Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care Helen Polley has called on the government to clarify whether it sees dementia as a national priority or something that can be conveniently ignored.
During Senate Estimates today the Community Affairs Committee was informed by officials from the Department of Health that responsibility for dementia policy had not yet been reallocated to a specific area of the department. Senator Polley said that this development was symptomatic of broader problems the Health and Social Services portfolios were experiencing following far-reaching Coalition machinery of government changes.
“Prime Minister Tony Abbott has decided not only that his government doesn’t require a minister with specific responsibilities for ageing or aged care, he has also decided to transfer ageing and aged care away from the Health portfolio to a mixed bag Social Services portfolio,” said Senator Polley.
“Previously, when we had a Department of Health and Ageing, there was a cohesion to policy development on issues such as dementia and clear lines of responsibility. Sadly this is no longer the case and it needs to be asked whether dementia is really a priority for this government.”
Senator Polley said that she was extremely disappointed by the conduct of Coalition Senators throughout the day’s proceedings.
“Both chair of the committee, Liberal National Senator Sue Boyce, and representing minister, Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash, tried to obstruct my efforts to ask questions on dementia and appeared indifferent to the fact that there was complete confusion as to where it now belongs,” said Senator Polley.
“I think it is vital that the opposition and minor parties be able to ask departmental officials and the representing minister questions concerning dementia, which is of course a key national health issue that affects many Australian families.
“I strongly suspect that the government is hiding behind machinery of government changes to evade questions on dementia, which is a callous abuse of the Senate Estimates process."
Senator Polley also expressed concerns about how the government allocated the time available to ask questions.
“The chair afforded 30 per cent of all available time to government Senators, yet normal practice has been for the opposition and minor parties to have 95 per cent of all time assigned to them. This just shows the sort of contempt the current government has for Senate Estimates and remaining accountable to the Australian people,” said Senator Polley.