Scott Morrison has shrugged off a Senate censure of the aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, as Labor doubled down in its pursuit of the federal government over its performance during the Covid-19 outbreak in Victoria.
The Senate on Thursday censured Colbeck for failing to recall basic “and tragic facts” about aged care residents, dismissing deaths as a function of aged care, and failing to take responsibility for a crisis in the sector.
Senate censures are rare events, but Morrison suggested on Thursday that Colbeck was in respectable company. The prime minister noted John Howard, Paul Keating, Gareth Evans and “my good friend Graham Richardson” had previously been censured by that chamber.
With Labor continuing to press the government in question time, the prime minister acknowledged there were “many serious issues that require addressing in aged care” which is why the government had ordered a royal commission into the sector.
“It is the very reason why the government, in particular, at the strong urging and recommendation of the minister for aged care, has continued to increase funding for aged care by over a billion dollars every year,” Morrison said.
“It is the reason why the minister for aged care came to the cabinet and said we needed to do more in aged care in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and did so in response to the plan that was first launched back in March, and flagged in the Covid pandemic plan, and that has now led to $1.5bn being brought and resources to bear in response to the Covid pandemic.”
Morrison acknowledged there had been “terrible outcomes” during the second wave in Victoria, but he continued to argue the majority of the sector was unaffected during the pandemic.
“The truth is that some 8% of facilities in total in Australia, 8% in total, have been affected by Covid infections both by staff and by residents themselves, and that compares to 56% in the United Kingdom,” the prime minister said.
While the government has been under sustained pressure because of hundreds of fatalities in Victoria, and because the counsel assisting the royal commission into aged care has contended the commonwealth lacked a plan for the pandemic, the government is continuing to insist its actions were appropriate.
There have been 460 deaths in aged care during the pandemic.
“The actions that have been put in place by the government has ensured that we have been able to mitigate what has been a terrible blow as a result of Covid-19 across this country, including in the aged care sector,” Morrison said.
But Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, counselled the prime minister to take the Senate’s rebuke of Colbeck and the government more seriously.
“A censure of a minister is a very rare motion,” she said on Thursday. “It is a motion which is expressing no confidence in a minister.
“This is the first time we’ve moved and had a censure motion that has succeeded in five years, which gives you some sense of how rarely this happens.
“We didn’t move it lightly but we did it because we wanted the parliament to send a strong message – Australians don’t have confidence in the handling of aged care, neither does the parliament.”
Source: The Guardian