His own petard
The PM stands condemned by the aged-care royal commission he established
In Question Time this afternoon, the prime minister sought to pre-empt the inevitable questions about his government’s failings on aged care throughout this pandemic. Scott Morrison repeatedly pointed out that, in 97 per cent of Australia’s 2706 residential aged-care facilities, there have been no infections among residents. Ordinarily, a 97 per cent success rate would sound high, but when the consequences of failure in the remaining 3 per cent of facilities is a death toll of 328 among our most frail and vulnerable, it is nowhere near good enough. In a devastating opening statement today, Labor leader Anthony Albanese ran through the warnings that the Morrison government received from the interim report of the aged-care royal commission – titled “Neglect” – through to reports into the deadly outbreaks in Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House, through to health department advice from June warning that 80–100 per cent of aged-care workers could need to isolate in the event of an outbreak. Albanese did not have to draw the obvious inference himself, but he quoted the aged-care royal commissioners, Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs, who said: “Had the Australian government acted upon previous reviews of aged care, the persistent problems would have been known much earlier and the suffering of so many people could’ve been avoided.”
In response, Morrison once again rejected the “assertion” that the government had no plan to protect aged-care residents from COVID-19, and he ran through the list of things that had been done since the pandemic began, including the release of national guidelines for the prevention, control and public-health management of COVID-19 outbreaks in residential aged-care facilities, published by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA). Morrison said he would not yet respond to the aged-care commission, but would wait for its findings. He started to lecture the Opposition with such fury that he could barely articulate himself, telling Labor to “not seek to partisanise” the activities of the royal commission, or to adopt positions “that would only seek to undermine” it. The Opposition, undeterred, asked why it was only today – six months into the pandemic – that the federal government announced it would set up an Aged Care Advisory Group, responsible for providing aged-care policy advice to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. Morrison played down the announcement as an incremental addition “to an existing group that has already been established, and to expand its role and expand its membership”.
Through question after question, Morrison missed the point today. Whatever the federal government has done, it is not good enough because 328 vulnerable people (and rising) have lost their lives in terrible circumstances that were foreseen. The PM is now being hoist with his own petard, thanks to a royal commission that he can’t complain about because he established it. Morrison did apologise again today for the government’s failures in aged care, albeit in the abstract: “On those days when our efforts fall short, none are more sorry than I as prime minister.”
In the Senate, Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck showed contrition over his failure to remember how many people had died of COVID-19 in aged care at last week’s Senate inquiry hearing. “I offer my sincerest condolences and that of the government. It’s tragic – every single life that’s been lost is a tragedy … And I offer my apologies to them for not knowing the number.”
The government today finally released the official report into the Newmarch House disaster, which caused 19 deaths, with Nine newspapers reporting that two experts found that conflict over management and confusion over policy increased the dangers for aged-care residents. Labor aged-care spokeswoman Julie Collins told political editor David Crowe it was “heartbreaking and completely unforgivable” that the problems at Newmarch were subsequently repeated at multiple Victorian aged-care homes. This scandal will not be fobbed off.
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“New research shows Australia could immediately establish independent, transparent, routine monitoring and public reporting of many aspects of aged-care quality outcomes similar to leading countries like Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and the USA. Currently the Australian government has no care-quality outcome reporting for home care and reports on only three indicators for residential care. The research … shows a large range of quality outcome indicators can be produced from existing data without any burden to aged-care providers.”
“Grenville is as canny as she is imaginative. Look, she says in her fictional preface. I, Kate Grenville, found a metal box in the rafters of Elizabeth Farm containing Elizabeth’s real diary, and the woman portrayed is flesh and blood as opposed to the historical woman, the blurred wife of the more famous man. Buried within the invented words of Elizabeth Macarthur is the caution: Do not believe too quickly. This line is also the book’s epigraph. Belief has multiple sides.”
“Given the tenuous nature of Colbeck’s credentials, it might have been thought that he would have diligently mastered the basics of his portfolio, especially when facing a hostile Senate committee. His inability to recall the numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths in the nursing homes he was overseeing was therefore seen as major gaffe.”
“The federal government has been warned excessive and possibly illegal force is being used to resolve conflict inside Australia’s immigration detention centres, with more than 4000 assaults recorded in the past five years. In a review of detention centres published late last week, Commonwealth ombudsman Michael Manthorpe said that while force was sometimes ‘necessary and appropriate’ for safety, it was being used too readily, too often and not always proportionately.”
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 Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.
In Question Time this afternoon, the prime minister sought to pre-empt the inevitable questions about his government’s failings on aged care throughout this pandemic. Scott Morrison repeatedly pointed out that, in 97 per cent of Australia’s 2706 residential aged-care facilities, there have been no infections among residents. Ordinarily, a 97 per cent success rate would sound high, but when the consequences of failure in the remaining 3 per cent of facilities is a death toll of 328 among our most frail and vulnerable, it is nowhere near good enough. In a devastating opening statement today, Labor leader Anthony Albanese ran through the warnings that the Morrison government received from the interim report of the aged-care royal commission – titled “Neglect” – through to reports into the deadly outbreaks in Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House, through to health department advice...
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