Part 2 – Ita, The Legend

Ita buttrose

Article by 

Paul Koury

She’s one of the country’s living treasures: a publishing legend, best-selling author, advocate for older Australians and those with dementia, and chair of the ABC. ACG publisher Paul Koury continues this honest and insightful interview with Ita Buttrose. 

Paul Koury: What did you think of the Royal Commission’s fi nal report titled Care, Dignity and Respect?

Ita Buttrose: Respect is the keyword. I believe that our older Australians and those with dementia should be valued and treated with the respect they deserve. It’s crucial for their well-being not to be written off just because they are old. The Report contained over 100 recommendations, and I believe the government agreed to most of them which is good news. Now we need to see their recommendations implemented, particularly the need for more trained staff .

Paul Koury: I know of many aged care facilities that have waiting lists and yet their beds remain empty beds because there’s just no staff to care for them. Why do you think there is a concerning shortage of carers within Home Care and our residential facilities?

Ita Buttrose: While there are a few things, the obvious one is the need for better working conditions and commensurate pay for the work they do. It’s not well paid at all. We need to lift them up by lifting their pay.

Paul Koury: I spent many years visiting my mother in her nursing home and saw the incredible work they do. I thought they were fantastic and always had a great attitude of love, care and nurture. They are special people who would do things beyond service and things that most won’t even entertain.

Ita Buttrose: You don’t have to convince me. Some carers have moved on to find better-paying jobs, some to find better conditions and some to find appreciation and respect for the work they do. In the two years since the final report was released, the cost of living has risen dramatically. Providing better working conditions and lifting their pay rate substantially would make a huge difference. I believe carers will be attracted to the profession as a result of these incentives.

If a carer can no longer work, then their loss of income usually results in a great drop in their quality of life.

Paul Koury: Let’s not forget our unpaid carers who desperately need an increase in the carer payments as well. Deloitte released a report last year that said that because some 1.3 million elderly people are being cared for at home by their loved ones, the government saves around $77 billion a year from the healthcare sector.
Concurrently, carers receive only $140 a fortnight, which for full-time 24/7 carers equates to just 43c per hour. It’s a little unbalanced and unfair, don’t you think?

Ita Buttrose: I know the financial pressures that many of our unpaid carers are under, which certainly makes life far more difficult for them, and it should not be so. Even more so for carers who work. If a carer can’t go to work or wants time off because their loved one needs help, some bosses get annoyed, which can put people’s jobs at risk.

If a carer can no longer work, then their loss of income usually results in a great drop in their quality of life. People are living longer, so carers are caring for them longer. Being a carer is such a demanding role, and they should be compensated accordingly.

Paul Koury: We’ve known this for years and years. We live in an ageing society. But what can the government do about it?

Ita Buttrose: Sooner or later, providing care for older Australians was going to put special pressure on the government’s budget. Like all fiscal decisions, it’s a matter of priorities.

Paul Koury: What do you mean by priorities?

Ita Buttrose: The government doesn’t have a bottomless pit of money, so it has to work out where it can spend and where it can’t spend. Perhaps it needs to ask itself: Is aged care more important than sport? More important than childcare? Maybe we need to limit the population. I don’t know what the answers are, but we need to have a discussion about the challenges ahead. Aged care and growing older aren’t going away any time soon. These are the serious questions and conversations that the government should be having.

Paul Koury: Speaking of serious questions, there seems to be a lot of carers who haven’t created an Aged Care Plan. I remember when we did ours with our mother, we also talked about a plan if something were to happen to us. Why do you think this is important?

Ita Buttrose: Having a frank discussion with someone you care for is very important. You need to know what to do when the unexpected happens. It could be things like driving. What happens when the time comes when it is no longer safe for an older person to continue driving? Would they be willing to surrender their license? Is there a plan to give them some alternative means of transport?

Just think about it – How would you cope if you couldn’t drive? Do you live near public transport? On the other end, do you know what their end-of-life wishes are? Maybe they want to live at all costs, or perhaps they want a do not resuscitate directive (DNR). These are not easy things to discuss, but they must be talked through. Then there’s you, the carer. What happens if you get an illness that limits the care you can provide? Who will care for your loved one? There are so many things to discuss which is why it’s essential to have a plan in place and make important decisions while you’re well and able to do so. 

