Senate debates

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Questions without Notice

Aged Care

2:10 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. Yesterday the minister was not able to advise the Senate how many older Australians had died in aged care this year not as a result of COVID-19 but as a result of neglect. When asked about the deaths by neglect, the minister shrugged and dismissed deaths as 'one of the functions of residential aged care'. Can the minister today outline to the Senate—

Hon. Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, across the chamber! Senator Watt! Senators Payne and Wong! Senator Keneally, I will ask you to continue your question from the conclusion of the quotation you referenced.

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Can the minister today advise the Senate how many older Australians have died as a result of neglect in aged-care residential homes he is responsible for?

2:11 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to say again, the dishonest misinterpretation—

Hon. Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

or misuse of my words by Labor again, and the mischaracterisation of what I was saying yesterday, continues in the chamber. Senator Keneally is a master at this. In fact, she attacked the former CMO in a Senate inquiry over the use of language—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, I can anticipate it, but I am going to let you make your point of order.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order on direct relevance: the response is not directly relevant to the question, which is a serious question about how many people have died as a result of neglect in aged-care homes for which this minister is responsible?

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Cormann on the point of order.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister could not be more directly relevant. Just because he's not following the partisan political script that Labor would like him to follow doesn't make him irrelevant.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

On the point of order: Senator Wong has a point on the minister turning to characterising other actions of the first senator who asked the question. That is not directly relevant. It is, however, directly relevant that the minister, immediately prior to that, was challenging the way a quotation was used to characterise a question. Turning to other conduct of a senator asking a question, however, is not directly relevant. But the minister is allowed to challenge the way the question was put.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

What I did yesterday was to merely state a fact—to state a fact, Mr President—that about 60,000 Australians pass away in aged care every year. It is a sad fact. I don't believe that you could characterise, in any sense—

Senator Watt interjecting

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't think that you could characterise in any sense the question that Senator Keneally tries to imply—

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a direct quote. They're your words.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, how do you classify what Senator Keneally is trying to pursue? There are 40 per cent of residents in aged-care facilities in this country who pass away with no visitors. Yes, the royal commission's report talked about neglect. It talked about the system that we have all—

Senator Keneally interjecting

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

that governments over a period of time have not built to a standard that it should be. That is the focus of this government. We want to see all senior Australians treated with respect in a healthy and safe way and ensure that all residential aged-care providers are providing aged care in a way that we all expect. The royal commission's report—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator Colbeck! Senator Keneally, a supplementary question?

2:14 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

The head of Monash University's Health Law and Ageing Research Unit, Professor Joseph Ibrahim, told the royal commission:

… hundreds of residents are and will die prematurely, because people have failed to act.

Isn't this why the royal commission has characterised the Morrison government's handling of aged care with a single word: neglect?

2:15 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

The government has contested the evidence provided to the royal commission by Professor Ibrahim, and that was quite strongly contested by the former chief medical officer and now secretary of my department at the hearing of the royal commission just a few weeks ago. So we contest the evidence provided to the royal commission by Professor Ibrahim. Senator Keneally might like to select one witness; that's fine. The Labor Party can select one witness who suits their particular argument. But the government has been working with the sector since January to assist them to be prepared for COVID-19, which is the subject Professor Ibrahim was talking about, and we quite rightly took the opportunity to contest the evidence provided to the royal commission by Professor Ibrahim.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Keneally, a final supplementary question?

2:16 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government refused to act when the royal commission said it would take an additional $621 million per year to improve the aged-care system. Why is the minister putting off until tomorrow what he knows older Australians need today? How can Australians possibly have confidence he will protect Australians in aged care?

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

The report Senator Keneally refers to is a submission made to the royal commission recently. It makes an assessment of the aged-care sector based on a number of combined criteria, not the criteria we are using in the context of the assessment of quality of care. It makes a number of estimates as to what the cost might be with respect to the system as it currently stands. But what we're looking to do is to improve the aged-care system. That is the whole point of the royal commission. So the point of that report is to assess the system as it stands now and to give the royal commission and the government some direction as to where we might go in the future, including on a range of issues incorporating potential additional costs under a number of different frameworks—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, Senator Colbeck! Senator Hanson-Young.