Wednesday, 26 August 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Aged Care
My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. In July, the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, said that the sudden withdrawal of aged-care workers during a COVID-19 outbreak couldn't be anticipated or foreshadowed. Why did the Morrison government fail to implement the aged-care workforce strategy promised by former Minister Fifield six years ago?
Thank you to Senator Ciccone for his question, online from Victoria. The government is actually in the process of implementing the workforce strategy that was developed by the work of Professor Pollaers. In May last year we funded and established, or industry funded and established, the Aged Care Workforce Industry Council. That is industry led, which is quite appropriate. And we continue to implement other reforms out of the work of the Pollaers report.
That includes the research institute that Professor Pollaers recommended, and the workforce industry council appointed its first CEO in June this year. So we continue to apply the work that was recommended by Professor Pollaers. I have had a number of conversations with him recently about that process and in fact how we might speed up the process, because that's a concern that both he and I share. So not only do we continue to work and consult with the sector with respect to the implementation of the Pollaers report but I continue to consult with Professor Pollaers. He put considerable work into that report and we have had discussions only in recent times with respect to the process, that we may be able to speed up the work that was recommended by him. That's given that industry, quite rightly, leads the workforce industry council, as they are the employers and trainers of their workforce.
But there is some work that I think we can do together to increase the pace of that work—
Honourable senators interjecting—
In 2018, the chair of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce, Professor Pollaers, said about the government's handling of aged care:
They have known about these issues … There's plenty of reports that have told them, but they have ducked it. … the government has made no progress … they've sat on the report.
Why has this Morrison government ignored the warnings of its own task force?
I would not accept the premise of the question. I've clearly just explained the fact that we haven't ignored the work of Professor Pollaers's report. I've explained the fact that we have, following his report, established with industry the workforce industry council. That was established by the sector in May last year. They appointed their first CEO in June this year and they continue to build their workforce plans. That is their role and that is their responsibility. We have funded their work, which is what the report recommended.
So I reject the premise of the question that we have not acted on the report by Professor Pollaers. We continue to do that.
The aged-care royal commission's interim report, handed down in October last year, titled Neglect, revealed significant understaffing across the sector. Brendan, from Victoria, said his 94-year-old mother, who was removed from her room after testing positive for COVID-19, was found not to have been showered for four days due to staffing shortages. Why did the Morrison government ignore the royal commission's warning?
The royal commission in its interim report last year made a number of suggestions to the government which we immediately took up. It talked to us about an additional investment into—
An opposition senator: Then why wasn't she given a shower for four days?
It talked to us about an additional investment into home-care places, it talked to us about getting young people out of residential aged care—it talked to us about a range of things that we have acted on and acted on immediately.
During the circumstance—and I'm not sure which facility Senator Ciccone is talking about—there were some circumstances which the government have said we wish hadn't occurred. We have had knowledge that in some circumstances some residents didn't get the care that they received in the events that occurred in Victoria, particularly in about four facilities that were quite critical at the time. We have acknowledged and apologised for those circumstances. (Time expired)