Health Services Union calls on Labor platform to include an aged care levy and a royal commission into health funding

The Australian, 20 June 2023

The Health Services Union will call on the Albanese government to launch a royal commission into health funding at the ALP’s national conference in August, and push for an aged care levy of 0.65 per cent to become part of Labor’s policy platform.

The head of the powerful HSU NSW branch, Gerard Hayes, told The Australian the union would seek to raise the issues on the floor of conference depending on the final shape of the draft platform, which is due to be completed in the first week of July.

“We just want to deal with the realities. There’s an ageing population and where we are at today, it’s going to be worse tomorrow, it’s going to be worse in 10 years,” he said.

“If we can get these fixes in place for health and aged care now, that matter is now solved for 30 years or more. If we push it off to next … term, we’re just going to keep chasing our tails.”

A 1 per cent Medicare-style flat-rate levy on income tax to better fund aged care was proposed by aged care royal commissioner Lynelle Briggs in 2021, while co-commissioner Tony Pagone called for adjustments to personal tax ­income levels.

Aged Care Minister Anika Wells told the National Press Club earlier this month the government would keep “many options open” as it examined how to fund the ­sector, which could include additional taxes or reforming means testing for residents.

Mr Hayes said the extra levy would help ensure elderly Australians had access to adequate care and that workers would be paid correctly, with modelling undertaken by the union in recent years finding a 0.65 per cent rise in the Medicare levy would raise more than $20bn for the aged care sector over four years.

“We have a view that is sort of pragmatic and sensible, but if we need something that’s not necessarily popular, we will do that,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Mark Butler said Labor was “the party of Medicare” and would always look to strengthen it.

“No doubt there will be many discussions on health and aged care at national conference,” she said.

Mr Hayes said increasing transparency in healthcare funding was also critical and could be achieved through the Labor committing to a royal commission into the matter, in light of the Minns government doing so this year.

“At best, NSW should be a catalyst,” he said. “Everyone is subject to the same problems. That should be an impetus to be able to get a national approach and work through all of those competing interests.”

The push for ambitious health reform comes as numerous Labor sources predict the Left faction will for the first time in 70 years hold a majority at national conference, raising concerns over how far the government will be pushed on issues such as AUKUS and the recognition of Palestine.

But following a meeting of the NSW Right and national Right on Monday afternoon, some factional powerbrokers said they were more optimistic the Right could “hold the line” and secure a thin majority at conference.

Whichever way the numbers fall, many sources from the Right said they were hopeful Anthony Albanese – the first left-leaning prime minister since John Curtain – would hold agitators from the Left at bay, who would not want to be seen “embarrassing” the leader.