The Politics    Friday, October 2, 2020

Minister goes missing

By Nick Feik

Image of Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck. Via Facebook

Aged care deserves more

The true test of next week’s budget must not be the tax cuts or the “roadmaps” it promises, but how much the government is willing to actually spend in areas of genuine need. 

The area most in need of more funding is aged care. Health department officials have estimated the cost of meeting the backlog for home care to be between $2 billion and $2.5 billion per year, not to mention what’s needed to bring residential homes up to scratch. How much will the government put aside to fix the disaster this sector has become? We could ask Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, but he continues to avoid the media (and no wonder). Hopefully there’s something big in store, otherwise we’re facing a budget in which Australia’s wealthiest get massive personal tax cuts, while the most vulnerable get shafted again. And it’s not as if we don’t know how badly help is needed.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was set up in October 2018 to address multiple terrible failures across the sector. The failures were exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, to the extent that there have been more than 650 deaths in the aged-care system – making up roughly three-quarters of all Australian coronavirus fatalities. 

The royal commission yesterday released a special report on the response to COVID-19 and it was an indictment of basically every aspect of the management of aged care, which is supposed to be the responsibility of the Commonwealth government. Months into the crisis, there was no real planning, insufficient resources, no clear lines of command, a lack of infection-control procedures, and the list goes on and on.

Levels of depression, anxiety, confusion, loneliness and suicide risk among aged-care residents have increased since lockdowns started, too.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, new data released by the federal health department tells us that around 50,000 people are only in aged care because they couldn’t get support to stay at home. The lack of adequate support and funding put all of them at massive risk.

Health department officials told the COVID-19 Senate inquiry hearing this week that of the 211,029 people assessed as eligible for a home-care package (to support medication management by a nurse, or provide help with showering, cooking and getting dressed etc), only 43 per cent were receiving the level of care they were approved for.

Ten thousand people died in 2018–19 while they were on the waiting list for home care. One hundred thousand people were on the waiting list for a home-care package.

In a couple of magisterial essays in The Saturday Paper, Rick Morton wrote about the policy “reforms” that have inexorably led to this crisis. They started in the Howard era (“The abandonment of minimum staffing requirements had private equity firms and American corporates salivating. Suddenly, frail older Australians had become big business”) and were made worse by successive governments, with profits replacing care as the driving force for change. To make matters worse, the Coalition – when Morrison was treasurer – cut $1.7 billion in subsidies from the sector.

The federal government has a responsibility to fix this mess. And it has a budget to deliver. As JobSeeker and JobKeeper funding is withdrawn, and rent and mortgage pauses also end, personal tax cuts and deregulation will do nothing to help people who are struggling now. If the government is looking to boost employment, it should start with more and better jobs in aged care. There must be more funding for home-care packages. Beyond that, there needs to be a fundamental rethink of aged care in Australia. 

BREAKING NEWS: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for COVID-19. This is not a drill.

P.S. Thanks for your company this week. Paddy Manning will be back on deck next week. 

“I just think it’s horrible and degrading. There are no words to describe it; it should not be cut.”

Mandy Weber, a single mother of four, will need to cut back on her children’s medication, fresh food and Christmas presents now that the JobSeeker supplement has been reduced. She will also need to apply for eight jobs per month, often competing with more than 100 people for each advertised position in the hospitality sector.

“The president takes the health and safety of himself and everyone who works in support of him and the American people very seriously.”

White House spokesperson Judd Deere emphasised Donald Trump’s commitment to health just hours before the president tested positive to coronavirus.

“The most important budget since World War Two”
As the treasurer prepares the upcoming federal budget, he’s facing pressure to spend big and keep the economy afloat. But can a government historically preoccupied with cutting spending invest more in economic stimulus? Today, Paul Bongiorno on the challenge facing Josh Frydenberg, and the country.


The number of days WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will have to wait to find out whether he will be extradited to the United States to face charges including espionage, after his hearing finished in London overnight.

“The reason we can ease more restrictions is because families have done a good job.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announces that Queensland will reopen the border to all of New South Wales from November 1 if there are 28 days of no community transmission. In related news, Australia has finalised a deal for a limited travel bubble with New Zealand, with trans-Tasman flights expected within weeks.

The list

“Have you ever seen Liam Gallagher in an interview? It’s phenomenal. He waddles into the room like a proud but inebriated penguin, slouches imperiously upon his chair, pops gum and pretends that sunglasses can be worn appropriately indoors. But what’s most remarkable is his gravity. It’s intense. Long-reigning autocrats have smaller auras, and you have to remind yourself that the man generating it is the same man who once sang: ‘Pigs don’t fly, never say die!’”

“In my early twenties I earned money sitting for life drawing classes at the small and beloved art school in my university town. I was by no means alone – it was a popular way for students to earn cash. But some friends worried: how could I expose myself like that, sitting naked before strangers? In fact I didn’t feel exposed at all.”

“What then seemed like outlier madness has become common, almost routine. In retrospect, the AFR staffer’s column was an early case in a kind of tandem pandemic, one that runs in parallel to COVID-19. Already sickly looking, our local media has become infested with bad takes.”

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.


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