I’m not responsible for deaths, says aged care minister

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COVID has claimed the lives of 907 people in Australia, with the majority (685) in aged care homes. That gives us the ‘distinction’ of having one of the highest rates worldwide of deaths in residential aged care as a percentage of total deaths.

What does the person in charge of the sector, aged care minister Richard Colbeck, say about that?

“I don’t feel responsible personally for the deaths that have occurred, as tragic as they all are, which have been caused by COVID-19,” he told a Senate committee hearing.

He said the federal government response had saved lives, and that “all of us who have been part of the broader health response, including that around aged care, have played a role in managing that process”.

Responsibility was not part of his response, despite the appalling number of deaths.

Mr Colbeck said that while he acknowledged the Senate had passed a censure motion against him in September, when he was unable to answer critical questions about deaths and protocols in aged care, he said he was determined to continue the work he had been doing since the beginning of the COVID outbreak in “the interests of senior Australians and particularly those in aged care”.

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally asked whether anything could have been done differently to prevent deaths in aged care.

“The thing that would have saved lives … was the prevention of the escape of COVID-19 in Victoria leading to the second wave,” Mr Colbeck said.

“We’ve said that in some circumstances, particularly with respect to what happened when we were required to take over, for example, St Basil’s, where every single member of staff on the site including management were furloughed by the decision of … the Victorian health department, could have been managed better. We acknowledged that at the time, I think, appropriately.”

The former parliamentary secretary for agriculture was asked whether he had requested the aged care portfolio.

“The appointment of the ministry is something that is the gift of the prime minister, and we all serve at his pleasure,” he replied, adding that he would like to remain in aged care in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Colbeck recommitted to providing a response to Parliament by 1 December on the actions taken after the aged care royal commission’s special report, which found the Morrison government’s attempt to prepare the sector for COVID-19 was insufficient in some respects.

Professor Joseph Ibrahim, head of the health law and ageing research unit at Monash University and an expert witness at the royal commission, told The Lancet that “Homer Simpson could have seen the catastrophe in aged care coming with COVID-19 because it was there in your face”.

“All I know is that you can’t accept things as they are, because they’re not right,” he said.

The federal government transformed the sector in 1997 under the Aged Care Act into a free-market model. Prof. Ibrahim described that move as “ill-conceived”.

The Lancet explained that the transformation meant aged care and healthcare were to be treated as separate industries. “As a result, private investment into aged care was able to flourish, which, experts say, turned people from patients into consumers.”

Kathy Eagar, professor of health services research and director of the Australian Health Services Research Institute at the University of Wollongong, said that back then, aged care was criticised as being too institutional, so it was packaged as a social model of care that did not need regulation. “On that basis, they deregulated staff. By packaging residential aged care as social care, it dumbed down the care and created the perfect storm. This has been a disaster waiting to happen.”

By turning aged care into social care, the sector had been able to justify not having good infection prevention and control measures, sufficient staff ratios and adequately trained staff.

“The system is not fit for purpose. When you have a system that doesn’t even require a nurse to be on the premises, then the whole thing is going to be a disaster… The pendulum has swung too far,” she said.

In a special report published last month, the royal commission found that the government’s attempt to prepare the sector for COVID-19 was insufficient. It made six recommendations, that included deploying infection control experts into nursing homes as a condition of accreditation.

The royal commission is due to release its final report in February.

Should the federal government have seen that a ‘perfect storm’ would hit the aged care sector? Has there been a lot of oversight and preparedness to accept responsibility? Do you believe recommendations from the royal commission will be acted on?

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Written by Janelle Ward


Total Comments: 45
  1. 0

    Typical of bloody parasits (politicians), always in the front for photo opportunities, always takeing the credit for anything positive. But when the shit hits the fan: hiding, not my fault, not responsible. There were many complaints re private age care over many years, nothing was done by politicians and useless bureaucrats.

    • 0


  2. 0

    Richard Colbeck does not have a compassionate bone in his body! He is the wrong person for this job and should have been sacked years ago!

    A very nasty aggressive man when interviewed! In fact just plain NASTY!!

  3. 0

    We have about as much chance of this guy taking personal responsibility as we do Andrews doing the same for the Victorian disaster.
    Simply will not happen…

  4. 0

    Free market capitalism fails again. It always has bad outcomes in health care unless kept on a very tight rein. Colbeck is responsible, but so is the whole Liberal-National government: they have fought tooth and nail e.g. against mandatory nurse-patient ratios in order to enlarge the wealth of their business mates.

  5. 0

    Typical LNP response for any bad outcomes. Not my responsibility, no one told me, blame Labor.
    Time we got rid of this do nothing government.

    • 0

      If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny that anyone could be that bigoted and ignorant. Surely you don’t think Labor is any better? Just as many bad outcomes and just as many excuses and denials of responsibility on both sides of politics.

  6. 0

    It was the Howard Government that caused the problem in the first place, in the ten years that the Government was in power that was only one of the problems they caused, because of the action they took on the housing front-most young Australians can’t get into purchasing a House/Apartment. They created part-time employment so workers could not get superannuation. It would take all-day to point out the other errors that the Howard government is responsible for.

  7. 0

    Yes, the virus should not have escaped the Hotel Quarantine, but saying that means he takes no responsibility is like saying that an airbag not deploying correctly in a fatal car accident is not in any way to blame because the seat belt should have done its job better.

