Tuesday, 6 October 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Aged Care
My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck: Last week, Professor Brendan Murphy said that, if the Australian government had acted sooner to protect residents of aged care from COVID-19, 'there could have been some avoided deaths'. Does the minister agree?
Thanks, Senator Sheldon, for the question. As I've said a number of times in this chamber, every death that's occurred in aged care as a result of COVID-19 is an absolute tragedy. Each of the 681 who have passed away is an absolute tragedy, and my condolences and the condolences of my colleagues in the government go to every single one of those families. It is absolutely tragic that these people have lost their lives.
At all times, the government has acted on the appropriate health advice of the time. It's very easy for the Labor Party to come in here with the 20-20 vision of hindsight and make comments and/or allegations, but all through this pandemic this government has acted on the advice available to us at the time from the health professionals that have been guiding us. We have continued to do that and we will continue to do that. We will continue to update our plan as we learn more about the virus and as we learn more about the way that it acts within residential aged care. As we have learnt more, we have applied that to our response, and that is clearly evident in the work that we've done in particular, for example, in Victoria with the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre.
On each occasion, we have worked with the sector and provided advice to the sector, and we will continue to do that because it's appropriate to act on the health advice of the day in the best interests of aged-care residents within Australia.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The royal commission's special report released last week confirmed:
There was not a COVID-19 plan devoted solely to aged care.
How many of the 673 deaths in residential aged care could have been avoided if the minister had a plan?
The government has maintained and continues to maintain that we do have a plan to deal with COVID-19 in residential aged care. As I said in my answer to the primary question, as we've learnt more about this virus, we've continued to update that plan and we will continue to do that. We will continue to update our plan as we learn more about the virus and how it operates, and we will continue to communicate the learnings about management of COVID-19 in residential aged care to the aged-care sector. We continue to do that. We have commissioned a number of reports into Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch, and we applied the learnings from those particular incidents to our approach to managing the virus in Victoria. As we've learnt more, we continue to update the plan and we will continue to do that, as we said in a response last week.
The royal commission also described insufficient supplies of PPE and infection-control training as 'deplorable'. How many of the 673 older Australians who died of COVID-19 in residential aged care would still be alive if the Morrison government had acted sooner?
All through the COVID-19 pandemic, the one thing that this government has made sure of is that any facility with a COVID-19 outbreak has had available PPE to appropriately deal with the virus.
Honourable senators interjecting—
My point of order is direct relevance. The comment to which the minister refers, the 'deplorable' comment, is a comment of the royal commission, not the Australian Labor Party. I'd ask him to address the royal commission's description of PPE availability as 'deplorable'—that is the question.
There are two matters. I was having trouble hearing Senator Colbeck's answer because there were interjections from both sides of the chamber. The minister was getting to the point of PPE as you rose to your feet. I'm going to let him continue, because I cannot instruct him how to answer a question. But I believe that his answer is directly relevant to the question asked. Senator Colbeck will continue.
He is deliberately avoiding the question, Mr President. I ask the minister to return to the question. It is not directly relevant to speak about the Labor Party. He is being asked about his royal commission's 'deplorable' comments.
Senator Wong had begun her interjections on Senator Colbeck before he had even started speaking in response to that question, before he had even said a single additional word. Mr President, in your previous ruling, you did acknowledge it was hard to hear in the chamber and, if Senator Wong wants the minister to be able to address the question, then a little silence for him to do so would be appropriate.
Interjections are always disorderly; I remind all senators of that. The senator is being directly relevant if he is talking about PPE, but he had not concluded a point before both interjections and a point of order was raised. I need to hear him make this point before I can make any ruling on direct relevance.
As I was about to say, the Labor Party actually even misrepresents what the royal commission said, because what the royal commission said was that the practice of aged-care providers withholding PPE was 'deplorable'. It made no comment about what we said or did. We, at all times, made sure that aged-care providers had adequate supplies of PPE to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. (Time expired)
Opposition senators interjecting—