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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Sorry Prime Minister, but you were far from the one who ‘blew the whistle’ on the aged care crisis

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Sunday night television viewers were treated to a special edition of Nine’s 60 MinutesThe Great Debate 2022, which saw Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese going head-to-head on a range of policy issues ahead of the federal election in two weeks’ time.

It was fiery, raucous and often unintelligible, with both sides’ finely tuned responses quickly descending into verbal fisticuffs as both politicians went back and forth, interrupting and repudiating each other’s answers.

But when aged care was on the agenda, there were some bold, and perhaps questionable claims from the Morrison side of the debate.

In particular, when asked about his handling of the aged care crisis, Morrison attempted to eschew all responsibility via a claim that he was the one who ‘blew the whistle’ on the aged care crisis.

Does this claim hold water? Is Morrison really the unsung torchbearer of the aged care reform process?

I’m pretty sure the pressure of countless [historic] reviews, royal commissions and productivity commission reports, spurred on by the ABC’s Four Corners report, had something to do with him and his Government not having a choice other than to undertake another royal commission…

Retired nurse and Victorian committee member of Aged Care Reform Now, Cecilia Webster

According to Cecilia Webster, a retired registered nurse and Victorian committee member of grassroots advocacy body Aged Care Reform Now, it’s a laughable assertion.

“I’m pretty sure the pressure of countless [historic] reviews, royal commissions and productivity commission reports, spurred on by the ABC’s Four Corners report, had something to do with him and his Government not having a choice other than to undertake another royal commission that he probably thought would be ignored as well,” she says.

Webster is backed by Annie Butler, federal secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, who tells Aged Care News that she is astounded that Morrison would even try to credit for a process that has been nothing but an uphill battle the union.

“The Prime Minister’s claim is not only astonishing, it’s offensive,” she says.

“Aged care nurses and workers have been campaigning to fix the crisis in aged care for years.

“In 2016 the ANMF presented comprehensive research, which outlined what was needed to fix chronic understaffing in the sector, to the Government – this was ignored.

“We conducted a cost-benefit analysis, which outlined the costs of implementing safe staffing ratios with increased wages and the benefits that would be gained, and developed an implementation plan to guide the process of addressing the core problems in the sector, which were, again, ignored.

The Prime Minister’s claim is not only astonishing, it’s offensive. Aged care nurses and workers have been campaigning to fix the crisis in aged care for years.

Federal secretary of the ANMF, Annie Butler

“In June 2018, the Aged Care Workforce Taskforce published its Workforce Strategy, which also outlined solutions to address the core problems in the sector, and which was also ignored by Government.” 

While the Carnell-Paterson report, released in October 2017, paved the way for the establishment of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, the conversation largely stopped there within the Liberal cabinet.

Ken Wyatt, who was minister for aged care at the time, shot down former Labor Party leader Bill Shorten’s attempts to frame aged care politically as a ‘national crisis’, downplaying the characterisation as fear-mongering.

Furthermore, Wyatt said in August 2018 that a royal commission would be a waste of taxpayer money, indicating that such funds would be better directed towards bolstering front-line health care services.

However, a sudden about face occurred as Wyatt was interviewed by Anne Connolly as part of her investigation for Four Corners.

Then, a mere day before the Four Corners damning two-part series made its television debut, Morrison announced the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

“Our aged care sector provides some of the best care in the world… However, incidences of older people being hurt by failures of care simply cannot be explained or excused. We must be assured about how widespread these cases are,” he said.

The convenient timing was not lost on Connolly, who wrote in 2018 that she observed limited action from the Government in the time before her five-month investigation commenced.

It was only following the shocking expose on aged care by Four Corners that the Prime Minister finally acted – not to fix the problems in the sector but to, yet again, ‘kick the can down the road’ by calling a Royal Commission into Safety and Quality in Aged Care.

Annie Butler

“The Prime Minister cites the scandal of the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service — the South Australian nursing home closed down last year after the discovery of restraint, assault and overmedication — as one of the reasons for the royal commission. That was a year and three inquiries ago.”

Butler adds that the mere announcement of a royal commission should not be counted as a political victory, anyhow.

“It was only following the shocking expose on aged care by Four Corners that the Prime Minister finally acted – not to fix the problems in the sector but to, yet again, ‘kick the can down the road’ by calling a Royal Commission into Safety and Quality in Aged Care. 

“The royal commission’s interim report was titled Neglect, encapsulating the Government’s attitude to its responsibilities to care for older Australians.

“Despite this and, in 2021, a final report which detailed a system where the extent of substandard care is ‘deeply concerning and unacceptable by any measure’ and provided 148 recommendations for action, the Government failed to act. Nothing has changed.”

As Connolly put out the call for interviewees for her ground-breaking special, more than 4000 people across the country volunteered their stories for this investigation, 1300 of them aged care staff.

On the evidence, the real whistle blowers and champions for change appear to be everyday Australians, on-the-ground, including our tireless and dedicated aged care workforce and their union.

Butler concludes Morrison should not hang his hat on the royal commission, even if he lead the Government in initiating it; action is what is needed.

“The lack of meaningful action from the Morrison Government is causing considerable distress for aged care nurses and care-workers across the country, who have been calling for change in the sector for years but who feel they, and those in their care, older Australians, aren’t valued enough for the Government to even try to fix the crisis in aged care.

“The Government has had almost a decade to address the worsening situation in aged care. It has failed to deliver.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Scott Morrison as treasurer orchestrated massive funding cuts to the residential care sector and he has lied about it ever since.
    He has ignored the royal commission findings on funding, a royal commission he didn’t want to occur but despite its conclusion he continues to lie about the money going to aged care. He in fact corrupted the term “aged care” which used to be reserved for nursing homes but now includes home care etc.
    You can’t trust Morrison!

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