Tony Abbott woos young and old with three new promises

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, campaigning in Queensland, is offering loans of up to $20,000 to apprentices. Photo: Alex EllinghausenA Coalition government would provide $200 million to efforts to find a cure for dementia, Tony Abbott announced in officially launching his campaign on Sunday.

More than 320,000 Australians are afflicted by dementia, including one in four Australians over the age of 85.

Mr Abbott said 900,000 Australians were at risk of developing dementia in 30 years time.

”The best people to find treatments and cures for this insidious disease are our world-beating medical researchers,” he said.

The money will be used to support new researchers, to ensure dementia care is informed by research, and to invest in dementia research infrastructure.

Alzheimer’s Australia president Ita Buttrose, who had called for a $200 million commitment, said the funding would give Australians hope that future generations might escape the disease.

In another pitch to older voters, Mr Abbott promised that the Coalition would index eligibility thresholds for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, so that more self-funded retirees would have access to cheaper medicines.

National Seniors Australia welcomed the health card changes, but said income thresholds should also be raised so that even more seniors were eligible.

Mr Abbott also promised a scheme to provide HECS-style interest-free loans of up to $20,000 over four years to apprentices in areas of skill shortage such as plumbers, electricians and diesel mechanics.

As with existing loans available to university students, apprentices would not have to start repaying their loan until they were earning an income over a certain threshold.

Those who complete their training would receive a 20-per cent discount on their loans.

Currently about half of apprentices in traditional trades do not complete their training.

The announcement was welcomed by training groups,  but Labor said it already provided apprentices with a payment of $5500 over the course of their trade to help with the cost of tools.

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