Scott Morrison says the Victorian Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent has been passionate about aged care “for as long as I have known him” – but the prime minister has dismissed his colleague’s central complaint that problems in the sector stem from having private providers care for elderly people.
Morrison remains under pressure in parliament with Labor pursuing the government over its handling of the Covid-19 outbreak in residential aged care in Victoria that has claimed more than 300 lives.
Broadbent added his voice to the debate on Tuesday, telling Guardian Australia the events in his home state were “a disaster waiting to happen”. He said it had been a mistake by “successive governments over 30 years” to hand “the care of people into the private sector”.
The veteran Liberal moderate said he had been attempting to sound a warning about the sector’s vulnerability internally within the government for years “but I was ignored completely”.
As part of its ongoing pursuit of the government on aged care, Labor asked Morrison in question time on Wednesday why he had not listened to Broadbent’s advocacy. The opposition put the same question in the Senate to the minister for aged care, Richard Colbeck.
Morrison suggested Broadbent’s advocacy had been one of the factors which prompted the government to call a royal commission into aged care. The prime minister said Broadbent’s intervention reflected “the frustration he has had over a long career in this parliament”.
“Whether it’s public, private or not-for-profit is not the issue,” the Liberal leader said.
In the Senate, Colbeck said he respected his colleague’s views but “I don’t concede the government has ignored or dismissed Broadbent’s concerns”.
Colbeck was asked by Labor how many more aged care residents might still be alive if Broadbent’s warnings had been heeded. The minister objected to the question.
“It’s very, very unfortunate [Labor] seeks to make those correlations,” the minister said. “I take very seriously the views that Mr Broadbent has made, I believe the government is taking them into account by conducting a royal commission.”
Labor later upped the ante against Colbeck. During an interview on the ABC, the party’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, said the minister was incompetent and she would “not trust the care of my parents to him”.
Morrison also invoked his father during question time when he chided Labor to “show some respect”.
The prime minister’s father died earlier this year in residential aged care. Morrison said many Australian families understood when their parents entered a nursing home, they were entering pre-palliative care. “It was certainly the case in my own experience, in the decision that my family had to make, that my brother and I and my mother had to make when my father went into residential aged care.”
Morrison said demands on the sector were increasing significantly “and that means the actions need to be greater”.
Labor asked a series of questions about whether a government decision to cut $1.2bn from aged care when Morrison was treasurer had made a sector funded and regulated by the commonwealth more or less vulnerable during the pandemic.
Morrison declared funding had not been cut, citing a 2018 fact check by the ABC and RMIT that supported the government’s position. That fact check found that funding overall for aged care increased even though the government in 2016-17 pursued $1.2bn worth of efficiencies from the sector.
The budget papers say the government intended to pursue efficiencies worth $1.2bn through changes to the scoring of the aged care funding instrument and changes to indexation.
The prime minister said the government intended to increase funding for aged care in the October budget, and in next year’s budget, after the royal commission had handed down its findings.
“In the budget of this year, we will continue to address the many challenges there are in aged care, not only the more than $1bn that we’ve already put in to support our efforts to respond to Covid-19, but the other many issues that we continue to be aware of and have been acting on,” the prime minister said.
The government has faced heavy criticism since the counsel assisting the aged care royal commission, Peter Rozen QC, told that inquiry there was no specific Covid-19 plan and accused the federal government of displaying “a degree of self-congratulation and even hubris” in the crucial months between the Newmarch House outbreak in April and the developing situation in Victoria in mid-June.
The royal commissioners have this week also criticised the government for failing to establish independent monitoring and reporting of aged care quality outcomes. “It is unacceptable that in 2020 the aged care system is still without this,” the commissioners said on Monday.
“Had the Australian government acted upon previous reviews of aged care, the persistent problems in aged care would have been known much earlier and the suffering of many people could have been avoided.”
An independent review released on Monday about the outbreak at the Newmarch House aged care home in Sydney’s west – an outbreak predating the second wave of infections in Victoria – found that a lack of staff and confusion between the levels of government, worsened the crisis at that centre. Nineteen residents died and there were 71 cases among staff and residents during the outbreak.
Source: The Guardian