‘It’s about what’s right’: Gwenda joins Council of Elders

“It’s not about empathy, it’s about what’s right. It’s about justice — justice for the aged.’’

That is how Finley’s Gwenda Darling explained her involvement in the newly formed ‘Council of Elders’.

It was established by the Federal Government late last month in response to recommendation nine of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety — that the ‘‘Australian Government should, by July 1, 2021, establish a high-level older people’s advisory body — The Council of Elders’’.

It is just one of the 148 recommendations made by the commission, which concluded its investigation in March last year.

The royal commission also stated that the council should have ‘‘a wide remit to consult older people and advise the Minister and Department on any aspect of aged care’’.

Ms Darling’s appointment was confirmed on Christmas Eve, nearly six months after the recommended establishment.

The long time dementia advocate is one of 14 people on the council.

Ms Darling is an ardent supporter of ‘ageing at home’, and has herself been diagnosed with dementia.

She said she felt ‘humbled’ to be recognised as a valuable member of the committee, alongside ‘‘such illustrious people’’.

Though her flattery was not without caveat.

‘‘If they think they’re going to have another toothless tiger on their hands, then they’ve got another thing coming.

“There needs to be some real change in how this country manages aged care, and I hope that this council can be part of that change.’’

Ms Darling's nomination was officially endorsed by Dementia Australia, in acknowledgement for her years of vocal and unflinching advocacy.

“People are fearful of those with dementia, they abandon them,’’ she said.

‘‘There are people right now who see no one except for their support worker, who comes just once in every two weeks.’’

Ms Darling will use her position as an opportunity to advocate for improvements to in-home care packages, which she believes offer, at least in principle, a variety of benefits over traditional residential care.

However, systemic issues within the in-home care model have led to inefficiencies and injustices.

Ms Darling illustrated as much during testimony delivered to the royal commission.

‘‘I myself waited 900 days for a home care package, and I gave evidence of that fact when I was invited to appear before the royal commission,’’ she said.

‘‘For some reason I was offered a package less than a week afterwards ... I can’t imagine why that would be.’’

Ms Darling will also seek to increase public awareness of aged care packages, and the variety of benefits they offer, especially to rural and regional communities.

‘‘A lot of people living in Finley and surrounds are not aware of packages and what support is available.

‘‘There are people that have to sell their farms in order to meet the requirements of residential care.

‘‘Not to mention the fact that when you’re an older farmer who’s been self-sufficient their whole lives suddenly becoming dependent on welfare can be quite demoralising.

‘‘More needs to be done to reduce the stigma surrounding welfare, while also encouraging these people that they are in fact worthy of government funding, which is their right.”

The Council of Elders will meet six times a year and is chaired by Ian Yates, AM.

Also on the council are Dr Michael Barbato OAM, Prof Tom Calma AO, Val Fell, Gillian Groom AO, Danijela Hlis, Bill Jolley, Gill Lewin. Prof John McCallum, Sue McCann, Dr Kay Patterson AO, Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM, and Margaret Walsh OAM.