The Politics    Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Blame game

By Paddy Manning

Blame game
The Morrison government can’t dodge responsibility for conditions in Victorian nursing homes

As the elderly, frail and vulnerable succumb to COVID-19 in horrific circumstances in Commonwealth funded and regulated nursing homes across Melbourne, Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck was busy bright-siding the disaster this morning, telling Nine’s Today Show that “there’s much more that is good about this sector than bad”. That’s a disdainful comment given what The Herald Sun [$] has revealed about conditions inside the “horror homes” where outbreaks have occurred: faeces were found in beds and patients were left unfed for days at St Basil’s in Fawkner; staff at Epping Gardens Aged Care were forced to call triple-0 because there were only four of them on duty; and Australian Defence Force personnel have raised serious concerns for their safety after being deployed to help at Epping Gardens. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is not helping by saying it is “inevitable” that aged-care facilities will see COVID-19 infections due to the high amount of community transmission in Victoria. He appeared to be making light of it all by quipping: “When it rains, everyone gets wet.” Morrison, who has been engaged in a blame game with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, today promised there will be more funding for aged care in the October federal budget. But funding is only part of the problem, and increasing it will achieve nothing if it goes straight into the pockets of providers. It’s the neoliberal model of private service provision under light-touch regulation that needs addressing. 

Journalist Samantha Maiden has revealed the blame game between the Commonwealth and Victorian governments over the aged-care crisis, including a series of robust text messages between Morrison and Andrews. The PM blamed the premier for failing to relieve staffing pressure on the sector by cancelling elective surgery earlier. Victorian officials responded by accusing the Morrison government of bungling the crisis and describing a “sh*tshow” at the affected nursing homes. Andrews has insisted that short of “taking people off operating tables” the state could not have responded faster to the Morrison government’s request.

Along with blaming the Andrews government for allowing the virus into the community by mishandling hotel quarantine, the Coalition is trying to use the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety as a cover to escape blame for the COVID crisis in Victorian nursing homes. “We understand that there are some issues with aged care in this country,” Colbeck said this morning. “That’s why we’re having a royal commission. I mean, we called a royal commission so we could get a forensic look at the entire sector, and then design a policy off the back of that.” But the problems in aged care are longstanding and the Coalition, in power for seven years, cannot absolve itself of responsibility. The PM has refused to acknowledge his own share of the blame: his first budget as treasurer allowed for $1.2 billion in aged care “efficiencies”. Although, a fact check by the ABC and RMIT found that Labor’s claim that this was a cut was misleading, because it was offset by increased aged-care funding elsewhere. The fact check deemed that “an adjustment to future spending does not represent a ‘cut’ when the overall level of spending continues to rise”.

Acknowledging that “some” aged-care facilities were a problem, Colbeck’s response beggared belief when he claimed that the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission “watch those [facilities] very closely, and we work with them with respect to their standards”. If that’s the case, why is the commission only now, suddenly, threatening to withdraw the licence of St Basil’s?  

“It’s not us versus them, Victoria versus the Commonwealth, in this sense. It’s all of us versus the virus,” Colbeck pleaded. But the blame game over the unfolding crisis in Victoria under the pressure of the second wave – combined with the sparring over border closes in WA and Queensland – could mark the moment when the solidarity of the national cabinet begins to crack. Rambling press conferences and fast-and-loose national cabinet meetings can only take the running of Australia so far. As Labor leader Anthony Albanese said today, enough is enough: “Parliament has to meet.”

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“It’s been incredibly secretive, and I’ve been respecting that process for as long as possible in an attempt to try to protect Kylie, and to try to respect the wishes of her family. But I’m also a Middle East expert … and the transfer to Qarchak prison suggests that the softly-softly approach is unfortunately not working.”

ANU lecturer Dr Jessie Moritz breaks her silence after Melbourne University lecturer Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who has been held in Iran for almost two years, was this week transferred to the notorious Qarchak prison.

“They are a single-issue group, that’s one of my big concerns. And its members need take no account of the economic, and therefore jobs, consequences of the policies, which they collectively embrace. And, of course, they are constantly out there trying to drag the Labor Party beyond its settled sensible positions.”

Shadow minister for resources and agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon agrees with Canberra radio host Stephen Cenatiempo that the Greens have infiltrated the Labor Party.

Who is Neville Power, the man leading Australia’s coronavirus recovery?
The prime minister has revamped the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, the body he tasked with leading Australia’s pandemic recovery. But what do we really know about Neville Power, the man in charge? Today, Margaret Simons on Power’s background, and what the commission is actually doing.

The value of Sun Cable’s 10GW project – backed by billionaires Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew Forrest, to export renewable energy from the Northern Territory to South-East Asia – which has been awarded “major project” status by the federal government.

“The oil and gas industry is facing an enormous challenge in recovering from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current market conditions are arguably the most challenging the industry has ever seen, with demand destruction, excess supply and oil prices falling more than 75 per cent over the first four months of 2020. The industry faces the challenge of how to return to growth and best place the industry to respond in supporting Australia’s economic recovery.”

Andrew McConville, chief executive of lobby group the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, speaks about the reform blueprint for a gas-led recovery from COVID-19, to be presented to the prime minister.

The list

“Criminal law is necessary, sometimes. But against 10-year-old kids? Class and race are the only lenses through which, when I was working as a criminal lawyer, I could make sense of the keenness with which schools and child ‘protection’ officers and youth ‘justice’ workers and police laid charges against certain primary school–aged kids … A child in court surely represents the ultimate failure of those institutions, and of society. Despite our legislated commitment to each child’s ‘best interests’ we turn our collective failures back onto the child. We punish and blame where we should nurture.”

“Men who reach the top in politics are never just normal guys. They have above-average ambition for starters, thicker skins, and greater self-belief and will to power, as well as being much better paid than the average Joe. But compared with his immediate predecessors, Morrison does look normal. Tony Abbott was too weird and Malcolm Turnbull too rich to represent widely shared experiences.”

Hamilton is one of the biggest musicals since God knows when – probably The Phantom of the Opera if not My Fair Lady. It assimilates rap and hip-hop to the world of show-tune melody and, with the exception of George III, all the characters are played by actors of colour. It has every chance of fascinating, if not thrilling, every kind of audience, if you allow for the fact that Hamilton’s reputation is so gargantuan that nothing could quite live up to the expectations it raises.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning 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.

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