The outgoing finance minister Mathias Cormann has defended aged care minister Richard Colbeck, saying he believed Colbeck was a “very effective minister” who should be judged on his overall performance.
Colbeck was unable to immediately provide a Senate committee on Friday with the number of people who have died in the aged care sector during the pandemic, a performance the opposition described as “embarrassing”.
Colbeck later apologised, saying the Morrison government “didn’t get everything right”, but continued to maintain the government had been prepared for what it thought would be the worse-case scenarios.
Cormann said Colbeck was an effective behind-the-scenes operator.
“Richard Colbeck does a very good job, he’s very effective in working with the sector, facing significant challenges – I mean it’s not as straightforward proposition, dealing with the impacts of this sort of pandemic with a highly infectious virus, like this in the context of a very vulnerable sector in our community,” he said from Western Australia.
“I’m sure that he regrets, I’m sure he regrets not having I think that number of these fingertips, but I don’t think that you can judge overall his performance in that portfolio on that basis.
“I see Richard Colbeck, and how he performs, you know, in, in the context of, for example the expenditure review committee for obtaining and securing additional resources for the aged care sector, through our internal processes that is very effective. And I believe that the aged sector knows he can be very effective.”
His comments echo those of the prime minister, who also said on Friday that he had confidence in Colbeck.
A total of 313 aged care residents diagnosed with Covid-19 have died since the beginning of the pandemic. As of Sunday, there were 1,616 active cases of Covid-19 across Victoria’s aged care sector. Eleven of the 17 new deaths announced in Victoria on Sunday were linked to outbreaks in aged care facilities.
The federal government has strongly rejected criticism, including from the aged care royal commission, that it was not prepared for the pandemic’s impact, particularly on the workforce, with centres struggling to find enough staff.
Last week, Scott Morrison responded to criticism of the federal government’s aged care response by pointing the finger at the states – in this case Victoria, where the recent Covid-19 outbreak has ravaged aged care homes – as responsible for public health.
“Well public health, we regulate aged care, but when there is a public health pandemic, then public health, which, whether it gets into aged care, shopping centres, schools or anywhere else, then they are things that are matters for Victoria. So I don’t think that it is as binary as you suggest,” he said.
Cormann also pointed to the Covid situation in Melbourne as exacerbating the issue.
“Clearly, the aged care sector is one of the most vulnerable sectors, when it comes to the impact of this sort of pandemic,” he said.
“And, you know, if you’ve got a jurisdiction like Victoria, where there is a massive outbreak, then you’ve got jurisdiction, and given what’s happening in that jurisdiction, the aged care sector inevitably is particularly exposed.”
Cormann said with the announcement of another $171m in funding for the aged sector, a spend which was overshadowed by Colbeck’s memory lapse, the government had now put “more than a billion dollars in specific support measures in place to support the aged care sector” but added there was “a practical limit to how effective that sadly can be in the context of a virus like this”.
Labor aged care spokeswoman, Julie Collins, said families were waiting for the government to “accept responsibility” and tell people “how they will fix it”.
“The government was warned on nearly all of the issues,” Collins said.
“Can the public now have the confidence they will actually be able to fix this?”
Source: The Guardian