In August 2011, Mark Butler, the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, announced a program on National Conversations on Health Ageing (forums) to give the community the opportunity to comment on the recently released Productivity Commission Report, Caring for Older Australians.
COTA was awarded a $410,000 non-contested contract by the federal government to hold these "national conversations" with communities across Australia about aged care reform. Attendees were required to formally "register" for each event.
ACC suggested to the Minister that in order to give consumers, carers and their families a real opportunity to participate, he should release these details by way of a media release - in the same way that we receive various other statements, speeches, announcements, new appointments, information sessions for aged care providers, etc.
Aged Care Crisis is concerned by COTA's financial dependence on government and its inappropriately cosy relationship with the providers of aged care. The Victorian branch of COTA receives 86% of its funding from government (COTA Victoria 2011 annual report), which is likely to be representative of other states. COTA is a member of the National Aged Care Alliance (NACA), a provider dominated body.
The Global Mail in an article titled "Let's raise a toast!" Aged Care leaders joke about kerosene baths published on 23 February 2012, describe a series of matey bad taste emails between NACA leaders on the 10th anniversary of the Kerosine bath scandal. This scandal is what prompted the formation of NACA.
In his email contribution, Ian Yates, the then chief executive of COTA, toasts NACA's success, and boasts about his role in persuading COTA to join NACA and be part of an "important national vehicle for aged care reform".
Like it or not, COTA (Victoria at the very least) is seen to be dependent on government funding for its survival. Its leaders are proudly working closely with the providers of aged care, linking COTA's success to theirs.
There is a wide perception, fueled by many (including whistleblowers), that many nursing homes are understaffed and provide substandard care.
The government and the 2011 report by the Productivity Commission Report, Caring for Older Australians are strongly supportive of the industry and its interests. They have have failed to address these issues adequately and COTA has not challenged them.
COTA should not be surprised that consumers as well as the public are now questioning its independence. They doubt its ability to represent the interests of consumers, especially when these conflict with the financial priorities of providers and the political sensitivities of government.
Did the government really want publicity for independent critics asking difficult questions at its consultations ... or just to claim it had consulted ?