Population decline and aged care raised at seniors forum

Attendees gathered around one table with Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr where everyone could openly share their opinions on a variety of topics.

ATTENDEES openly shared their opinions and voiced concerns about a number of community issues at a Seniors Forum on Wednesday run by Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr.

The forum, which went for about two and a half hours, is the first of many community sessions that Dr McGirr is planning, each one engaging a different demographic of the electorate.

Dr McGirr said the forums are all about getting important information from community members that he can then take to parliament and the government on their behalf.

On the agenda during the seniors’ forum were two broad questions – what is needed for a community to thrive, and what is needed for a community to feel safe and supported.

The first issue which was raised related to declining population levels in regional towns. Dr McGirr said that this is definitely an issue in Tumut, despite some of the decline being offset by growth in Wagga.

Attendees believed that a big contributor to this is a lack of job opportunities. One woman explained how she and her husband raised their children in the country, but once they had grown up, had to move away in order to find work.

Another woman explained that a common problem with young couples is that the men can find work at organisations such as Visy, but their wives often struggle to find suitable employment.

The question was raised of whether or not regional towns are attracting retirees and seniors who want to leave the city. Dr McGirr said this is definitely a possibility, however retirees and seniors quite often opt for a ‘sea change’ to a coastal town rather than a ‘tree change’ more inland to somewhere like Tumut.

Dr McGirr says that the federal government needs to “change the discussion” surrounding regional Australia in order to help prevent this decline. He said that areas such as Wagga, Orange and Tamworth should be discussed as growth centres for industry, attracting more people to these areas as well as the surrounding regional towns.

Another prominent issue that was raised during the forum was that of transport. It is a problem in Adelong particularly, where a taxi is available to Tumut for $25 but doesn’t travel elsewhere. Widows in the area are concerned about how they will be able to get around once they lose their licenses.

One man who has previously volunteered with the Snowy Valleys Council’s Community Transport service says that there is too much red tape involved in the process, and that it is difficult to provide weekend travel or travel further distances.

Health services and aged care were also discussed during the forum. A lot of attendees agreed that while the overall budget for home care packages and residential care hasn’t changed, the emphasis is changing and they believe residential care is suffering because of it.

People are concerned with how the home care packages are being used, and even abused. One woman claimed that someone was able to have their dog walked through the package whilst there are people struggling in residential care.

Speaking about health care services generally, the consensus was that there needs to be continuity, consistency and certainty instead of fluctuating services as seen in recent years. Attendees wanted a certain level of care and service to be made available, and for that level to be maintained in the long term.

Some wondered whether the fluctuating availability of services, such as physiotherapists, is tied to the State budget. Others argued that health care services have always been tied to the budget, but a decline is happening now that wasn’t in the past.

Dr McGirr believes that the key to addressing issues surrounding regional health care is the cooperation of the Federal and State governments, as they both fund different parts of the hospital sector.

Last year, the first bilateral health forum was held between state and federal ministers, and this resulted in the establishment of a new employment model for regional doctors. The new ‘Single Employer Model’ is set to be trialed in the Murrumbidgee Local Health District, encouraging young doctors to pursue careers as a General Practitioner (GP) or Rural Generalist (RG) in regional communities.

The forestry sector was an issue where opinions divided slightly. Some people were worried about what impact the bushfires have had on supply for the long term. Others believe that while there will be a dip in supply, the industry will bounce back eventually because there will always be a need for timber.

Everyone agreed, however, that there needs to be a strong focus on clearing and replanting. Some suggested that this could provide a lot of opportunity for jobs, especially for backpackers.

Extensive notes were taken during the discussions for Dr McGirr’s future reference, and attendees were treated to a free morning tea as well.