Working Together Towards a Society for All Ages

  • Robyn McDonald
Senior Citizens

Wesley Centre
13th Avenue

President, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today during your agm.

I applaud the work of your organisation and I know what an important role you play in helping carers and families of Alzheimer's sufferers.

In recent years, there has been considerable education by Alzheimer's associations to encourage greater understanding of what Alzheimer's is, and how it affects people.

I was impressed to see the many positive activities and contact with the media, to encourage greater acceptance also.

For too long, New Zealanders preferred to keep their heads in the sand and ignore difficult illnesses like dementia.

Now is the time for us all to learn and understand and support those who suffer from dementia related illnesses, and importantly help their families and carers.

Alzheimer's organisations have made considerable inroads through raising awareness, and understanding within our communities.

Despite this hard work, dementia illnesses still sometimes causes a great deal of fear and misunderstanding among the general public.

When there is a lack of awareness, the result for families affected by this illness, is that they do not access support to help them cope with the disease.

One can compare the awareness issues to other areas like domestic violence, where it took substantial campaigns and changes in attitude before people started to see that such violence was unacceptable and a crime.

I was interested to see that the theme for this year's International Conference of Alzheimer's Disease in Finland is: "Alzheimer's - The Blind Hunter".

I understand this theme has been chosen because it "expresses that alzheimer's and related orders may involve every one of us - those stricken with dementing illness and their families affected by it."

The conference organisers aim to combine resources globally to be able to achieve the goal of a better future for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, as well as for their families.

We do need to work together, and I believe illnesses such as Alzheimer's needs to be acknowledged by the wider community.

Ageing and the impact on people, and societies worldwide are becoming a global issue.

I am aware of two conferences this year which are looking at global issues on ageing.

The International Association of Gerontology Conference in Adelaide which has as its theme "Ageing beyond 2000 - One World - One Future".

And the 3rd Global Conference on Ageing in South Africa, being organised in collaboration with African organisations and the international Federation on Ageing.

The issues each nation faces with ageing populations means we need to work together towards a society for all ages, so that we all learn about the issues of each age group and find ways to cross between the generations in our understanding and especially our tolerance of differences.

We should accept differences and see them as positive diversity.

But we also need to enjoy and encourage areas and attitudes of common ground.

Promoting a society for all ages is particularly relevant because 1999 is the designated United Nations International Year of Older Persons, with the theme "towards a society for all ages".

But I believe in New Zealand, rather than waiting for 1999, we should begin to work together now to achieve a society that is indeed one for all ages.

It means government working hand in hand with New Zealanders, listening to and meeting the needs of our communities, and also taking the lead by being proactive.

From my own personal experiences, I have seen many different attitudes towards ageing and the issues which arise, not only for individuals, but also for family and friends.

When I took on the portfolio for senior citizens, what struck me the most was the many inconsistencies which arise from different interpretations of what older people are thought to need.

I want to make a difference by ensuring that government policies do meet the needs of older people and that we listen to people about the issues and monitor closely the impact of policies.

I do believe that we need a more established framework to co-ordinate policies between for example, social welfare, health and education.

So for me, it is very important to promote ageing as a plus, with older people having a great deal to contribute to community life.

But not only that, I take exception to the way some in society dismiss people so readily because of an ageist attitude.

Either we're too young, or too old, or not enough experience, or too experienced.

I often wonder what happened to the co-operative approach across generations when whatever age you are, you're seen to have a great deal to offer.

And that we can all learn from one another.

I see positive ageing as a challenge for New Zealand society to address now.

We need to start to develop strategies and practical programmes to promote positive ageing.

We need to do this for today's older New Zealanders, and also for future older people.

I do believe there has been a substantial shift in attitudes towards ageing and older people in recent years.

But I want to see New Zealand build on this foundation of change:

To acknowledge that it is a key to building a society for all ages.
And where ageism does not exist.
When skills, knowledge and most of all experience, is widely acknowledged within communities and by society at large.

The Coalition Agreement sets the direction and commitment to build on this foundation of change towards ageing.

It states that the Coalition Government is:

"To ensure that retired persons live in the relative comfort and dignity that their age, experience and previous labour clearly justifies and that they are not discriminated against but encouraged to contribute their knowledge and endeavours to the general community."

I know that New Zealanders have become far more aware of the many issues which surround ageing.

And it is important that the Coalition Government remains in touch with, and listens to the concerns of New Zealanders.

Particularly as we develop and implement practical policies for older people.

I have an excellent team of advisers in the Senior Citizens Unit, within the department of social welfare.

And as you will be aware, the recent report from the Prime Ministerial Taskforce on Positive ageing recommends increasing the resources of the unit and raising its profile to that of a division.

I would very much like to hear what organisations representing older people have to say about the report and all of its recommendations.

For over the next few months I will be considering my ministerial response to the report.

What is important to me is that any decisions must reflect the needs of our clients - older New Zealanders.

In the first Coalition Budget there was much news for senior citizens.

The removal of the surcharge was a major commitment by NZ First, and we have delivered that promise in the Budget.

The superannuation surcharge goes from 1 April 1998. That policy was ageist and penalised older people.

I am delighted that we have been able to help senior citizens in this way.

I am also very pleased that we have been able to announce the removal of income and asset testing for senior citizens in long-stay public hospital care, and the removal of asset testing for long-stay private hospital care.

Both will take effect from 1 October 1998.

The extra spending over the next three years, to deal with the waiting list backlogs nationwide in the health area will also be positive for older New Zealanders.

I know this is a major concern for our senior citizens and is raised with me regularly and I believe the extra funding will ease those concerns.

The removal of outpatient and daypatient user part charges for services will be a considerable saving for older people who do not hold a community service card.

I am very pleased that we are also able to ensure that Age Concern's elder abuse and neglect programmes can continue with Coalition Government funding.

We are funding the programmes with $340,000. These programmes are an excellent prevention measure to elder abuse and neglect.

I believe by continuing these programmes, we can go a long way to raising the awareness within our communities that such abuse and neglect does occur, and importantly that help is available.

Overall, the Coalition Government's first Budget with its extra social spending, will help our senior citizens, and I intend to continue to build on this good news to help older New Zealanders.

New Zealand First is making the difference through our social policies and I welcome the progress we will make over the next three years in helping New Zealanders.