Monday, 31 August 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Aged Care
My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck: Tragically, more than 457 aged-care residents have died from COVID-19, and there are now more than 951 active cases of residential—
Government senators interjecting—
Tragically, more than 457 aged-care residents have died from COVID-19, and there are now more than 951 active cases in residential aged care. A 77-year-old St Basil's resident who did not contract COVID-19 died after suffering dehydration and malnutrition which accelerated her dementia and led to her death. Doctors have described her situation as a case of neglect. How many Australians have died in aged care this year not as a result of COVID-19 but as a result of neglect?
It is quite tragic that Labor seek to try and play politics with the passing of senior Australians in residential aged care. There are about 60,000 Australians who die in residential aged care on an annual basis unfortunately, but that's one of the functions of residential aged care. I don't have statistics on—
Opposition senators interjecting—
The objective of the Australian aged-care system is to provide all residents in residential aged care with a high quality of care across the nation. That is the focus and the purpose of our residential aged-care system and the regulatory framework that supports it, but, as we know—
Direct relevance: I asked this minister how many Australians have died as a consequence of neglect in the context, particularly, if I may say, of the report entitled Neglect handed down by his royal commission. If he's not able to answer the question, could he take it on notice?
I'm listening carefully to the minister's answer. In my view, if he is talking about people passing away in aged care, he doesn't have to adopt the terminology or the assumption of the question but he does have to limit himself to that particular topic to be directly relevant. I think he is at the moment but I will listen carefully. Senator Colbeck.
As I was saying, we all acknowledge that there are things that need to be improved about the aged-care sector in this country. That's why we're having a royal commission. That's why one of the first acts of this Prime Minister, Prime Minister Morrison, was to call a royal commission. I've heard Labor MPs trotting around this place over the last few days claiming that they supported it when they didn't, including then leader Mr Shorten.
I have a point of order on direct relevance. How many Australians have died in aged care this year as a result of neglect? It is a reasonable question. I'd ask the minister to return to it.
I think that what Senator Colbeck was explaining is that it's not actually a black-and-white question the way Senator Wong is seeking to frame it, and he was making precisely that point. He was addressing very directly that this is not a question that can be answered in the way that Senator Wong is seeking for political reasons.
The motive of a particular question is not for me to make an observation on. There are times to debate it. Senator Wong, I would normally have pulled the minister up on the royal commission issue, but you did raise it in your previous point of order, so I was giving him some discretion to deal with that point that was raised. As I've said before, if the minister is confining his answer to the passing away of people in aged care, then he is being directly relevant. I'm listening carefully, and he seems to be, so I'll call on the minister to continue. Senator Colbeck.
Across the country, as I said earlier, there are about 60,000 people who pass away in residential aged care on an annual basis. The whole purpose of our system is to provide a system that is supportive, that provides a high quality of care, and this government clearly has an ambition to improve that quality of care. That's why we're undertaking the process that we're currently undertaking.
The former minister for sport, Senator McKenzie, resigned as a result of the sports rorts scandal. This minister has ignored the interim report of the royal commission entitled Neglect, the warnings from the northern hemisphere, the warnings from experts and unions, the warnings of Dorothy Henderson Lodge in March and Newmarch House in April, and more than 457 aged-care residents have died from COVID-19. Minister, why haven't you resigned?
The government, since January, have worked closely with the aged-care sector firstly on preparedness and then we have resourced the sector in that preparedness. We've continued to provide oversight of the sector to ensure that they are prepared but also, if they're not, that additional measures are put in place, and that's what this government will continue to do. The Labor Party can play its political 'gotcha' games all it likes, but we will continue to do exactly what we have done today in announcing additional resources and measures to support the sector as it works its way through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under Prime Minister Howard, when one person died connected to the kerosene bath scandal, former minister Bronwyn Bishop lost her job. Under this minister, aged-care residents are so neglected that one had ants crawling from open wounds and residents are dying of neglect. Why doesn't this minister resign, and why doesn't he allow someone like former shadow minister for mental health and ageing and senior senator from New South Wales, Senator Fierravanti-Wells, to replace him?
What I will continue to do and what the government will continue to do is follow the medical advice and provide the systems and the resources that are available to the aged-care sector so that they can manage the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that senior Australians get the care that they deserve. That's what we've done in Victoria by partnering with the Victorian government to establish the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, and that's what we've done today through the announcements that I've made along with the minister to ensure that the sector has the resources that it needs.