Federal Labor and Green parties have expressed their discontent with the aged care crisis with one simple, telling request: Senator Richard Colbeck, minister for aged care services, should immediately resign.
Anthony Albanese, leader of the federal Labor party, addressed the press in Sydney on Thursday, expressing his anger at the Federal Government’s handling of both the pandemic and existing shortfalls within the industry.
“Today, I am angry. I am angry because I have spoken to the families of aged care residents who have had enough,” Albanese said.
“If Richard Colbeck does not resign today, the Prime Minister should sack him.
“He is simply incapable of fulfilling the task of looking after the interests of old, vulnerable Australians.
“They deserve dignity and they deserve respect, not the contempt that we get from a minister who, having avoided appearing before a committee inquiry all year up until yesterday, went before that inquiry and said that it was working ‘exceptionally well’.
“They knew that aged care residents were particularly vulnerable, and yet we have aged care workers who still cannot get access to rapid antigen tests.
“We have aged care residents who are confused, who are locked in their rooms, who are not able to see their loved ones.
“This is not good enough.”
Green’s party leader Adam Bandt says the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the harms caused by delivering care through a corporate, ‘for-profit’ business model.
“With big corporations profiting in a sector with hundreds dying of Covid, low vaccine booster rates and staff shortages, the Minister must resign and for-profit aged care unwound.
“This election a vote for the Greens is a vote to kick out the ‘horrible, horrible’ Morrison government and tax the billionaires and corporate mega-profits to deliver essential services for all Australians
It comes as news was widely circulated that Colbeck, who is also in charge of the federal sports portfolio, attended the Ashes Test match in Hobart last month on the same day he was expected to attend a COVID-19 committee hearing.
“Richard Colbeck ‘earned’ more in a day spent at the cricket than the bonus he’s giving to aged care workers,” Senator Janet Rice, Greens party aged care spokesperson, remarked.
Furore has ensued in response to the Government’s once off bonus of up to $800, which Rice says is a whole inadequate solution for the overworked, underpaid aged care workforce.
“[They] need a permanent pay rise. A couple of one-off payments, conveniently timed right before an election, doesn’t cut it.”
In July, the Greens publicly backed the Nursing and Midwifery Federation and the Health Services Union push for a 25 per cent ($5/hour) increase to aged care workers’ pay, which is currently being considered by the Fair Work Commission.
Albanese says that although he cannot guarantee that the cited figure is feasible, he supports the move and will formally endorse it if elected.
“I agree that there needs to be an increase in pay and conditions of aged care workers. That is up to the Fair Work Commission what that figure should be.
“We do not make submissions as Opposition. But if we were the Government, and if we formed Government, we would make a submission supporting an increase.”
The liberal party has not yet committed to endorsing the move, with senator Jane Hume, indicating to ABC Radio on Tuesday that her party view it as unfeasible.
“A $5 per hour increase would dramatically increase the costs of an aged care workforce. We want to make sure that this is a sustainable system going into the future,” she said.
“The Royal Commission recommended that the Government and the sector put in applications to the Fair Work Commission to improve wages, but this terrible government can’t even back them,” Bandt says.
Minister Colbeck’s office has been contacted for comment.