Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA May-Jun 2013 Contents he says, "to be able to develop a review, to take it to cabinet
with then Minister, Don Grimes, and be subsequently involved
in the implementation."
But other challenges loomed. In 1993 Rees became deputy CEO
of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC);
and for a period was acting CEO. He left ATSIC in March 2000 to
steer a somewhat uncertain and still-evolving national advocacy
organisation as CEO of Alzheimer's Australia.
A BIG CHANGE
"At the time it was just me in the national office," says Rees. "There
was no website, there had been no new publications for six or seven
years and there was no certainty of ongoing government funding."
There had also been some disunity among the state and
territory Alzheimer's organisations and in the late 1990s, the
Queensland Alzheimer's Association had left the national affiliation.
Having come from an environment with over a thousand staff
and a budget of well over a billion dollars, it was a totally new
experience. But there were two pieces of good news.
"One, the then Minister for Aged Care, Bronwyn Bishop, said if
Alzheimer's Australia became a truly national organisation with a
national CEO, she would support its funding," Rees says.
"The second piece of really good news was that the members
of Alzheimer's Australia re-committed to acting nationally," Rees
says. "We established a new Queensland organisation; and we got
three year funding for four new programs."
"It was the beginning of a wonderful collaboration."
Prior to the arrival of Rees, the board had proposed a national
strategic workshop to bring the state and territory organisations
together to discuss future directions for the organisation. It
proved an important milestone.
"It went very well. We came away from that summit with a
strategic plan that started to focus on dementia as a national
health priority and a new vision that included dementia research."
BUILDING INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL
When he first arrived in the job, Rees says, there was little in the
way of evidence to support the advocacy work.
"There was little consumer involvement, we were not very
inclusive of diverse groups, we weren't represented on any
governmental advisory committees and we had no partnerships
with other organisations. There was not even an address book!
"So part of the early challenge was simply establishing what I
would call intellectual capital, of all kinds -- facts, figures, policy
positions, networks..." he says.
"One lucky break I had was that the NACA [National Aged
care Alliance] started up in April 2000. I was invited along to
that, mainly because of my 1980s connections. It was a godsend
because overnight I was able to connect with consumers, aged
care providers, health professionals and others."
For Rees, the development of intellectual capital has been
essential to the success of Alzheimer's Australia.
"Our credibility has turned considerably on our capacity to
produce evidence and to effectively communicate it.
"And we have become increasingly sophisticated in our media
and marketing, including the use of social media; and now it's
reached a new height with Ita [Buttrose] as president."
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE
In his early months as CEO, the major challenge for Rees was
documenting the impact of dementia on Australia and why
dementia should be a National Health Priority Area.
He asked Professor Tony Jorm to develop a succinct policy
paper arguing that dementia should be a health priority and
healthcare policy should take dementia more seriously. A slim, six
page publication, 'Dementia: a major health problem for Australia'
was released on a Saturday in October 2001 with no expectation
of attracting much attention.
"We had every TV station come out to do an interview and
I learned two things," says Rees. "One, that dementia had
enormous traction and resonance with the media and with the
wider community; and two, we needed to know what we wanted
done about it!"
Rees regards what he did next, as probably the single most
important step he has taken as CEO.
"I began to sense that we could really do something. I wrote
the brief for a commissioned report on the impact of dementia on
Australia and approached Access Economics," says Rees.
'The Dementia Epidemic: economic impact and positive
solutions for Australia', published in March 2003, produced
estimates of the current and future impact of dementia in
Australia. The estimates highlighted the critical importance of
research and planning for dementia care as the population ages in
the coming decades.
It had the desired effect. In October 2004, the Howard
government made it part of their election platform; and its lasting
legacy, Rees believes, is also to be found in the commitment to
tackling dementia in Living Longer Living Better.
Glenn Rees acknowledges his own personal evolution too.
"As a bureaucrat I always believed that programs and
government policies are important but I have come to place as
much importance on changing attitudes and cultures and linking
up ideas as the catalyst for change.
"For example, I think the real excitement of CDC [consumer
directed care] is unlocking the capacity of older people and
carers to take decisions for themselves. We've been advocating
for CDC since 2000, partly because we wanted the community to
understand that people with dementia wanted choice and control.
"You need to provide scope for passion and consumers have
played a key role in that. We can credit much of the recent reforms
to the voices of people with dementia and their families. n
www.australianageingagenda.com.au | 39
ON BEING A GOOD LISTENER
The important thing in an organisation like ours is to be
credible as a person who listens. You may not change your
mind entirely, but you change your thinking every time you
listen to a consumer, you become more informed.
ON SEMINAL MOMENTS
There are many. Seeing Governor General, Sir William Deane,
on stage with three or four people with dementia at our 2001
Alzheimer's Conference was quite emotional. Dementia had
been a matter of shame and denial for centuries and this
was a real turning point. The march on Parliament House
in October 2011 and the day dementia became a National
Health Priority Area in August 2012 are also highlights.
ON PEOPLE TO ADMIRE
I really admire Don Grimes, who was Minister for
Community Services in 1985 [overseeing the Nursing
Homes and Hostels Review]. He taught me a lot about the
importance of choice to older people and person centred
care. It was a high risk strategy to give the responsibility for
the review to someone who had no knowledge of aged care.
ON THE NEW ADVOCACY
Back in 2000, we were almost apologetic for the issue of
dementia, in the sense that we weren't very demanding or
assertive. There's a real confidence in our organisation now,
with lots of incredible young people and a real buzz about
in the national office and in the states and territories.
ON THE FUTURE
I'm 70 now. My contract runs for a while yet but my future
depends on whether the Board and Ita want to continue
it; and if so, for how long. Certainly I want to keep my
connections with social policy and aged care, maximising
opportunities for older people and changing how we think
about older people and people with dementia. My only
problem is that my job gets bigger by the day.
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