Monday, 9 November 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians. Gary Barnier is the ex-CEO of Opal Aged Care, who allegedly bullied relatives of residents, oversaw a facility where a resident was found with maggots in their mouth and admitted paying off a man whose blind and diabetic mother died because staff failed to act on the advice of doctors and send her to hospital. Since then, Mr Barnier has been granted $920,000 worth of contracts by the department, one in January and one in October, without tender. When did the minister first become aware of the allegations against Mr Barnier?
It really is quite distasteful—the hatchet job that the Labor Parry are trying to undertake on Mr Barnier. Mr Barnier was first employed—
Senator Polley interjecting—
Senator Polley, you should be careful about your comments across the chamber, because Mr Barnier was first engaged by the Labor Party in 2013 to work on forums for the Australian government. It is really quite disappointing that the Labor Party come into the chamber to undertake these sorts of smear campaigns.
Mr Barnier, as Senator Walsh said in her question, was the CEO of Opal Aged Care. Opal Aged Care, subsequent to the allegations that were being raised, employed the Nous Group to undertake an independent review of the circumstances that were raised. That independent review made no findings against Mr Barnier.
Mr President, it may be the minister is getting to it, but I have a point of order on direct relevance. Senator Walsh asked this minister about when he first became aware of the allegations against Mr Barnier. That was the question.
Point of order, Mr President. We recognise that there was a lead-in, and I have not taken a point of order for over a minute, recognising that he wanted to get to a whole range of other political issues. But I do remind him of the question.
You've reminded the minister of the last part of the question. I can't instruct him what part to address, as long as he's directly relevant to all or part of it. I am listening carefully. By addressing the claims made in the question, I consider the minister to be directly relevant. I will call him to continue, having allowed you to restate part of the question.
Mr Barnier is doing some important work, specifically related to his particular skills with respect to his understanding of the financial structure of the aged-care sector. He's supported a number of aged-care providers and the government in getting a better understanding of the financial circumstances of the sector more broadly. It is an important piece of work.
Mr President, this minister appears to be defying standing orders again. I again take a point of order on direct relevance. He was asked a question about his state of mind. He should answer the question. It makes a mockery of question time.
Senator Wong, when a question has a substantial preface—in this case, not loaded but mainly for assertions of fact—the minister is entitled to address those facts in his answer. Shorter questions narrow the definition of direct relevance. The minister is being directly relevant. I cannot instruct him which part of the question to answer nor how to answer the question as long as he remains relevant. Senator Colbeck, you have seven seconds remaining.
Mr President, I have no intention of participating in an attempted slur of somebody who's doing good and important work. (Time expired)
Honourable senators interjecting—
There is no preamble to this question. Did the minister become aware of the widely reported allegations, and Mr Barnier's admissions of alleged neglect, bullying and paying off relatives, before or after his department handed Mr Barnier a second contract in October this year?
My understanding is that my department, which made the direct appointment of Mr Barnier, was aware of all of the circumstances when they made the appointment for the first contract.
Why, without a tender process, has the minister handed contracts worth $920,000 to someone who admitted to paying off the relative of an aged-care resident who died from neglect? How many other contracts has he handed to mates who are completely unfit for their job?
I note that Mr Barnier was first appointed by then Minister Collins, the then minister in charge of aged care, to support the work that the government was doing through the Aged Care Financing Authority. So the false assertions that were made in the question only go to my point about the disgraceful smear on Mr Barnier that Labor are attempting. Mr Barnier is doing some important work relating to the financial structure of the aged-care sector, which is his area of expertise, and I have confidence in the work that he's doing for the government.