basing themselves in cheap destinations like Bali and flying in and out of Australia to meet residency requirements.”

Hmm, sounds serious. But in what way does their choice to base themselves there constitute a “risk”?

Mr Andrews said he eventually wanted a consistent approach to travel rules for all who received welfare payments.”

Aha, then I guess we can assume that the four week absence rule will soon apply to old age pensioners too, right? They already can’t afford to live in the mainstream Australian community, so perhaps the Government might need to create cost-effective special settlements for them – perhaps somewhere in the outback?

“The question here is what’s fair from the community point of view given that people are in receipt of benefits and that’s the balance we’ve got to try and achieve”.

No Minister, the question is whether economic logic tempered with some compassion should drive government policy, or whether pandering to ill-informed bias and media-inspired stereotypes should dictate how our government treats its citizens.

Yes, you bet I’m angry about this progressive winding back of peoples’ right to be absent for extended periods or to relocate to their country of choice. I’m angry not only because it is unfair, but also because it doesn’t even make economic sense.

The Government decides who qualifies for citizenship, and who is therefore potentially eligible for welfare payments. The Government determines the eligibility criteria for particular forms of welfare (other than residence), and how much people are paid. I’m not buying into those broad issues, other than to say that if there is a problem with those determinations then fix that problem and don’t try to balance the books by pushing people overboard on the basis of a bogus “crack-down” on “welfare cheats”.

Minister Andrews, is it not a fact that if everyone receiving benefits abroad  simply returned to and/or remained in Australia, then these tightened residence restrictions would have had the effect of actually costing tax-payers substantially more money? [see footnote] Has this not been established in research undertaken by the Government? Research that seems to have been quietly shelved … perhaps because it went against what the radio shock-jocks were telling us, and what the man-in-the-street preferred to believe?

I don’t believe for one moment that savings of anything like the forecast figure of $12.3 million will be achieved. In fact the only way the tightened residence restrictions can result in any savings is if welfare recipients stay overseas and conveniently drop out of the welfare system. I believe that this is most likely the real objective of the Government’s announcement.

Just for the sake of argument though, let’s say half of those affected obliged the Government by dropping out of the welfare system (saving taxpayer$). Let’s say the other half returned to and/or stayed in Australia (costing more taxpayer$). Even if that meant tighter controls on travel became a zero-sum game in a monetary sense, the government could care less given that it still gains some advantage just by being seen to be strong on welfare rorting.

Thus these further restrictions are not about stopping welfare rorts, they are about getting otherwise eligible Australian citizens off welfare. This will be achieved by forcing people to choose between living in penury in the suburbs watching TV 24/7, or living in somewhat great comfort in warmer and more exotic locales.

I’m angry because these changes really does seem to be all about pandering to a media-created perception that if people can afford to travel overseas then they don’t need and/or deserve welfare payments.

It really is very sad that Australian Government policy formulation has descended to this low level of rigour and vision, and that it has reflects poorly on the potential of the country we are creating for the next generation.

It was extremely disappointing to note that all of the major newspapers were content to unquestioningly parrot the same line. So much for the benefits of a free and independent press! In reviewing the readers’ comments appended to the article at http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/youre-paying-100m-for-pensioners-to-live-overseas/story-fni0fiyv-1226901383832, it was however gratifying to note the number of people who saw through the charade and expressed opposition to the further tightening of residence restrictions.

Interestingly, a similar biased pattern of behaviour towards expat pensioners is being demonstrated by the British Government, see:



Footnote: For those of you who are asking how welfare recipients who stay away from Australia could possibly be SAVING the taxpayer big bucks …

Most welfare payments and Government services are already denied to citizens outside Australia. That means that when (in this case) disability pensioners return to Australia they become eligible for (for example) rental assistance payments, subsidised medicine, and access to public hospitals/Medicare. Then factor in government subsidies on aged care home placements for some. Really, the list just goes on from there. And don’t forget to include the pensioner’s spouse and perhaps children, and the support (e.g. family assistance payments) and services that they receive/use.

OK so those are immediate costs arising from forcing pensioners to spend at least 48 weeks of the year in Australia. But what about the additional (taxpayer-funded) costs incurred should pensioners’ physical and/or mental health deteriorate as a result of poorer diet, colder weather, and the onset of depression and anxiety related to their reduced circumstances in a country with much higher costs, higher stress, and lesser amenity?

Now some might say, “well why don’t we make sure that no-one receives any government benefits if/when outside Australia“. To that I’d say why? On what basis? The constitution doesn’t include provision for two classes of citizenship, e.g. citizen and citizen lite. Why – especially in this much-touted age of globalisation – should expats only deserve a portion of the rights and benefits of citizenship accorded to those back home in Oz?

Postscript: In July 2014 I prepared a submission to another federal government inquiry into proposed changes to the welfare system – you can read it at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Social_Services_2014_Budget_Measures/Submissions (refer submission #28)

Postscript 25 February 2015: The report of the Inquiry mentioned above has now been released and can be accessed at https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/review-of-australias-welfare-system. There was virtually no discussion of the issue of portability of benefits. This summary of proposed changes indicates an intention to “limit the period for which Disability Support Pension (DSP) recipients can travel overseas and remain eligible to 28 days in a 12 month period (with some exceptions for special circumstances)“.

Postscript 25 January 2016: I noticed this article in The Age today, it’s entitled ‘Moves to limit overseas travel for pensioners ‘discriminatory’ say migrant, refugee groups