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Interim First Nations Aged Care Commissioner appointed after 'slow' Royal Commission response

Jarred Cross -

Moves to provide appropriate aged care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait people have been made with the appointment of Warumungu and Larrakia woman, Andrea Kelly to a commissioners role.

In January, Ms Kelly will assume the role of interim First Nations Aged Care Commissioner in line with recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety 2021 final report.

She is currently a National Indigenous Australians Agency group manager with more than three decades of experience with Indigenous community engagement and public policy development.

Ms Kelly also played a key role in the Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme.

Federal Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells made the announcement on Tuesday.

Ms Kelly will oversee work to make improvements for First Nations people 'across all tiers of the aged care system' and 'advocating for and promoting culturally safe, aged care for First Nations people across Australia'.

She will also lead public consultations with Indigenous stakeholders and communities towards the design and functions of a permanent Commissioner - expected to be appointed in 2025.

"I am delighted to accept the role of interim Commissioner and for the opportunity to advocate for and work directly with First Nations people regarding their aged care needs," Ms Kelly said.

"The creation of this role, and that of the permanent First Nations commissioner for aged care will enable the voices of First Nations people to be heard and acted on.

"It is an honour to serve First Nations Elders, their families, friends and community to make sure they can access culturally safe, high quality aged care when and where they need it."

Her appointment comes well after the flagged dates for the appointment of the commissioner highlighted.

Recommendation 49 of the 2021 report read; 'By 1 July 2023, there should be within the System Governor a statutory role that involves the ongoing fostering, promotion and development of culturally safe, tailored and flexible aged care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country. The person appointed to this role shall be an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person' and 'A person should be appointed by 31 December 2021 under interim administrative arrangements to perform relevant functions and exercise relevant powers'.

In a progress report released in July 2023, interim Inspector-General of Aged Care, Ian Yates acknowledged work toward this "cornerstone" appointment "has been slow".

Mr Yates also stated "solid progress has been made to implement recommendations aimed at improving Indigenous aged care, with implementation activities continuing".

The progress report acknowledged the delivery of the Elder Support Program - with engagement from NACCHO, $52 in additional funding the for National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care (NATSIFAC) Program, employment training for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Aged Care and $5.3 million allocated to embed cultural safety trauma-aware and healing informed care principles and training across all aged care services.

The interim Inspector-General noted cultural safety training had not been mandated, despite being flagged as a requirement in the 2021 report.

It was also acknowledged the 2023-24 national budget allocated $1.7 million was allocated for the establishment of an interim Commissioner.

On announcing Ms Kelly's appointment, Minister Wells said the appointment aligned with a key goal of the current government.

"Improving aged care for First Nations people and making sure they have access to culturally safe and tailored aged care services is a key reform priority for the Albanese Government," Minister Wells said.

"Ms Kelly brings considerable experience to the role of interim First Nations Aged Care Commissioner.

"The interim First Nations Aged Care Commissioner will advocate for communities and service providers across Australia to help the reforms we are undertaking in aged care meet the needs of older First Nations people."

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ageing and Age Care Council chief executive, Lisa Orcher said the role is "incredibly important".

"Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders are the glue within many of our communities, and they have laid the groundwork for much of the progress being made today," Ms Orcher said.

"But there are many, many barriers that are stopping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from accessing aged care, or from receiving appropriate care if they do manage to achieve access.

"The interim and ongoing Commissioner roles will play a significant role in identifying and analysing these situations, and seeking solutions.

"NATSIAACC is supportive of the interim Commissioner and looks forward to working with Ms Kelly to achieve better outcome."

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