Thursday, 27 August 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Aged Care
My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. On 11 March the minister said in a media release that the Morrison government would:
… support aged care providers with personal protective equipment (PPE) resources for staff where it is needed, as part of the infection control measures.
The royal commission heard evidence that aged-care workers were told they could use only two masks per shift and only one glove. How did the minister allow this to happen?
The press release that Senator Polley refers to relates to our provision of PPE and surge workforce into residential aged-care facilities that have had a COVID-19 outbreak. That's exactly what we did. So every aged-care facility that has had a COVID-19 outbreak has had PPE provided to it. In fact, if you go back to that point in time you will note that there was a global shortage of PPE. This government has built a significant stockpile of PPE to provide—
It's on direct relevance. There was a direct question about two masks per shift and only one glove. It's reasonable, I think, for Australians to know why that occurred on this minister's watch. I would ask him to respond to that aspect of the question.
I'm listening carefully to the answer. The minister is talking about personal protective equipment and its provision, which is directly relevant to the question. There's an opportunity to debate questions after question time, but the minister is being directly relevant.
In every circumstance of a COVID-19 outbreak the first responder goes in and looks at the stocks of PPE in the facility to ensure that they are adequate and to ensure that—
Opposition senators interjecting—
'It's too late then,' was the interjection. All providers are required under the act to have adequate stocks of PPE. That is their responsibility. So the providers in that circumstance need to step up—
during an outbreak of COVID-19. One of the things that we have made sure of is that they have availability of PPE, because that is absolutely critical. PPE is critical in managing a COVID-19 outbreak in a facility—
So, in every circumstance where there's been an outbreak of COVID-19, we have ensured that there are adequate supplies of PPE in the facilities. That has been part of the work that our case managers have done on a daily basis to ensure that infection control can be managed within facilities.
An opposition senator: It didn't happen!
Senator Griff asked the minister, 'How much of the $205 million committed in May for staffing, training and PPE was actually spent on those items?' Can the minister now answer that question and can he confirm this $205 million was paid as a supplement and no conditions were imposed on the spending of the money?
Thanks, Senator Polley, for the question. As I said to Senator Griff earlier in the week, there will be reporting on that funding that was supplied to aged-care providers. It will be provided in their annual reconciliation, which is publicly reported. When that reconciliation comes in, it will be reported to the Aged Care Financing Authority and it will be publicly reported. It will be available for anyone to have a look at. We provided—
On direct relevance. He's had 24 hours to get this information. He might try and fob it off and say that there's an annual reconciliation. People are dying. A reasonable question about PPE has been asked. I'd ask the minister to answer it. He can hide behind procedures, but this is an important question.
Senator Wong, in raising this point of order, is completely disregarding your previous ruling—
Senator Wong interjecting—
She's even interjecting as I'm taking a point of order. Mr President, as presidents before you, including President Hogg, have said, you can ask the question and you can require the answer to be directly relevant, but you can't provide the answer yourself. If you want to take note of the answer, there is a time after question time to do so.
On the point of order, the minister—
Senator Wong interjecting—
I will rule when there's silence. The minister is talking about the matter raised in the question, the supplement. I cannot instruct him how to answer a question. There is an opportunity afterwards to debate answers. But he is being directly relevant to the question. Senator Colbeck.
Thank you, Mr President. As I was saying, all providers are required to lodge annual returns. There are conditions on those annual returns. That information will be available once those annual returns are submitted.
Melbourne aged-care worker Lina has said that infection bags filled with contaminated PPE were sitting in a 'big pile so high it was literally up to the neighbour's fence line'. Why has the minister still failed to ensure workers and residents have the protection they need and deserve?
The issue of waste PPE in Melbourne over the last four weeks has been quite a considerable one. If you consider that an aged-care facility with a COVID outbreak produces something in the order of six cubic metres of PPE waste per day, that creates quite a significant problem. One of the really good things that's occurred through the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre has been management of the waste. During that period of time we had a breakdown of one of the incinerators that was disposing of the waste of PPE in Victoria. We also had some regulatory problems in having enough heavy vehicles that were licensed to move the PPE away. But those things have been all been worked through, through the auspices of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre. It may very well have been that a nurse saw large piles of waste PPE outside a facility. The COVID-19 outbreak— (Time expired)