If you didn’t read the previous post, my sister had died in New Zealand, and her husband, an Australian, wanted to come back to Australia. Frank was a resident in an accredited aged care facility. How hard would it be to transfer him from one home, to another in Australia? Should be easy, surely? After all, the New Zealanders are our first cousins. We don’t need visas to visit each others’ countries, Australia has the largest population of Kiwis outside Auckland, we are rivals in rugby, netball, hockey, cricket, and we share the ANZAC tradition. Not to mention Phar Lap and Russel Crowe.
The first hurdle was to find his passport. When I said everything was jumbled up in that lock-up, I meant everything. Somewhere in that mess was Frank’s documents. While Cathy fought with the piles of stuff in New Zealand, I took up arms with Authority in Australia. I soon learnt that getting Frank into a home here wasn’t going to be easy. Authority would not accept any of the documentation from New Zealand. Frank’s physical state, and his financial state, had to be assessed in Australia. To be considered for a place in an aged care facility, he would require both of those assessment documents, and in both cases, Frank would have to be in Australia before assessment could be considered. Further, although I had Enduring Power of Attorney in New Zealand, this mattered not a jot in Australia, which caused delays as Frank, who suffers from dementia, was obliged to give his permission for disclosure of information. I had hoped, you see, that if the assessment people in Australia were given medical reports from the aged care hospital in New Zealand, this could fast-track the process. In hind-sight, it was a total waste of time.
After writing to our local member of parliament for help without success, my husband and I wrote to Tanya Plibersek (the Federal Minister for Health) and to Julia Gillard (the Prime Minister). In that letter we outlined Frank’s situation, described the steps we had taken to date, and proposed a compromise, wherein Frank would be admitted to a home, based on the New Zealand assessment of his condition. At that time, he could be re-assessed and moved, if need be. He wasn’t asking for financial support, having ample funds to pay for his accommodation. He was one lonely old man, wanting to spend what was left of his life in the country of his birth. Surely the rules could be bent? Just a little? Christmas caused even further delays, but after a gentle reminder had generated a ‘the cheque is in the mail’ response, we received a reply laced with sympathetic platitudes and the underlying message, them’s the rules – tough. (We had asked why New Zealand’s health care system was being seen as no better than a third world country’s, when our governments are negotiating a joint pharmaceutical benefits scheme, but that was adroitly ignored.)
The next step was going to be to approach the media, and let the shock jocks battle it out on our behalf, but it had been four months and nothing had been achieved. I decided, with some trepidation, to take on Frank’s care for the time it will take to get him into proper aged care. Because proper aged care sure ain’t me. I’m not a nurse, I’m not a sympathetic person. I’m an introverted, non-social woman in her sixties who loves her own company. Still, faced with no choice, I’ll do my best. But I digress.
This article is entitled ‘a question of identity’ for a reason. Because in our digital world, with the internet and databases, if you want to prove you exist, you need bits of paper. Even the Australian passport Cathy eventually found under a mountain of stuff in the lock-up would not be enough to satisfy the Australian Authorities. The 26-page application for an aged pension (with 28 pages of accompanying explanatory notes) indicated what was needed. Despite the fact you can’t get a passport without showing your birth certificate, and date and place of birth are shown on the passport, a passport was worth 70 points out of a required 100. What’s more, Frank would have to show he’d lived in Australia for at least ten years, a minimum of five years contiguously.
You might wonder why. The reason is financial. At one time, people from countries like Greece and Italy (and no doubt others – I’m not singling anybody out, here) would migrate to Australia, live there long enough to gain Australian citizenship (two years), then go back home. They could claim an Australian pension, which, given the exchange rate and cost of living, gave them a very comfortable living in another country, for very little contribution to the Australian tax coffers.
How to prove Frank’s claim? Frank would have had tax records lodged before 1972 when he left for New Zealand, but I wouldn’t think the good folk at Centrelink, a monolithic Government body which administers all welfare payments, would want to go looking for those. Fortunately, the wonderful Cathy had found Frank’s apprenticeship papers, his birth certificate and his marriage certificate amongst the remains of his life. So we should be okay for that. I hope.
Frank is booked on a flight for Australia next weekend. A person from the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT – don’t you love this acronym shit?) will visit him the following Thursday. In the meantime, he will have to accompany me to open a bank account, apply for a pension and grant me Enduring Power of Attorney so I can sign documents such as the application for a place in an aged care facility, on his behalf. We’ll have his sheaf of papers, proving he exists.
So let that be a lesson. As far as Authority is concerned, you might be nothing but a number being crunched through a process, but, despite the e-revolution, bits of paper do matter – very, very much. To misquote Tolkien, keep them secret, and keep them safe.
The photo? That’s the sun setting over Auckland – somehow very fitting, don’t you think?