McClure, the new chief executive of Aged and Community Services Australia - which represents not-for-profit and faith-based organisations providing residential and community-based aged care and housing - headed the Howard government's welfare review and is expected to strengthen calls for a big revamp of aged-care funding.

Jason Falinski, MD of CareWell Health, said that 60 per cent of aged-care services, which are largely subsidised, ''operate at a loss'' and the future challenge for Australia was to ensure quality care for the growing numbers in nursing homes and those needing services in their homes.

The future shape of aged care is developing as a thorny challenge for the Gillard government. The Productivity Commission, in its draft report earlier this year, found the aged-care system to be inconsistent and inequitable. It recommended better assessment of care needs, more user-pays and greater consumer choice.

The community sector has previously resisted charges such as accommodation bonds for those requiring high-level nursing home care. McClure said a mix of public and private funding would be needed, presenting the government with ''a delicate balancing act''.

He said he hoped that by the time of the next federal election there would be ''some very clear directions'' in what the government was proposing for aged care.

''The challenge confronting other Western nations, as well as Australia, is how do we develop a system of aged care that provides … quality care that is also sustainable?''

Aged-care homes were also facing difficulties in recruiting and retaining skilled staff because of relatively low wages.

''These people are doing quite heroic work,'' McClure said.

''They are working with very vulnerable people … your mother and your father, or mine … and yet they are not paying them competitive wages compared to other parts of the industry.''

McClure, who was appointed ethics fellow at the University of NSW's centre for social impact in 2009, has previously been chief executive of the Retirement Villages Group, chief executive of Mission Australia and chief executive of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (NSW/ACT). He takes up his new post in June.