Doorstop - Parliament House, Canberra - 03/09/2020

03 September 2020

PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE: Well, censure motions are rarely moved, and censure motions are rarely supported by the majority of the chamber. That is because they are a serious statement from the parliament about the lack of confidence in the Minister. The last censure motion that was moved and resolved was almost five years ago. Today, the Senate censured Richard Colbeck. Today, the Senate censured Richard Colbeck, the Minister for Aged Care, and every crossbencher supported this censure. That's almost unheard of. Senators from the Labor Party, from the Greens, from One Nation, from Centre Alliance, and the independents Jacqui Lambie and Rex Patrick, all supported the censure of the Minister. It is an expression of the lack of confidence in his handling of his portfolio, which my colleague Julie will speak to shortly. It is a reflection of the lack of confidence that the community feels for Richard Colbeck. It is a reflection of the lack of confidence the community has in this Minister. Now it is up to Scott Morrison. He can either continue to run a protection racquet for a minister whose failure are demonstrated. Or he can do the right thing and respect the Parliament’s censure motion, but most importantly, respect what that demonstrates which is the loss of confidence in a Minister who demonstrably has failed to act where he should have with tragic consequences. I’ll hand over to my colleague Julie Collins.

JULIE COLLINS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGEING AND SENIORS: Thanks Penny. This Minister has had multiple warnings, he has failed the Australian public, and importantly, he has failed all of those people in residential aged care, particularly the families and the loved ones of the 474 older Australians who have died. When you had warnings from the northern hemisphere, you had warnings and reports from Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House. The Government should have done more and it should have done it sooner. When we are still getting transmission in aged care facilities in Victoria today, clearly, the Government has not done enough. The Government's own Royal Commission said the Government did not have a plan. This is not the Labor Party saying it, this is the Government's own Royal Commission. The Liberal Government in New South Wales, in its response to what happened in its facilities, said the Federal Government did not have a plan, that is laid squarely at the Minister, Richard Colbeck. It is absolutely clear to everyone that Richard Colbeck is not up to the very serious job he had of protecting older Australians. It is time for him to go. The fact that the Senate has censured the Minister, as you've heard from Penny, is a very serious thing. If the Minister won't resign, the Prime Minister should sack the Minister today. We need to have confidence going forward that older Australians in residential facilities and in home care in Australia receiving services are getting the best possible quality care. But when we're getting stories of just a few weeks ago, ants crawling out of somebody's wound, when we're getting stories about maggots in wounds, when we're getting stories still of malnutrition, clearly the Minister and the Government have not taken their responsibility seriously and enough is enough. It's time to go to the Minister.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor support opening up camps in northern Australia and remote Australia to help lift the caps?

WONG: Now I’ll make a few points about caps. The first is the announcement like so many from the Morrison Government was made without a plan. It was another announcement about a plan. The caps were imposed but there was plan as to how to manage that. What was the consequence? The consequence was we have 23,000 Australians stranded overseas, 3,500 who are vulnerable. We have our missions, high commissions and embassies suggesting people crowd fund. We have people not being able to get flights. And we had airlines behaving unfairly, cancelling economy seats and only allowing people to book first class or business class. We have people who haven’t been refunded, we have people sleeping on their cars. That’s the consequence. Now what we have said is “how about you have a plan?”. The reality is, we are not even reaching the cap on current arrivals. The Government should look at what it needs to do the maintain the integrity of the quarantine system - we all agree with that - but instead of simply leaving Australians to go and fundraise to get themselves home, they should come up with a plan to assist them.

JOURNALIST: Would sacking Richard Colbeck make the aged care system any better?

WONG: Well, I think a minister who did their job would make the aged care sector better yes, and I think everybody knows that.

JOURNALIST: Research from the University of Queensland for the Royal Commission suggested $600 million a year is needed in extra funding in the system to get it to the best quality possible. How much more does Labor think need to be put in?

WONG: Look, I’ll make a few points. What we have is a Minister who has failed to act on key reforms following the interim report of the Royal Commission, the quarterly reports which he received which shows that standard were not being met. Failed to act on warnings from the Northern Hemisphere (inaudible). Now nobody is suggesting – and I’m happy for Julie to take this as she knows so much more that I do about these things - nobody is suggesting this is an easy problem to fix, it is not. But how about we have a Minister who actually responds to what people are saying by doing something? How about we get a get a Minister who responds to warnings? And the responsibility for that is ultimately Scott Morrison. He can run a protection racquet, or he can do the right thing.

COLLINS: There is no doubt that the Government needs to act and needs to act quickly when it comes to aged care. That's why Labor outlined what we think the Government should do today. Labor is not in government. The Government is responsible for the care of older Australians. It funds aged care, it regulates aged care and it needs to respond and respond quickly to what we are seeing in aged care. As I said, the Government should have done more and should have done it sooner. That is the point. The Minister did not act when he should have acted. And now we are seeing the tragic consequences of that in aged care in Australia today.

JOURNALIST: Julie, the aged care regulator stopped unannounced inspection visits of nursing homes for 11 weeks at the height of the pandemic. They’ve said they’ve now resumed those visits.Is that good enough for you? Are you I guess happy that things are now working to the best it can be?

COLLINS: I said at the outset when the Government combined the complaints commission and the safety commission that I didn't think the regulator had the powers it needed to do its job. Clearly what we are seeing now is the sad consequence of the Government again not listening to warnings, not ensuring that the regulator was able to do the job it was being asked to do. We also don't have enough transparency around what the regulator is or isn't doing. The fact that these visits stopped during COVID-19 and the public was not told, I think is a failing of the Minister. Another failing of the Minister. It is incomprehensible that we did not have the regulator looking at aged care facilities during COVID-19 outbreaks. Now the Minister said that was based on health advice. The Chief Medical Officer said he's not aware of being asked about that advice. We need some transparency and we need some honesty but most of all, we need a Minister that is up to the job.

WONG: Okay, thank you.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.