Senate debates

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Aged Care

2:39 pm

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Government Accountability) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. Does the minister agree with the counsel assisting the aged care royal commission, Mr Peter Rozen QC, that the stories of large-scale death in aged-care homes in the Northern Hemisphere in February and March meant:

The Australian aged care sector and the government agencies that fund and regulate it were on notice about the particular vulnerability of the elderly residents in our own care homes.

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

The government and the health officers, the CMOs and CHOs, from around the country were all very well aware that senior Australians were extremely vulnerable to this terrible virus, COVID-19. We all very much knew that it could have a devastating impact. We all knew that. That's why in our plan to deal with COVID-19 in this country, including in aged care, the national COVID-19 healthcare plan, aged care was a significant component. That's why the AHPPC put that document together, to support the government's response to COVID-19 across the country, including in aged care, supported by the guidelines provided by the CDNA to the aged-care sector. It was all part of our plan to deal with COVID-19 across the country.

So from the beginning of the year, from January, we started working closely with the aged-care sector, providing advice on how providers would improve their infection control plans, how they should upgrade their procedures with respect to the utilisation of PPE and how they should upgrade the plans within their facilities so they could be prepared in the circumstance of an outbreak.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission also started working with providers to test their preparedness. So, yes, we were well aware of the vulnerabilities of the aged-care sector and of those who reside within it, very well aware. That's why our plan, right from the outset, contemplated a number of actions, based on the AHPPC advice through the COVID-19 health management plan that was issued during February.

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

Order! Senator Kitching, supplementary question?

2:42 pm

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Government Accountability) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Given the warnings of Dorothy Henderson Lodge in March and Newmarch House in April, why did the minister still wait until June to advise aged-care providers that 80 to 100 per cent of their workforce might need to isolate in a major outbreak?

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

The advice that an aged-care provider might expect to have to replace its own staff was contained in the early advice from the CDNA back in March this year, which contemplated that an aged-care provider might—

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

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

Order on my left! Senator Keneally, Senator Watt! Senator Wong!

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

be required to replace 30 to 40 per cent of its workforce should they be required to isolate. What we saw as the pandemic proceeded was the circumstance at Newmarch, where that number grew significantly. In fact, even the report into Newmarch that we received said that that level of staff isolation was not contemplated—couldn't be. (Time expired)

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

Senator Kitching, a final supplementary question?

2:43 pm

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Government Accountability) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] This minister was warned of the need to bolster the aged-care workforce in the 2018 aged-care workforce strategy, the October 2019 aged-care royal commission interim report, entitled Neglect,and in the early aged-care outbreaks. Again and again, the minister ignored the warnings and failed to act. How can Australians in aged care and their families possibly have confidence in this minister?

2:44 pm

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

I completely reject the premise of the question. We acted very quickly to bolster the aged-care workforce through the surge capacity we announced on 11 March this year. So we acted very quickly. Before Dorothy Henderson Lodge was over, we acted extremely quickly because we saw what had happened. We had received the advice of the AHPPC, so we put in place over $100 million in capacity for surge workforce early in March. So I completely reject the premise of the question. We acted quickly to make sure that resources were available to residential aged care in this country so that any facility that was impacted had the capacity to be supported by the government in the form that it needed to continue to provide quality care.

2:45 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, 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. How many residents of aged-care facilities funded and regulated by the Morrison government have passed away from COVID-19? How many active cases of COVID-19 are there currently in Australia's aged-care system?

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

As of eight o'clock this morning there were 462 Australians who had passed away across Australia from COVID-19—

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Are you saying he killed them, are you?

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

and there were 876—

An honourable senator interjecting

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You're a grub, Senator O'Neill, an absolute grub. You should withdraw that.

Honourable senators interjecting

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

Order! Please resume your seat. Interjections are unhelpful at all times, particularly when they are of that nature and they descend across the chamber. While I'm talking, I ask senators to remain quiet.

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order: Senator McGrath called Senator O'Neill a term that I would imagine is extremely unparliamentary, and he should be asked to withdraw it.

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

There were so many interjections, I didn't hear. I'm going to offer the opportunity for anyone to withdraw if it would assist the chamber.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw.

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

I didn't hear the word, but thank you, Senator McGrath. Senator Colbeck, to continue.

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

At the same time, there are 876 residents who are currently positive within residential aged care in Australia and 252 staff members.

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

Senator Wong, a supplementary question?

2:46 pm

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

Last Thursday, the minister told the Senate he first realised he hadn't got it right. He said:

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.

Given there have now been more than 400 deaths in aged care from COVID-19 since this minister first realised he hadn't got it right, how many more deaths will occur on this minister's watch before he finally gets it right?

2:47 pm

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

Senator Wong attempts to make a very, very unfortunate correlation between the circumstances that occurred at St Basil's—

Hon. Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

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

She makes a very, very unfortunate and, I think, dishonest correlation between the circumstances at St Basil's—the government has acknowledged that, with 24 hours notice, we didn't have in place the staffing requirements to replace the entire staff of that facility, and there were some things that occurred there that we would have wished had not occurred.

The Labor Party seem to exist in this little local bubble where they don't understand that there is a global pandemic of COVID-19 occurring. There is significant community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria. (Time expired)

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

Senator Wong, a final supplementary question?