Monday, September 17, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Sudden care for the aged
The royal commission is better late than never


Even if he leaves no other legacy, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be able to point to the long-overdue royal commission into the aged care sector. The inquiry, announced ahead of tonight’s landmark Four Corners investigation, follows years of shocking revelations of neglect and abuse of the elderly, and has been welcomed across the political spectrum. The industry is now bracing for what Morrison predicts [$] will be “bruising” stories to emerge from the inquiry. There is scepticism about the PM’s motives, quite rightly.

According to The Guardian, as treasurer Morrison cut almost $2 billion in public funding to the sector. Health Minister Greg Hunt disputed the figures this morning, and this afternoon in Question Time Morrison continued to insist that funding for aged care had increased under this government. At yesterday’s press conference, Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt admitted that he had changed his mind since he was interviewed by Four Corners a few weeks ago, when he told the program he “would rather spend the money on frontline services” than hold a royal commission. And if the federal government is simply heading off bad publicity, it risks repeating what happened with the Don Dale inquiry into child detention in the Northern Territory. Also triggered by a Four Corners investigation, the inquiry resulted in no major reform or charges being laid, and was subsequently derided as a waste of money.

Tonight’s Four Corners is unprecedented, based on the first crowdsourced investigation undertaken by the ABC. This story from June provides some of the background: the ABC set out to identify whether the frequent scandals in the sector were the result of a few bad apples, or if they were due to a systemic problem. The ABC investigation has been planned since February, and the survey launched in April, garnering more than 4000 responses from the public, including workers in the aged care sector, as well as the elderly and their loved ones.

The overwhelming issue, reporter Anne Connolly told RN Breakfast this morning, was understaffing, which was cited by 97 per cent of the respondents who were aged care professionals. The key problem, Connolly said, is that there are no staff-to-resident ratios in aged care, as there are in child care. It’s not always deliberate abuse, Connolly noted, but neglect that often causes suffering, with residents getting restricted access to incontinence pads, for example, or going hungry on food worth just $6 a day. Connolly described this neglect as existing across the board, in both for-profit and non-profit centres.

Independent senator Derryn Hinch was bemused today, given that he introduced a bill to implement a mandatory staff-to-resident ratio in aged care, which was voted down last week by both major parties. Nevertheless, on the weekend Hinch welcomed the royal commission as “fantastic” and insisted that it must cover “physical and sexual abuse and financial chicanery”.

Shares in the three big listed providers Regis, Japara and Estia, which have made fortunes from public subsidies of $200 per bed per day, were hammered [$] this morning in anticipation of close scrutiny and a regulatory crackdown. Andrea Coote, the chair of the Aged Care Quality Agency – another captive regulator – admitted on The World Today that there was “room for improvement”, but denied there was a systemic failure.

The inquiry’s terms of reference are yet to be announced, but Greg Hunt said its aim would be to “protect and plan” for an expected quadrupling in the number of aged care residents as the population ages in coming decades. Hinch and others today have made clear that reform, and the necessary investment of funding, must not wait on the completion of the inquiry, considering that thousands of residents are suffering neglect right now. A new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission starts work next year.

A properly resourced, thorough-going aged care inquiry remains worthwhile, whichever party the implementation falls to, assuming that it can emulate the robustness of the banking royal commission. Next cab off the rank should be the energy industry, and the PM did not rule that out yesterday. As the backlash builds against trickle-down economics and crony capitalism, more and more predatory operators are going to find themselves subject to uncomfortable, if not excruciating, scrutiny.

since this morning

Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis, who holds the New South Wales South Coast marginal seat of Gilmore, is expected to announce her decision not to recontest her seat at the next election.

A Deloitte report commissioned by the Australian Council of Social Service has found that a $75 per week increase in Newstart would create more than 10,000 jobs and boost wages.


The latest Fairfax Ipsos poll shows Labor ahead of the Coalition by 53 to 47 per cent in two-party terms, down from 55–45 a month ago.

The Liberal Party is under pressure to reveal the results of a damaging secret ballot that nearly cost Tony Abbott his seat, as fears mount that local voters will abandon the former prime minister at the next election.

“The Transparency Project”, a Guardian investigation that analyses the background of 483 registered lobbyists, shows that big business is gaining almost unfettered access to the corridors of Australia’s parliament as a result of an oversight regime that is weak, unenforced and opaque.

The Australian reports [$] on a secret WhatsApp chat involving as many as 20 Liberal women, which reveals a damaging split over the public airing of claims of bullying and intimidation in the wake of last month’s bitter leadership spill.

Environment Minister Melissa Price has declared [$] that the Coalition will refocus environment policies on the Abbott-era Direct Action plan, including a rebooted Green Army and a reverse-auction scheme to improve land management and help communities.

According to The Australian, this week the Morrison government will [$] seek Senate support for its Ensuring Integrity Bill, which will include measures to disqualify law-breaking union officials.

The AFR reports that in a submission to the banking royal commission the corporate regulator, ASIC, will blame [$] politicians for letting the $41 billion insurance industry off the hook over problems exposed by the inquiry.

by Mungo MacCallum
Turnbull fires back
Unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull never promised ‘no wrecking’

by Thornton McCamish
Laurie Matheson, our man in Moscow
Was ‘Australia’s James Bond’ working for the KGB? Or ASIO? Or both?

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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