The PM admits Commonwealth failings on aged care… sort of
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “deeply sorry” for the unfolding tragedy in Victorian nursing homes – where another 12 elderly people died overnight – and admitted that the Commonwealth response to coronavirus in aged care had sometimes “fallen short”. But saying sorry is supposed to mean you don’t do it again, and on that measure the PM’s apology fell short because he failed to acknowledge the reason for the outbreak. “COVID-19 broke out in Melbourne,” the PM said in today’s press conference. “It has got into meat-packing plants, it has got into pharmacies, it has got into distribution centres. It has got into hospitals. It has got into aged-care facilities. That’s what happens with a pandemic. There is not some special force field around aged-care facilities that can ultimately protect [people] in that environment.” Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck has consistently made the same argument: that the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes is a function of community transmission of the virus.
But there’s a glaring statistic that gives lie to that argument. As Premier Daniel Andrews has pointed out, on Wednesday there were 1929 active cases in aged care, of which only six were in Victorian government–run facilities. So private aged-care facilities – regulated by the federal government – account for the remaining 1923 cases. If the state-run homes don’t have a force field, at least they are properly managed, staffed and funded, which seems to do the trick.
The prime minister’s apology-of-sorts came after the counsel assisting the aged-care royal commission, Peter Rozen, said in closing comments that the lessons of outbreaks in Sydney’s Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge were not properly conveyed to the sector and, as a result, it was not properly prepared to deal with the outbreak in Melbourne in June. There was no plan to stop an outbreak of COVID-19 in aged-care facilities and, perhaps most worryingly, Rozen said there still isn’t one: “Based on the evidence you’ve heard, the sector is not properly prepared now.”
This was put to the PM in the strongest terms today by Seven News political editor Mark Riley, who asked: “Isn’t this a gross failure of governance on the part of your government?” The PM’s response was dismissive: “That is a statement that has been made by the counsel assisting. So that is not a finding of the royal commission. That is a position that has been asserted. People can make those assertions. I think that’s fair enough.”
Morrison often makes a show of modesty and even contrition, but when challenged he soon reverts to a headbutting contest. He repeatedly insisted today that “there has been a plan, and it has been updated, and so we completely reject the assertion that there was not a plan because there was a plan.” The PM sounds increasingly arrogant, and he even lapsed into the third person today, recalling a moment when Brendan Murphy had been adamant that bowel screening must be maintained, “with strong support, I can assure you, from his prime minister”. Morrison gets some points for calling the aged-care royal commission, true, but now that it’s up and running he doesn’t get to pooh-pooh observations made by the counsel assisting.
The report on the NSW government’s Ruby Princess inquiry was lodged as we hit deadline, and Victoria’s failings in hotel quarantine are also under continued investigation – the Nine newspapers this morning suggested that “patient zero” was an employee of the Rydges Hotel, not a private security guard, which might knock the debate in a different direction. So far, both are looking like utter debacles – and as Crikey’s Bernard Keane writes in a damning piece, the avoidance of responsibility by the political class is epic. The deaths in Commonwealth-run aged-care homes are of a completely different category, however. As Rozen said this week, there is nothing accidental about it – the system is running as it is intended to run, with tragic results. That, ultimately, is the fault of the federal government and the prime minister himself, and until Morrison acknowledges the longstanding, structural failings of the aged-care system his apologies count for little.
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Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “deeply sorry” for the unfolding tragedy in Victorian nursing homes – where another 12 elderly people died overnight – and admitted that the Commonwealth response to coronavirus in aged care had sometimes “fallen short”. But saying sorry is supposed to mean you don’t do it again, and on that measure the PM’s apology fell short because he failed to acknowledge the reason for the outbreak. “COVID-19 broke out in Melbourne,” the PM said in today’s press conference. “It has got into meat-packing plants, it has got into pharmacies, it has got into distribution centres. It has got into hospitals. It has got into aged-care facilities. That’s what happens with a pandemic. There is not some special force field around aged-care facilities that can ultimately protect [people] in that environment.” Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck has consistently made...
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