Senate debates

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Aged Care

2:27 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. In its response to the final report on the Newmarch House COVID-19 outbreak, the Liberal New South Wales government determined:

… neither the Commonwealth nor Anglicare Executive had an operational plan for how the residents should be managed.

Why did the minister fail to have a COVID-19 plan for aged care?

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

As we've discussed a number of times in this chamber, there are responsibilities of varying parties with respect to who controls what particular matters. As I've said before in the chamber, the responsibility for the public health response to a COVID-19 aged-care outbreak lies with the state government. That information is actually confirmed in the agreement we have published on the New South Wales health department's website, and on ours—that the public health response lies with the New South Wales government.

Aged-care providers are all required to have an infection control management plan—

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

Senator McAllister on a point of order.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

My point of order goes to relevance. I asked why there was a failure to plan. So far I've heard about a public health response. Mr President, I would ask you to ask the minister to return to the question.

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

I'm listening carefully to the minister. That was the end of the question, and I appreciate that the preamble was quite narrow. I'm unwilling to go to the exact terminology a minister uses to rule on direct relevance, whether it be a response or a plan. I'll continue to listen carefully.

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

The COVID-19 National Health Plan, which was released early in March, contemplates a range of health responses, including for those in residential aged care, and is supported by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia guidelines, which provide advice to residential aged-care providers on how they will establish themselves to manage a COVID-19 outbreak. All of these things are considered. So our plan, backed up by the COVID-19 National Health Plan, which was launched in March of this year, supported by the CDNA guidelines, contemplates the cooperation between state and Commonwealth in the management and the public health management of a COVID-19 outbreak, and that's exactly what occurred at Newmarch House.

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

Senator McAllister, a supplementary question?

2:30 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

In its response, the Liberal New South Wales government also found:

… Anglicare had difficulty acquiring adequate supplies from the Commonwealth Government medical stockpile.

Although the provision of PPE is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government, NSW Health stepped in to provide this equipment …

Isn't this yet another failure and another example of the Morrison government's neglect of aged care and of its failure to take responsibility to fix it?

2:31 pm

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

As the COVID-19 National Health Plan contemplates, the national government provides—and this government built a significant stockpile of PPE at a time of global shortage. We do support residential aged care and we do that in cooperation with state governments. In fact, much of the PPE is channelled through state government services to providers around the country. So this is not an either/or situation. Both the Commonwealth and the states support residential aged-care providers, and that is what occurred in this particular circumstance. New South Wales provided support directly to Newmarch House and we backfilled their stockpile. So there is a cooperation and there was a cooperation at Newmarch House. My conversations on a regular basis with the— (Time expired)

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

Senator McAllister, a final supplementary question?

2:32 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

If even the New South Wales Liberal government led by Premier Berejiklian—a state which the Prime Minister commended last week as being the 'gold standard'—doesn't have confidence in the Morrison government's handling of aged care, why should anyone else?

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

Labor never cease to put words into other people's mouths. They just make things up, assert somebody else might have implied them or said them and then bring them into question time. All through the Newmarch House outbreak, the New South Wales health minister and I were in regular discussion to ensure that we were both asking the questions that needed to be asked to ensure the provider had resources in every sense that they were required. In fact, we worked extremely closely together to ensure that occurred. It was a very cooperative process.

Senator Keneally interjecting

That's a lie, Senator Keneally. That is a lie. I spoke to—

Senator Keneally interjecting

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

He took my interjection. So I ask your indulgence so that I can correct the record.

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

You don't get to correct the record via a point of order. I'm going to carefully review what he said. I heard a word there that would normally be unparliamentary but it depends if it was directed at somebody personally. Senator Colbeck, I'll ask you to withdraw that.

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

If it will assist, I'll withdraw.

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

But I had very regular conversations and discussions with Minister Hazzard to ensure that services were provided at Newmarch House. It was very much a cooperative process all through the COVID-19 outbreak at Newmarch House.