Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a royal commission into aged care, and says he expects some “pretty bruising information” to come out of the investigation.
The announcement comes as ABC’s Four Corners is, tonight, set to broadcast a two-part special – Who Cares? – on the appalling practices in the aged care system.
In the three weeks since he became PM, Mr Morrison said he had heard some disturbing evidence of non-compliance and failures throughout the aged care system. This had prompted him to launch an inquiry into residential and aged care facilities, as well as those caring for younger people with disabilities who live in nursing homes.
“I think we should brace ourselves for some pretty bruising information about the way our loved ones, some of them, have experienced some real mistreatment,” said Mr Morrison.
“And I think that's going to be tough for us all to deal with. But you can't walk past it.”
Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt was last month lukewarm about the prospect of a royal commission, claiming it was unnecessary because the Government was already reviewing the sector.
“A royal commission, after two years and maybe $200 million being spent on it, will come back with the same set or a very similar set of recommendations,” he said on Four Corners at the time.
Now Mr Wyatt fully backs the Government’s decision to launch an inquiry, after damning reports of widespread system failures and abuse.
“You ask the simple question: How widespread is this? How far and wide does it go? Does it touch on the whole sector?” Mr Morrison said.
“Now, until we can have clear answers to those questions, I think Australians will be unsure.”
One of those answers Mr Morrison may already know. In Federal Budget 2016, while Mr Morrison was treasurer, he said his government would “achieve efficiencies of $1.2 billion over four years” from federal funding paid to aged care providers.
Does this mean funding cuts could be responsible for the aged care sector cutting corners? Not according to Mr Morrison, as he steadfastly denied cutting $1.2 billion from the sector.
“If people want to put questions, they are not allowed to put lies,” said Mr Morrison. “This is why I’m having a royal commission because I’m not going to put up with lies being told about what’s happening in the aged care sector.
“Policies must be based on facts, not the facts that are dreamt up, not facts that are misinterpreted, not the facts that have agendas sitting behind them.”
Tonight’s Four Corners program is the result of an ABC crowdsourcing project which asked aged care staff, residents and families about their experiences. More than 4000 people responded to the call, sharing stories of abuse, malpractice and even death suffered by people in aged care.
Of the respondents, 1300 aged care staff contributed, exposing system failures but also reporting bullying, lies and cover-ups. Many of the staff wrote in about their experiences but were too afraid to speak on camera.
Was the impending revelation of these stories reason for Mr Morrison’s announcement? Could the royal commission be a politically charged pre-emptive measure?
Mr Morrison stated that the ‘Oakden scandal’ was one of the reasons for the royal commission. Last year, this South Australian nursing home was shut down due to evidence of unnecessary restraint, assault and overmedication.
The inquiry will bring even more horrific cases to light, says Council of the Ageing chief Ian Yates.
“The revelations of the Oakden nursing home in South Australia, they were appalling, and there will be more of that, there will be more of that come forward,” said Mr Yates.
“I think the commission will find the industry needs to become more mature, that there needs to be more control in the hands of the consumers and their families, that we need more funding, and that we have different expectations than previous generations did about what aged care is.
“We want a much more diverse and high-quality aged care system and the question it will have to ponder is, who's going to pay for that and in what proportions?”
It all comes back to funding, so it seems, a point with which the head of Aged and Community Services Australia, Pat Sparrow, agrees.
“Funding's always an important thing to look at," she said.
“What the royal commission allows is an opportunity for us to have a broader national community conversation about what it is the growing number of older Australians expect, and the community in general expects, of aged care.”
Do you have any aged care horror stories? Will you be closely following the findings of this commission?