The Politics    Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Aged rage

By Paddy Manning

Image of Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck appearing via video link during a Senate inquiry

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck appears via video link during a Senate inquiry on August 4, 2020. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP

As coronavirus deaths mount in nursing homes, the anger grows

With 11 new coronavirus deaths recorded in Victoria overnight – all in nursing homes – it is to be hoped that the combination of pandemic and royal commission will result in an entirely new model for aged care in this country. Victoria today marked its 30th day with triple-digit cases, and the state now has 1186 active cases in aged care, which Premier Daniel Andrews said “remains a very challenging setting for us”. Nationally, according to yesterday’s official figures reported in The Australian [$], 65 per cent of the country’s total 221 coronavirus deaths have been in aged-care facilities – the vast bulk of those in Victoria. The rage at such figures is palpable, and is evident in a story in the Nine newspapers about the hideously opulent Toorak mansion recently sold by Peter and Areti Arvanitis, part-owners of Heritage Care, which operates the COVID-struck Epping Gardens (an aged-care home that has suddenly been found to have breached regulatory requirements). In a discouraging sign, the newly appointed secretary of the Department of Health, Brendan Murphy, protected the aged-care operators in his evidence to the COVID-19 Senate select committee, refusing to disclose which facilities were suffering from second-wave outbreaks except in camera, even though the Victorian government releases a state list. He was backed up by Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck. As press gallery veteran Michelle Grattan tweeted, “This surely can’t be justified.”  

Even conservative Liberal backbencher Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is angry. David Crowe revealed this morning that Fierravanti-Wells, writing in a submission to the aged-care royal commission, said that the Abbott government (including then social services minister Scott Morrison) “sowed the seeds of the predicament that the aged-care sector is facing today”. Fierravanti-Wells had held the aged-care portfolio in opposition and developed plans to reform the sector based on Productivity Commission recommendations, but her policies were dumped when the Abbott government was elected and she was shifted into multicultural affairs. 

Labor leader Anthony Albanese today cited Fierravanti-Wells’ critique and the broader crisis in aged care as one of many reasons why the federal parliament needs to reconvene. It would mean there could be “further scrutiny about the range of issues, including: Why weren’t the lessons learned from Newmarch, which occurred months ago in New South Wales? Why is it that there hasn’t been adequate training across aged-care facilities about the use of PPE? Why is it that there hasn’t been a national audit of all nursing homes, aged-care facilities, about access to personal protective equipment?” Greens leader Adam Bandt tweeted that if Albanese was frustrated at the cancellation of parliament, “maybe Labor shouldn’t have agreed with the Liberals to cancel this fortnight’s sitting. The Greens are trying to hold the gov to account & we’d like Labor’s help, but you keep siding with the Libs.” 

Elsewhere in the pandemic, Social Services Minister Anne Ruston clarified that the $1500 paid pandemic leave policy announced by the PM yesterday only applies in Victoria, Education Minister Dan Tehan flagged further announcements will be made tomorrow on support for childcare operators in Victoria, retail sales jumped 2.7 per cent in the June quarter as restrictions eased in other states, and the Reserve Bank kept interest rates on hold despite speculation they might cut in the wake of Victoria’s shift to stage-four lockdown, even issuing another glass-half-full statement on the outlook: 

The Australian economy is going through a very difficult period and is experiencing the biggest contraction since the 1930s. As difficult as this is, the downturn is not as severe as earlier expected and a recovery is now underway in most of Australia. This recovery is, however, likely to be both uneven and bumpy, with the coronavirus outbreak in Victoria having a major effect on the Victorian economy. Given the uncertainties about the overall outlook, the Board considered a range of scenarios at its meeting. In the baseline scenario, output falls by 6 per cent over 2020 and then grows by 5 per cent over the following year. In this scenario, the unemployment rate rises to around 10 per cent later in 2020 due to further job losses in Victoria and more people elsewhere in Australia looking for jobs.

Deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth was holding a press conference as The Monthly Today hit deadline. Guardian Australia is live-blogging the presser here.

“Both Beijing and Washington should reflect on the admonition ‘be careful what you wish for’. If they fail to do so, the next three months could all too easily torpedo the prospects of international peace and stability for the next 30 years. Wars between great powers, including inadvertent ones, rarely end well – for anyone.”

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd warns against the heightened possibility of armed conflict between the US and China in the lead-up to the US presidential election in November.

“A third person has now allegedly entered the state with coronavirus through @QLDLabor’s border controls. We need to keep Queenslanders safe to protect lives and livelihoods. The @LNPQLD is calling for mandatory maximum penalties for those who break the rules.”

Queensland opposition leader Deb Frecklington backflips on border closures, having previously called for the state’s borders to be reopened on 64 occasions, according to Labor MP Steven Miles.

The COVID crisis in aged care
Aged care has been one of the hardest hit sectors during this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, with residents and their carers making up a large proportion of those catching the virus. Today, Rick Morton on the crisis in our aged-care facilities, and why we should have seen it coming.

The number of sexual misconduct complaints lodged against health professionals between 2011 and 2016, of which three quarters concerned medical practitioners, psychologists, chiropractors and osteopaths, according to a world-first Australian study.

“During this pandemic, the Victorian government has housed many who were homeless as part of a public health response until April next year. We welcome this move, and would argue that this initiative needs to happen on a more permanent basis, not just during a pandemic, and needs to be implemented across the country … Building social housing and repairing empty or substandard public housing needs to be prioritised in all neighbourhoods across Australia. This kind of initiative will result in local jobs, economic stimulus and work towards social cohesion across the country.”

Australian Association of Social Workers president Christine Craik supports the “Everybody’s Home” campaign and calls for stimulus through social housing construction.

The list

“For two hours either side of midnight on March 18, Cameron Butchart was the man who stopped the Ruby Princess from docking in Sydney. The subsequent hundreds of coronavirus cases and deaths, the transmission of disease from Tasmania to Texas, the finger-pointing between government agencies, the reputational damage to a multinational cruise ship company, the judicial and police investigations – all could have remained on the other side of a sliding door if Butchart’s decision stood.”

“National divisions regarding Brexit, British identity and the European migrant crisis are still key themes; but so is the worsening climate crisis, and so too is the global pandemic in which we are now living. The speed of the publication turnaround on each of the four novels is part of the project itself, with Smith wanting the books to ‘be available to readers as close to their time of being written as possible’. As the timing would have it, this has meant that Summer is the first published novel set during the coronavirus pandemic.”

“For Katta O’Donnell, the spark was a lecture; for Mark McVeigh, it was researching his superannuation fund. For both, an urgent desire for climate action has seen them become plaintiffs in the latest wave of climate litigation to reach Australia’s courts. And if they win their respective cases, the ramifications could be seismic.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor at The Monthly and the author of Inside the Greens and Body Count.

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