Tuesday, 1 September 2020
Questions without Notice
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—
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—
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?
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.
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—
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—
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—
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?
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.
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?
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—