Paul Koury: I couldn’t agree with you more. Those who would like help or more information on what points should be included in a care plan can find out more at Advanced Care Planning Australia.

Everyone I talk to about you remark on how incredibly well you look. You obviously take care of yourself. Do you think that, as well as aged care planning, we should have a self-care living plan?

Ita Buttrose: Yes, we are all living longer, so we should all have a plan to maintain our health as best we can. It is crucial that we don’t let ourselves go. That means watching our weight, exercising regularly, having interests, and being socially active ourselves.

We should get up in the morning and think, who needs me, what can I do to help myself or someone else? It’s no good thinking. I’m lonely and feeling sorry for yourself.
We are all lonely at some time or another. You have to push yourself to participate. We’re not meant to live isolated lives. And if there is no one around or accessible on a particular day, then read a book and stimulate your mind as well as entertain yourself.

Ita Buttrose Part 2 in the Australian Carers Guide

We should get up in the morning and think, who needs me, what can I do to help myself or someone else? It’s no good thinking, I’m lonely and feeling sorry for yourself.

Paul Koury: So, you think that there is some personal responsibility and actions our elderly can take to keep themselves as buoyant as possible?

Ita Buttrose: Yes. I know some older people tend to isolate themselves. However, there are some simple things we can do. It could be as simple as saying good morning or saying hello to someone you may not know. I sometimes say hello to people that I know will not say hello back, and I conversely say hello to them every time I see them until I get them to say hello back. With getting older, things change. We will have some of our friends die, and we will have to make new friends. We may never replace old friends, but we can make new friends.

Paul Koury: What are your thoughts on our housing crisis?

Ita Buttrose: Ah, social housing. I have shared my thoughts about this issue at some of the recent functions at which I’ve spoken. I think that the government needs to have some sort of agreement in place before granting permits to developers. For instance, if developers apply to build a complex or apartments, they should be required to provide a few social housing units, whatever the ratio is.

Paul Koury: Great idea. please share more…

Ita Buttrose: Let’s say that one out of every ten apartments has to be social housing. I don’t see how else we’re going to fix the problem. So, it’s fine to keep selling large plots of land off to developers if that’s what we must do, but you have to think about the people who can’t afford these places and what we are going to do about it.

 I’m looking outside my office window, and I can see that there are lots and lots of apartments going up. I can tell you that people on a pension wouldn’t be able to rent them, let alone afford to buy them. But they are ideal not only for older people but care workers as these apartments are close to town, hospitals and transport.

Paul Koury: I believe you’ve even written a book, “How much is enough?” Ita Buttrose: It’s about planning for retirement and how much a person needs to live comfortably in retirement. Someone once said to me that for people who are really wealthy, enough is never enough.

Paul Koury: So true. But we should view success as not merely a question of monetary profit but also social and environmental responsibility. In the absence of any direct accountability by our government for developers to show community and environmental responsibility, making as much money as possible is what they will keep doing.

Ita Buttrose: I mean, you can see people paying 50 million and a hundred million for houses, and you just think, really? 

Paul Koury: And I bet some are empty and have no occupants.

Ita Buttrose: Precisely. Why don’t they put their excess money into social housing? Or why don’t they just give it away?

Paul Koury: If they don’t give it away or use their excess to help our community. It might just be taken away from them in other ways.

Ita Buttrose: Interesting that you say that. I was listening to the radio this morning, and some “experts” were talking about the money some people have in superannuation. The “experts” felt that people with mega millions were abusing the purpose of a retirement fund and making it more of a tax haven. The rest of us have a relatively small amount in superannuation to get us through the last years of our lives which is the way it should be.

I suspect the government might be going to have a look at superannuation. They might be thinking of a different way of taxing contributions. Won’t be an easy thing, though as wealthy people have savvy accountants who know how to do all sorts of things that the rest of us don’t.

 Paul Koury: We might all be in the same ocean, but we are not all in the same boat.

Ita Buttrose: I do think there could be increased philanthropy in Australia. We’re not renowned for being the most generous of philanthropists.

Paul Koury: Well, Ita, I can’t thank you enough for your time. I appreciate every second I’ve had with you, and I know our readers will be blessed by the things you have openly shared.

Ita Buttrose: You are most welcome, Paul and congratulations once again on putting together this wonderful magazine. ACG

ACG PART 1 of this interview can be found in the Autumn issue

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