NEED TO UNITE: While the elderly are being neglected, there's a need for a united front.
NEED TO UNITE: While the elderly are being neglected, there's a need for a united front. Nev Madsen

Aged care is a national shame, not a political football

IF A war started tomorrow and Australia was under attack, would we be playing party politics?

Most likely, we'd unite. Hands would be held and we'd put aside our differences and get down to business.

That's exactly the approach needed in aged care.

I am not someone opposed to party politics, in fact I believe good people should get involved in politics because the more good people who get involved in leading the way on whatever side, the better.

In addition to being a journalist I am a student of international relations and I believe party politics is healthy - it keeps people accountable and it's part of our democratic system.

But there are times when we need to join forces and fix what needs fixing and when you think about it, in Australia, our political spheres are really not that different in their core tenets.

No federal government has so far managed to nut out a formula capable of making sure the entire aged care system is running at an optimal level.

The problem is, elderly people are being consumed by an industry that isn't working.

Whether a royal commission, ratios or existing systems are the best solution I can't speculate, but one thing needs to be acknowledged and that is that whatever it is, wherever it lies, and for whatever reason, there is a problem.

As a journalist I've heard horror stories, and they're not all stories I can legally recount. They're stories that shock me. They're stories that lead me to question how these things are happening in a civilised, developed country.

As a reporter I've seen destruction and suffering but the first time in my career I have been brought to tears was listening to a tale of shocking neglect in an aged care home.

The elderly are defenceless.

I know neighbours, community members and everyday people who have told their stories of elderly relatives' suffering.

I like to make the point that if our system was adequate, we wouldn't be hearing horror story after horror story. We'd be hearing one or two, not a multitude.

We don't hear story after story about abuse in day care centres. Why? Because while there are some cases of neglect, for the most part, systems are working.

And can you imagine if a day care centre put one worker in charge of 42 babies? Or if a baby had a stroke and staff waited hours to call for help? Would that be cause for an outcry? Quite rightfully, yes.

So why isn't it enough for our elderly?

Everything we do - everything we are, everything we spend our life becoming, boils down to our final days.

For some of us, we'll die suddenly or in hospital or in our sleep.

But for others, that death will come within an aged care home.

With adequate care, those walls can be reassuring, but without, we're dooming our elderly to a heartbreaking and sometimes physically painful death.

I quote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in saying "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

If we can lead the world in myriad ways but can't lead our elderly through their final years with dignity we have a problem.

We have a battle on our hands and this is not time to bicker.

Let's bicker over railways, let's bicker over power prices, let's bicker over employment, education and legislation and business, let's bicker over the lot of it, but let's not bicker over the fact that hearts are breaking because of flaws in our aged care system.

It is time for unison, and time for differences to be put aside because parents, grandparents and loved ones belong to us all.

We are, essentially, elderly people who just haven't aged yet.

It's time we all sat down, remembered our humanity, and worked together to fix what has become a national shame.