Jubilee Fellow – 2019

John Pollard

Professor John Pollard AM

BSc (Sydney), PhD (Cambridge), FIA, FIAA

Discipline: Demography

Year Elected: 1979

2019 Reflections

Looking back over 40 years, I realize that I have not been very active in Academy matters. I have however maintained an interest in what the Academy and its Fellows are doing. What is remarkable is the very wide range of disciplines in which they work.

Given the expertise of the Academy’s membership and the Academy’s output, I believe there ought to be greater public awareness of its activities and what it has to offer. The first question is ‘Do we want this?’. If so, how should it be achieved? – a question probably asked many times over the years and to which various solutions have been proposed.

A possible approach to achieving greater visibility  might be to have an interdisciplinary team tackle in a constructive practical manner but with sound  academic underpinnings a major national issue which is politically significant and of wide interest, with the Academy being seen to be independent and free from vested interests .

At an informal dinner of Past Presidents of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia in June, one of the topics discussed was nursing homes for the aged. The person who raised it had recently encountered enormous problems simply trying to make nursing home arrangements for both his parents. (This issue is becoming of more direct interest to me personally as I approach four score years!) Discussions moved on to aged care more broadly.

We currently have a Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety from which an Interim Report is required by 31 October and a Final Report by 30 April 2020. The Terms of Reference for the Royal Commission specify a range of important issues and ask how best these issues be addressed. To my reading the terms of reference do not require a rethinking of the whole system, although this may emerge in the Interim Report. Whatever transpires, implementing the Royal Commission recommendations will involve substantial additional costs and Government action will depend very much on the cost of each recommendation and the Government’s perceived priorities.

This set me thinking about the Academy, our membership and the skills available covering virtually all the disciplines required to provide a comprehensive review of aged care in Australia and developing a clear map for the future which would generate considerable media attention and public debate.

Is the aged care system in Australia ideal, even if the recommendations which may emerge from the Royal Commission are adopted? Probably not. Is it a unified system or a mixture of separate units patched up from time to time? What system should Australia aspire to?  Is there more than one solution? What would be the cost of such a scheme? Transition from the current arrangements to a proposed comprehensive scheme would take years and would need to proceed in carefully chosen stages.  The issues and decisions to be made fall  very much in the realm of expertise of our Academy – Demography, Management, Accounting, Economics, Statistics, Law, Political Science, Psychology, Social Medicine – and possibly others.

The task would be a huge one, well outside the Academy’s Workshop programme and require considerable financial input. It might well require a partner for the work involved and at the same time enhance public credibility. The cost of long-term care has been an issue discussed from time to time in actuarial papers here and overseas, and a possible partner would be the Institute of Actuaries of Australia and there are other possibilities as well.

Perhaps the project I have suggested is too large. Fellows will be able to think of other national issues where a very practical yet academically sound public report can be prepared by an interdisciplinary team from the Academy and made available to Government. The Murray-Darling problems, for example, are usually addressed from an ecological/environmental perspective and social aspects affecting the people directly dependent on these rivers (farming communities, indigenous communities, and rural towns) tend to receive rather less attention. A possible joint project with the Academy of Science, with our Academy possibly the junior partner?

Any plan for major changes in a national scheme will receive loud opposition from vested interests. The National Compensation Scheme proposed by the Woodhouse Inquiry in 1975 (which included draft legislation for its implementation) and a key plank of the Whitlam Government was vigorously opposed by lawyers, insurance companies, unions and others, and was studied closely by Government and Opposition committees before it disappeared from sight with the change in government in 1975. One needs to anticipate likely opposition to proposed radical change.