26 August 2020

 At the start of this pandemic, the Prime Minister loved to parrot the phrase, 'We're all in this together.' As someone who's spent my life working to the values of solidarity, I didn't quite believe that the PM could manage the 'we're all in this together' vibe, and yesterday the Prime Minister's true colours were on show as he and his fellow ministers spent the day attacking the people of Victoria. This has been on show again today, just now from the Minister for Health. My office has been flooded by emails from angry and despairing people who are affronted by this ugly display. The whole country knows this is nothing more than a blame-shifting tactic, but it is one that cuts to the very heart of every person who's gone through the hell that is having a loved one in aged care or, indeed, having tragically lost a loved one in aged care.

One of my constituents, Julie Game, emailed me just this morning to say the following: 'Our Prime Minister should not blame Melbourne and Victoria for this virus. Scott Morrison needs to remember that Victorians are still Australians. We don't need the blame factor. We don't need our Prime Minister and senior coalition politicians pushing us into a corner and treating us like naughty children. Our health workers are under extreme pressure and our health system is struggling. Part of the reason for this is the ongoing mismanagement of our aged-care system. This mismanagement has allowed the virus to impact dramatically on the aged-care system, which is largely controlled by the federal government. But our Prime Minister seems unable to take responsibility for this.' She goes on to say: 'Aged care has been under scrutiny for many years and the issues have been inadequately resolved. Our Prime Minister needs to show support and leadership to all Australians as we battle this pandemic. "We are all in this together, except for Victorians," seems to be the new catchphrase, and it's very disappointing.' Julie, I couldn't agree more.

There has been no bigger shortcoming than the government's complete failure in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of older Australians in residential aged care. The Prime Minister tried to blame Victorians for these tragic deaths, saying community transmission was to blame and that he could not put a special force field around aged-care facilities. Well, I'm here to tell you that that is exactly what he should have done. What else was he supposed to be doing other than putting a force field of well-skilled staff with plenty of PPE, ready to fight infection control, around nursing homes? Instead, we know that nurses were having to choose which hand to put a single glove on. The government ignored recommendations about how big the surge workforce needed to be, leaving aged-care facilities chronically understaffed. We know that only one in five workers undertook PPE training and that the government failed to prevent staff having to work between multiple facilities. The Prime Minister's plan was nothing more than guidelines offered up by an incompetent minister who never acted with the urgency this sector needed, and it failed. It's a nonsense and an absolute insult to say otherwise.

As of yesterday, 335 aged-care residents had died of COVID-19 in aged-care facilities, and there are now 1,100 active cases. They're not just numbers; they're people with lives, families and grandkids.

In my electorate, I had two aged-care facilities with COVID outbreaks. The calls and emails from constituents with loved ones in these facilities have broken my heart. How many of those deaths were preventable? How many of the coronavirus outbreaks in residential aged care were preventable? If only the Prime Minister and the Minister for Aged Care had heeded the warning calls—and there have been so many. The shadow health minister reminded us of this—the counsel assisting the royal commission and what they said about the outbreaks in Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge, and the degree of self-congratulation and hubris displayed by this government. 'What did the Commonwealth do to ensure the lessons of the two outbreaks?' asked the royal commission. Not enough.

The aged-care sector has been failing for some time, and the providers in aged care have, unfortunately, shown they are not all to be trusted to do the right thing by their charges. One only has to listen to the tragic findings of the royal commission to know that. The title of the royal commission's interim report was Neglect. 'Neglect' is not a word that anyone relying on the aged-care system wants to hear. Neglect outlines the litany of long-term systemic problems that this government has failed to fix during its seven-year term. We need mandatory minimum staffing levels, minimum skill mix of professionals, proper access to training, decent pay, recognition of skills, transparency of funding, a regulator with teeth and the rights of residents. The government has failed to act on any of these key issues for our most vulnerable, our elderly.