WA’s Seniors Minister intends to bring older people to the forefront

Don Punch MLA
Minister for Disability Services; Fisheries; Innovation and ICT; Seniors and Ageing, Don Punch MLA

Member for Bunbury, Don Punch MLA, took on the portfolios for Minister for Disability Services; Fisheries; Innovation and ICT; Seniors and Ageing, in March.

Have a Go News spoke to Mr Punch about his take on seniors’ issues. This newspaper has always worked to establish and maintain relationships with WA State Government Seniors Ministers.

“I am really excited about the portfolio and there are a number of agendas which I would like to work on,” he. said. “The first agenda is really making the contribution of seniors visible and bringing older Western Australians into the forefront of our thinking in terms of the contribution they make.

“One of the things that I know many seniors have expressed to me, particularly older seniors, is that the older they get the more they have a feeling of disappearing from view.

“And sometimes I feel that myself, I’m in my mid 60s, and I think we need to make sure that what we do recognises we have diversity in our population and seniors are very much part of that.”

With more than 590,000 people aged over 60 in Western Australia, Have a Go News expressed concerns that this demographic has been overlooked and not valued by government.

“Government has a strong leadership role within the seniors’ area and equally organisations like Have a Go News also have a strong leadership role. 

“There are so many aspects of everyday community life which wouldn’t function without seniors being involved. 

“The valuing of the portfolio and of seniors is a collective responsibility that we have to make sure is recognised and I understand that is part of my and my staff’s role, particularly around the narrative we put out as a government.

“We have to work as a community to maintain people in the circumstances they want to be in, and allow choice, supporting people in that. If we can do this, we will have healthier communities,” he said.

Baby Boomers have a reputation of questioning and being activists; getting out there and challenging ideals. Minister Punch agrees people shouldn’t hold back as they approach their senior years.

“I think it’s part of what we call active ageing and ageing in community. 

“The notion of retirement is not about disappearing out of view, it’s about the opportunity to be active and doing the kind of things that are important to us.”

Also on his agenda, Mr Punch wants to understand more about the vulnerabilities of older people in different parts of the life cycle. For example, when someone loses a life partner, they often become more vulnerable and this can amplify issues of loneliness, isolation and depression.

“This is when people find it’s easy to start thinking about not engaging, which can be the start of a difficult journey,” he said.

“We know that when somebody is going through that vulnerability we need to really reach out, see how we can embrace them in a sense, include them and help them come to terms with their loss.

The other side of vulnerability the minister wants to address is to continue the work that has been done on elder abuse and highlighting scams targeting older people. 

“People are often embarrassed about coming forward if they have been duped and I am very keen to look at what we can do from the government point of view, to identify and deal with this issue.” 

The interface with the Commonwealth and state government around aged care and in-home care is another priority.

Although they are principally the responsibility of federal government, Mr Punch said there are overlaps in relation to health care. 

“I do want to build a strong relationship with the Commonwealth in terms of how they deal with some of the difficulties in the aged care sector and how that unfolds.

Minister Punch believes that the geographic and demographic diversity of Western Australia is not as well understood as it could be by the federal government. 

Have a Go News asked what his goals as Seniors Minister were for the first 12 months.

“I want a clear view of active ageing in our community and to work with local government to expand opportunities in that area. 

“I want discussion about scams; for people to have easy points of access to tell their story and not feel they need to be embarrassed and hide it away.

“I would like us to be in a position to structure a response on people’s vulnerability that we know occurs and community responses to support people in those circumstances,” he said.

One of the first initiatives is the election promise to roll out a safety and security rebate for seniors over the next four years of up to $400 per annum.

The Minister said they are working through the process now and will get that out as early as possible. He also advises that there will be no changes to the Seniors Card program. 

Mr Punch says he wants to get out and meet with community organisations and to hear from WA’s seniors and listen to their stories. 

Personally, I left the meeting feeling WA seniors may have a new advocate on their side. 

Have a Go News looks forward to tracking his progress over the next 12 months.