  8. 0

    The vast majority of deaths in aged care happened in Victoria, they occurred due to a mistake in the handling of quarantine by the Victorian government, the rest of the states and territories did not have the same death rates, so I am at a loss as to how the federal minister is to blame, and as for people’s memories failing them it appears as though not one person could remember who made the decision to use the inexperienced private security company. I don’t think anyone really knew how to handle the situation, but amazingly with hindsight all the experts are coming out of the woodwork. I don’t think for one minute that Victoria intended the outcome that occurred or expected the tragic outcome that occurred, it could have happened in any state with different scenarios and I think luck has played a big part.

    • 0

      Yes, Jim, the federal minister is to blame along with the aged care ministers who went before him. For decades there have been complaints to government about the neglect, abuse, lack of medical care and good quality food in care homes. Not one lacklustre minister has got off their behinds to put it right. In my opinion they have aided and abetted all the misery and deaths that have happened.

    • 0

      And they should have been on notice (both ‘sides’) after the Ruby Princess ‘mistake’ caused deaths in Aged Care in NSW.

    • 0

      the quarantine breach transmitted the virus to one guard and his family. Had they observed the prevailing health directives it could have been different but what happened after is not due to the breach in quarantine. Other states were simply lucky breaches in those states did not spread into the community through a similar transmission chain.

      Around 75% of Australian covid deaths occurred in privately operated facilities overseen by the Commonwealth, one of the highest rates worldwide of deaths in residential aged care as a percentage of total deaths. No deaths occurred in Victorian public facilities. Victoria called on Commonwealth to institute minimum nursing ratios in 2019, well before covid.


    • 0

      there was also evidence from overseas earlier in the year, notably UK and Sweden, of just how vulnerable the aged care homes were to covid.

    • 0

      Triss the federal minister had nothing to do with the organisation of the quarantine debacle in the hotels that is what the conversation is about, the overall lack of sufficient care in aged care is a different conversation that has been going on for decades and has been across all parties, all parties have been responsible for the lack of action.
      Yes KeWi the ruby princess was another debacle and NSW should be held responsible, but again it was something that could have happened in any state, no one knew how bad this virus was going to be.
      If we look across the world at the devastation that has occurred in most other countries I think we can be thankful for the leadership in both federal and state governments, every death is a tragedy hopefully we can learn from this and be better prepared if there is another pandemic.

    • 0

      The conversation is actually about a Minister who was responsible for Aged Care who refuses to accept responsibility. The
      preliminary report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care handed down in October really rang alarm bells about the standard of care. The pandemic really exposed to public view just how disgraceful the situation as, and still is, in these Federally controlled facilities.
      The Victorian Government also run Aged Care facilities but had zero deaths.
      Clobeck, Morrison, Hunt et al have a lot to answer for but where are they — oh yes hiding behind Dan Andrews.

  9. 0

    The private nursing homes have been underfunded for many years. The State run nursing homes had few deaths compared to the federal ones. Andrews stepped in to help and support both by getting nurses into both which is normally sadly lacking. Part time work for people in this industry needs to be addressed and look at other workplaces affected as well. A superspreader doing the wrong thing set it off for sure but people did the wrong thing in other States too like in Cairns when they climbed over balconies and got into other rooms. Whether the notion is popular or not luck has played a part. We should use the fact that the virus has highlighted the inequalities in Australia as an opportunity to fix areas like aged care. Politics in itself is not the solution rather having better values instilled into decisions to fix the many inequalities that exist. The government cannot be held responsible for people’s choices to not wear a mask properly or not to practise social distancing because there can be no total supervision in parks and homes etc. Six days with no new cases is amazing as so many still have no intention of doing the right thing which is evident so let’s hope for good luck to kick in like other places who have been so judgmental.

    • 0

      I worked in State-run homes in the 70’s, Paddington, and they were DREADFUL places. I wouldn’t want my dog to have to age in them. From my observations, the privately-run homes are, today, much much better than those State-run homes were. Still far from good enough – but way better. I don’t agree with privatisation generally, but it hasn’t made Aged Care Homes worse.

  10. 0

    The LNP created the system under Howard, maintained it, ignored its obvious fails after inquiry after inquiry, did not monitor, overee or police any regulations until the body count got too high to ignore, and completely overlooked sexual abuse of elderly women as an issue.

    Blind Freddy could see what was coming after the COVID disasters in aged care in Italy and Spain, but still the LNP and its irresponsible minister for aged care sat on their hands or twiddled their thumbs.

    All the problems that led to hundreds of elderly Victorians dying premature deaths with COVId were caused by the defects in the Howard approved service model of privatised ‘care’ OUTSIDE the public health system. They have a lot of cheek blaming the Victorian Health Dept for the deaths, let alone the Premier. They are not welcome in Victoria without a plan to return residential aged care to health with realistic funding and health standards applied.

    What a contemtible lot they are.

    • 0

      Privatisation has not made aged care homes worse, Travellersjoy. It hasn’t resulted in good care, but it hasn’t made things worse either. I worked in Govt run aged care homes in the 70s and had close friends in ‘care’ in the 80s and 90s and the Govt run homes were far worse than most privately-run homes are today. Sadly, neither model works because private operators are profit-focused and Govt operators are underfunded.

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