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. Today, before walking out of the chamber and turning his back on the scrutiny of the Senate, the minister referred to his management of aged care as 'a high-water mark'. Last week the minister admitted that in 'some circumstances we haven't got it right'. Can the minister tell us today: what hasn't he got right?
I thank the senator for her question. I was very deliberate with what I said in my presentation to the Senate this morning. I have great respect for the processes of the Senate; it's an important process that we follow here. I have said—and the Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions—that there are some things we haven't got right. We've quoted the example of the time when we had 24 hours to find completely new staffing for St Basil's in Melbourne, where things didn't happen in the way that we had hoped that they might. So we've been very open with respect to those things.
I have acknowledged in this place a number of times this week—and I did it again this morning—that I should have had the mortality numbers with me last Friday when I appeared before the Senate committee. I've admitted and acknowledged that on a number of occasions, and I've apologised on a number of occasions—quite appropriately.
We've been very open about the circumstance in Victoria. We've continued to build the effort. We've continued to build our response to ensure that Victorians in aged care get the quality of care that they deserve. The proof of the pudding of that is in the results that we're seeing now in residential aged-care facilities, where we've actually improved the number of facilities that are on our red list from 13 a few weeks ago, when we established the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, now to three. In my briefing this morning we only specifically had conversations about two of those. We continue to work in the interests of senior Australians, and that's exactly what we'll continue to do.
When the circumstances at St Basil's occurred in the way that they did, it was clearly obvious to me that we didn't get it right. If the Senate would like to check the record, we acknowledged that very quickly. That's why we've continued to build the response that we've built in Victoria: to ensure that we do provide a high quality of care to senior Australians.
These are important and sensitive matters and the minister is doing his best to provide answers to the questions. He is constantly interrupted by interjections. Interjections are always disorderly.
On the point of order: interjections are always disorderly. I generally apply the rule, as I do with questions, that the mood of the chamber is set by the questioner or the speaker. In this case I would say both the questioner and the speaker are actually speaking in a rather respectful manner and, therefore, it is not an appropriate time to be somewhat more boisterous. I remind senators of the standing orders.
We will continue to work towards the best interests of Victorian aged-care residents in conjunction with the Victorian government, which we've done very cooperatively, particularly since we established the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre. As I said this morning, it has brought together the decision-making processes of the Victorian health system and the national aged-care system to make sure that resources are available for the appropriate care of residents in aged-care facilities that have COVID-19 outbreaks within them.
This week, the minister has boasted that, despite more than 360 deaths in aged care, he has responded 'incredibly well', that we are in a 'good position' and that we are 'extremely fortunate' and today referred to his handling as a 'high-water mark'. Why is this minister more focused on self-congratulation than getting it right?
That term is not unparliamentary. It's not appropriate for the chair nor is it appropriate for me to begin ruling on matters of interpretation such as that. It is not unparliamentary language, so I won't be asking the minister to withdraw.
The Labor Party this week have consistently taken my comments out of context in a deliberate attempt to portray what I said in a different way. As I said earlier, I was very deliberate with my comments this morning. Our circumstances in an international context are so much better than those overseas. That doesn't mean that the circumstances here aren't difficult, that the circumstances here aren't tragic or that the deaths that have been suffered are anything but tragic. It doesn't mean any of those things. But I am not going to—