Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. When asked during question time about the Morrison government's plans to put ACAT out to tender, the minister said that it was 'actually implementing a recommendation from the Tune review'. Now that the minister has had time to consider that answer, can the minister confirm that the Tune review makes no recommendation that ACAT services be contracted out?
The government's intention with respect to ACAT and RAS services—the assessment teams for the aged-care sector—is to do what the Tune review recommended, which is to bring together a single assessment workforce. That's the government's intention. The government has never said, as the opposition continues to dishonestly claim, that we were going to privatise. We've never said that. I've reiterated that in the chamber a number of times, and the government has reiterated that a number of times in the statements we've made to the multitude of dishonest motions that the opposition has brought forward. We have never said that we wanted to privatise the assessment service, but what we want to do is to do what Tune said to do, which is to bring together a single assessment workforce. Further, the royal commission said that that was an urgent reform.
Opposition senators interjecting—
Order! I can't hear the minister's answer. We're wasting time in question time, which is normally considered to be a time for the non-government parties. I'm going to ask that people at least take a breath after I call the Senate to order. There's an opportunity after question time to debate answers. Senator Colbeck to continue.
We will continue to work cooperatively with the states to bring together a single assessment workforce for the aged-care sector across Australia. That is our determination. That is what we think will provide better service for senior Australians. Currently, within the assessment process, there are a number of issues. There are duplications that exist within the system that need to be resolved. There are people who indicate that they require palliative care services that aren't getting the referrals they need. Unfortunately, as the royal commission indicated, there are young people being referred to aged care by state government ACAT systems that shouldn't be referred to aged care. The system needs to be resolved, and that is the government's determination.
Mr Russell Broadbent MP said in the House of Representatives yesterday said that he had read the Tune review's recommendations on ACAT, saying:
It doesn't say that this area should be contracted out.
Is the minister's Liberal colleague correct?
Mr President, I have a point of order on direct relevance. This minister, instead of misleading or engaging immediately in an attack on the questioner, should do his job and answer the question. Mr Broadbent's quote is a direct contradiction of the minister. We're asking the minister to explain.
The minister was being directly relevant because he was about to explain how the system currently works. Indeed, it is actually not working the way Senator Polley has repeatedly asserted and the way other Labor members have previously asserted.
Senator Cormann and Senator Wong, I'm going to respectfully disagree with both of you in that, after the minister speaking for seven seconds and not having got to a punctuation mark in his first sentence, I am incapable of ruling on whether the answer is directly relevant. Senator Colbeck may continue.
I reject the assertion that Senator Polley has made with respect to contracting out the service. As things currently stand, the Commonwealth does not deliver any services. We contract to the states for ACAT services and we contract to RASes for other assessments.
Minister Colbeck is clearly being directly relevant. He's at pains to explain why the premise of the question, which somehow seems to suggest that there is a plan for privatisation, is incorrect. How we are implementing the Tune review recommendations is being directly relevant to the subject matter raised.
On the point of order, the minister is being directly relevant. He is directly dealing, from my notes, with the quotation that was used in the question. Your point of order, Senator Polley, goes to a preferred method of answer, which is not a matter for the chair. The minister is addressing the quotation in the question, in my view.
Mr President, I accept that ruling. I have a different point of order. My point of order also goes to direct relevance. The quote is Mr Broadbent's, not Senator Polley's. So it is not in order for the minister to assert that Senator Polley's position is incorrect.
The minister is of course being directly relevant because he is explaining why the misrepresentations that have been made by Labor and which may have been taken onboard by a member in the other place are inaccurate.
Senator Wong interjecting—
Order, Senator Wong! With respect, I'm listening very carefully to the minister's answer. I am not convinced that is a characterisation of what he was doing. If he was, I would also be of the view that that is a matter for debating the merits of answers after question time. Senator Colbeck can continue.
As I was saying, the Tune review recommended bringing together a seamless workforce. In fact, the Tune review says, 'It should be a priority to combine the RAS and ACAT assessment workforces.' That is what the government is determined to do. I have had a very amiable conversation with Mr Broadbent, and we agree on the outcomes of the process.
Mr Broadbent and I, as I just said, have had a very amiable conversation with respect to his views and what the government would like to see. It is as I have been saying ad nauseam for a period of time. We want to bring together the ACAT and the RAS services, as recommended by the Tune review. They said to bring them together and create a single assessment workforce. Mr Broadbent agrees with me that that's what should happen. He wants to see, like the rest of the government wants to see, senior Australians getting access to the best possible assessment service through a process that doesn't provide repetition but provides them with timely assessments, which are not happening now, and provides them with a similar experience across the country. Reform is required in this space.