Fake controversy over aged care facility in Clifton Hill

An article today in The Age (here) about an aged care facility in Clifton Hill is misleading and inaccurate. In response, I have written some points of clarification.

The absurd claim being made is that socialists are against the poor while Labor Councillors stand up for more community facilities in the face of opposition from the residential elite.

The real story is very different.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) owns some prime, unused real estate on the corner of Gold St and South Terrace, West Clifton Hill. For many years this land housed the fantastic St Andrews Kindergarten. Ten years ago the Brotherhood of St Laurence kicked out this kindergarten saying they needed the land for development of an aged care facility.

I was involved in a massive local campaign to save the kindy. Eventually we forced Yarra Council to physically lift the kindergarten building onto the back of an oversized vehicle and it was transported to Walker St, East Clifton Hill. It is now the much loved Walker St Community Kindergarten.

Back in West Clifton Hill, the Brotherhood of St Laurence did nothing with the vacated site for over a decade. Aside from the empty space where the kindergarten had been, there is also an unused heritage-significant church and dozens of mature trees.

Finally last year the Brotherhood of St Laurence decided to develop the site as an aged care facility and presented plans to Yarra Council. The timing is very telling.

In 2014 the Federal government made changes to the aged care industry that boosted the profit rate of providers like the Brotherhood of St Laurence. These included a one-off 2.4% increase in government subsidies, the deregulating of fees. and the lifting of restrictions on the accommodation bond that homes can levy on residents.

As a consequence, profits for aged care providers surged by 40% last year. The Age reported recently that “the average profit before interest and tax increased from $4497 per resident per annum in 2014 to $6278 in 2015. The profits for 2015 equate to $17.20 per resident per day. At the same time, the average bond – known as a refundable accommodation deposit – also rose by 40% – from $154,116 to $217,839. The deposit – which must be paid back after the resident dies – is effectively an interest-free loan to the aged care home operator.”

While providers made bumper profits, they simultaneously cut the time spent caring for residents in aged care facilities by 7% last year to an average of 2.8 hours a day, compared to the legal minimum of 4.5 hours in the United States.

In the face of these profit opportunities, the Brotherhood of St Laurence finally decided to lodge a development application for the site.

While the cost of real estate in the surrounding area is expensive, not all locals are rich. The immediate area includes a public housing estate, elderly residents on fixed incomes, young people on low incomes trying to survive in an over-priced private rental market, and pensioners living in community facilities such as Sambell Lodge.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence plans ignored the fact that the surrounding area is largely made up of single-story homes and the beautiful Darling Gardens. They proposed a four storey facility that would be the largest building ever constructed in this part of Clifton Hill.

To locals, it looked like the Brotherhood of St Laurence was going from one extreme to the other by squeezing in the maximum number of units in an unimaginative block design with little open space The lack of concern for future residents was shown by the design of the top floor where the length of the travel plan to a fire escape was 43 meters, way over the 20 meter legal maximum.

Many locals fear the Brotherhood of St Laurence intend to “flip” the land if their design is approved – that is sell it off to a private aged care provider. Rather than build a facility for the poor and vulnerable as today’s Age article implies they are doing, the design is more like that for a ” a luxury private aged care facility for resale to the private market” as the local residents group, 3068, put it. This is underlined by the fact that the design has a big increase in parking provision than the first design in 2014 (from 26 places to 35).

Hundreds of locals signed petitions and made submissions on this matter. Not a single submission opposed an aged care facility on this site. The local residents’ group, 3068, proposed an alternative design that would have been one storey lower, had less parking for richer residents, yet kept the same number of beds as the first design in 2014. No wonder locals resent the accusation of being NIMBY.

The Council voted 4-3 to say no to the current design of the Brotherhood of St Laurence for this site. I asked the Brotherhood of St Laurence not to rush off to VCAT but instead to sit down with locals, listen to their concerns and develop a better plan that would expand aged care without breaking local planning standards in such as extreme way. Unfortunately, the Brotherhood of St Laurence decided to go to VCAT where the matter will be dealt with later this year.

If this bad design was tabled by a developer building expensive private units, almost everyone would say it was an t over-the-top design. Because it was a proposal for an aged care facility it got a more sympathetic hearing, as it should. However, there is difference between bending the stick and breaking the stick. A design for an aged care facility doesn’t mean a free pass to ignore local amenity and planning rules – especially when there was an alternative design on the table that would have provided the same number of aged care beds as the initial 2014 plans.

I am happy to discuss this issue with anyone interested in rational debate on these complex topics.
However, I won’t be giving the time of day to those Labor Party critics who have opportunistically and hypocritically tried to use this issue to have a crack.

The Labor Party are in power in Victoria and control numerous Councils, including Yarra. If they were serious about boosting community services including aged care at a time when the State’s population is expanding rapidly, they would:

1. Massively expand public housing to eat into waiting list that now consists of 34,000 desperate people. Instead the last State Labor budget provided funding for fewer than 60 new units!

2. Change the State Planning Scheme to mandate that every new large development has a percentage of low cost housing.

3. Plan properly by ensuring that new areas like Fishermen’s Bend have childcare, schools, public transport, aged care etc built into future designs. Don’t repeat the errors of the Docklands. Unfortunately the Labor Planning Minister and Labor Councillors approve high rise tower after high rise tower consisting of tiny private apartments with little parking and no services to meet the needs of future residents.

These are some of the component parts of a socialist planning policy.

The debate around the Brotherhood of St Laurence plans in Clifton Hill provided Labor with a rare opportunity to make a fake, hypocritical and opportunistic attack presenting themselves as defenders of the community. Only the most naïve of people will be sucked in by their shenanigans.

14.7% of Australians are over the age of 65 and that percentage is expected to rise to 24% by 2056. For private investors they see this as a market opportunity to house pensioners like cattle in expensive, tiny rooms with half the rate of care as the minimum mandated in the US.

A lifetime of hard work and paying tax should mean retiring workers are treated better. A socialist aged care policy includes government-funded, publicly-owned facilities with sufficient, decently paid and trained carers.

Again, I appeal to the Brotherhood of St Laurence not to rush off to the developers’ court, VCAT, but instead let’s talk with locals and tweak the plan so it respects the area and provides a better design for its future residents’ safety and amenity. We can then attempt to put a revised plan through the Council planning process as quickly as possible.

– Councillor Stephen Jolly

One Comment

  1. Good article and right to the point. I don’t know if this is actually the best place to ask but do you guys have any ideea where to employ some professional writers? Thanks in advance 🙂
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