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Lianne Dalziel - Address to Age Concern

Hon. Lianne Dalziel
9 April 2001 Speech Notes

Address to Age Concern
Woodford House
Havelock North
9 April 2001
6.30 p.m.

Good evening and thank you for the invitation to speak to you tonight.

I am particularly pleased to be here as this is an opportunity for me to thank Dr Margaret Guthrie for her all her hard work as President of Age Concern New Zealand. Margaret has been a tireless advocate for older New Zealanders, and although she steps down as President, I am sure that her wisdom will not be lost to Age Concern. It certainly will not be lost to the broad range of issues that relate to Older Persons Health, as Margaret continues to be a great source of advice to the Ministers that work in this field. As Ruth Dyson has done, both Annette King and I rely very heavily on her knowledge, built up over many years of research, practice and advocacy.

And I would also like to wish Dave Henry all the best as he steps up to the role of President. There is no question that you have a hard act to follow, however, I am confident that you will live up to the expectation that Age Concern have in you.
I look forward to working with you and Garth Taylor, particularly over the year ahead, which promises to be an exciting one. Garth also has a hard act to follow, however, I am sure that he will continue the good work carried out by Claire Austin.

The past 16 months have been exciting for me as Minister for Senior Citizens. I have enjoyed this role and I feel I have been an effective advocate on a range of issues. This doesn't mean that I've won everything I've gone to bat for, but it does mean that there is a distinct advantage in having your voice heard at the Cabinet table.

Despite recent disquiet in Parliament, I have truly enjoyed my first year as a Government Minister. As Jim Anderton says: "One bad day in Government is worth a thousand good days in opposition." By delivering on our pre-election promises, I think the coalition Government has come a long way to restore people's faith in political integrity.

The point I am trying to make is that work of rebuilding a country in which all New Zealanders can feel they have a stake, is a partnership between Government and the non-Government sectors. Groups like yours are an essential ingredient in getting the mix of policies right, so that we in Government can responsibly deliver fairer results for all New Zealanders.

I read in Margaret Guthrie's last column in the latest Age Concern newspaper "Positive Living" that 2001 should be a year when some major issues advocated by Age Concern are progressed at a political level. She's right.

Tomorrow in Wellington, I will be launching a wonderful example of how partnership can be truly effective. I am referring of course to the Positive Ageing Strategy. Work is also continuing on the Health of Older People Strategy, and today, I can confirm that the finalised Disability Strategy will be launched at the end of this month. But wait, there's more - this year, the Government will introduce legislation to address some of the concerns that have been raised by retirement village residents ¡V and that Bill will be in my name.

Positive ageing strategy
As I said, tomorrow I will be launching the Positive Ageing Strategy. We are marking the launch with a debate entitled "Positive Ageing Begins the Day You Are Born".

You will already know that Positive Ageing is essentially, about ensuring that older people can participate fully in the community in the ways that they choose. It is designed to encourage all ages to think positively about ageing, and about those who are, through programmes that link the ages.

In designing the strategy we held over 40 consultation meetings around the country.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Age Concern New Zealand for its involvement at many levels, in the development of the Positive Ageing Strategy.

The strategy document will outline policy principles for positive ageing, setting out priority goals and key actions. It will be a living document with annual action plans for government agencies, with a monitoring system to check on how they are going. And I am pleased to say that there have been positive responses from other Ministers and government departments. Many of the strategy¡¦s goals will take time to achieve; that is to be expected. However, the obligation for reporting will be, I believe, a much better insurance against decisions being made without consideration of their impacts on the positive ageing objectives.

As Margaret said in her column: "The inter-department action plans will hopefully be the key to an effective Positive Ageing Strategy which should help foster a society where all peoples are able to age well." Having seen the documents to be released tomorrow, and on hearing the feedback, I know that the Strategy will not disappoint you.

Although the Ministry of Social Policy has been the lead agency in developing the Positive Ageing Strategy, I must also pay tribute to the Senior Citizens' Unit, Natalie Lavery & her team, who have driven this process with enthusiasm and dedication.

But there is only so much Central Government can do to ensure that this strategy delivers an enhanced life for older people. We will need the co-operation of the volunteer community co-ordinators, local authorities and groups like yours to make the Positive Ageing Strategy an effective plan of action.

Just last year, the Positive Ageing and Intergenerational Relations research team at Victoria University released a report, about the ways local authorities have responded positively to the challenge of facilitating the independence and wellbeing of older people. It is called "Creating Communities for all Ages".

