The aged care minister came under intense scrutiny from senators on Wednesday, as he fielded questions about the financial viability of the aged care sector, claims the government is “missing in action” from the sector, and people dying while they wait for their correct level of home care package to come through.

Labor Senator Murray Watt asked Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck about senior counsel assisting the royal commission, Peter Rozen QC’s closing remarks last week which stated the viability of the aged care system is under threat.

Mr Colbeck said he had not seen the closing remarks.

Minister: “I have other things to do”

Mr Watt asked the minister how closely he is following the royal commission.

“I get reports (on the royal commission) every day. I don’t watch every element of it, obviously. 

“I have other things to do,” Mr Colbeck said.

“I’m aware he (senior counsel) made some comments… I’m not specifically aware of the full detail. I haven’t read them,” the minister said.

“The entire system is under serious threat”

Mr Watt asked the minister about the senior counsel’s remarks.

He read Mr Rozen’s closing remark, “On current trends, the entire system is under serious threat, and without fundamental change we’re concerned the system will fail.”

Mr Colbeck rejected the statement. “The suggestion that there’s no movement on government policy or we’re not doing anything I reject,” he said.

“There are a number of reforms we are continuing to implement, bearing in mind we called the royal commission so we could have this forensic look into the sector,” the minister said.

“Missing in action”

Mr Watt asked the minister about senior counsel’s claim the government is “missing in action” from the aged care sector.

“The Commonwealth appears, on the evidence you have heard, to be missing in action,” Mr Rozen said in this closing remarks to the royal commission last week. 

“It needs to demonstrate leadership and commit the resources necessary to build industry competence and to ensure delivery of an aged care system that meets community standards and it needs to act quickly.” 

The minister replied, “I will put on the record what we’re doing. I will not reflect on the comments of counsel.”

Mr Watt also also about the minister about the senior counsel’s statement, “The Commonwealth’s failure to lead in aged care has contributed to the distressing outcomes for care recipients, their families and workers that you continue to hear evidence about.” 

Mr Colbeck replied. “I’m not going to reflect on the commission because they are doing the job we asked them to do, as uncomfortable as it might be.”

16,000 die while waiting for correct level of home care 

As the debate became increasingly heated, Mr Watt asked Mr Colbeck if it was “acceptable” that around 16,000 older Australians died while they waited for their correct level of home care to come through. “Does it get much worse than that?” Mr Watt said.

The minister said, “I wouldn’t characterise a cause and effect to those numbers.”

“Do you understand how heartless that sounds?” Mr Watt replied. “You’ve got 16,000 people dying and you want to talk about cause and effect?”

Aged care financing authority head concerned about sector’s viability

The head of the Aged Care Financing Authority, Mike Callaghan, said the “indexation pause” in the Aged Care Funding Instrument resulted in a deterioration in the financial performance of the sector.

“Changes to the ACFI and the indexation pause impacted on the financial results of residential aged care providers in 2018-19,” Mr Callaghan said.

“Because the ACFI contributes over 60 per cent of the revenue of residential aged care providers, if there’s a pause in the indexation, the amount of ACFI they are getting isn’t rising with any rise in costs… 

“It meant for 2017-2018, there was an impact on the revenue of residential aged care and its costs were continuing to grow, and then it’s overall financial performance was impacted,” he said.

Mr Watt asked Mr Callaghan, “Does the ACFA have any concerns about the viability of the aged care sector?” 

“Yes,” Mr Callaghan replied.


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