The underlying theme of that report was that local authorities can play a role in empowering older people. The report didn't provide the answer as to ¡§how¡¨ councils should respond to our ageing population, but it did provide examples of the many ways they can respond.

The fact that we have Local Government well represented at tomorrow's launch bodes well for the future of the Strategy.


Retirement Villages
Another issue that has exercised my mind over the last year has been that of retirement villages.
The concerns that have been raised with me relate to older people who take up residence in a retirement village unit, and are then, often caught up in complex legal matters and contracts which can in fact defeat the whole purpose of moving into that village in the first place.

It's interesting to note that retirement villages were originally, almost exclusively provided by religious and welfare organisations. These organisations clearly filled a need where older people who did not qualify for pensioner flats could be housed in care-based homes for older people. These people who didn't qualify for pensioner flats were often in this position because they had capital resources, mostly from the sale of a family home.

This system worked well for a while, but while we like to think most things improve with age, this wasn't necessarily the case with retirement villages.

The purpose or reason retirement homes existed, started to change over time as the private sector became involved bringing in capital investors and property developers.

When you ask retired people why they choose to live in a retirement village, they usually say it is to live in a safe, comfortable and reassuring lifestyle, with the companionship of other residents, and accessible health and support services.

But it has become obvious that with growth in the retirement village industry came problems for residents in those villages. Here are some of the issues that faced older people moving into such facilities.
„h Making the decision to move into a retirement home is a stressful decision often made a stressful time, such as after the loss of a spouse.
„h Older people were vulnerable to and confused by complex legal issues expressed in fine print
„h People didn't realise that a license to occupy was not the same as ownership
„h Many residents didn't realise that independent legal advice was an important part of risk-assessment
„h Information about investments was not always clearly readable on forms
„h The information available now does not address all the issues relevant to retirement village investment
„h Ventures that collapsed sometimes left older people broke. It wasn't unusual to hear about a retired person who had sold their home, bought into a retirement village from the blueprints, only to find the whole venture fall over
„h Residents were lumbered with the cost of prospectuses required by the Securities Commission ¡V an expense many felt was unnecessary for smaller and more stable villages.
„h Village or home management could increase fees without consultation or justification, to residents
„h In some cases, village management would change and new managers could set salary levels and employment contracts grossly favourable to themselves
„h Residents had no avenue for lodging complaints and had no power to influence decisions about non-performing managers
„h Some residents could not leave the village they were without considerable financial loss
„h There was a distinctly grey cloud around what happened to a unit when it was vacated but not sold

What is clear is that there is little protection or great risk for residents in retirement villages.

Essentially for many years residents in retirement village have experienced difficulties such as:
„h Lack of adequate information on the risks associated with buying into a retirement village
„h Lack of protections for the investments that people make in retirement villages
„h Changes being made to fees and conditions without consultation or justification.

When the Law Commission looked into these issues, it decided that there was a need for retirement villages to come under separate legislation.

Putting this on the government's legislative agenda has been a priority for me, and I am pleased to report to you that I will be leading the development and introduction of legislation specific to retirement villages and village residents.

I will be working with the Ministry of Social Policy to address the policy issues and we will also be liaising closely with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Economic Development. Of course, an important part of the collective approach to this is talking with interested parties such as Age Concern, Grey Power, and the Retirement Villages Association.

The Senior Citizens Unit is securing top legal advice to assist with the drafting of legislation, as clearly, we will need the expertise of people familiar with securities law as well as an understanding and empathy for older people's issues.

My goal is to come away with a Bill that offers comprehensive protection to residents of retirement villages, and to have it before the House this year.

I look forward to your input as we progress this legislation.


General:

In the year or so, that I have been Minister for Senior Citizens, has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

At times I have thought the workload itself was ageing me, but I do feel a sense of achievement for the things this government has been able to deliver to you.

In closing, I want to say that positive attitudes are important if society is to realise that just because people have retired from work, that it doesn't mean they have retired from life altogether.

Thank you once again for the invitation to meet with you this evening. I would once again like to acknowledge the work Margaret Guthrie has done, and I wish your successor (Dave Henry) the best of luck in your new presidential role. I know that Age Concern will continue to see this government as approachable and ready to listen. I look forward to meeting more representatives from your organisation and to many more occasions such as this.

ENDS

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