In the week leading up to the announcement of the Royal Commission, I happened to be in the presence of some prominent figures from one of aged care’s biggest providers, and they were already bracing themselves.
Although these people seemed to have no prior knowledge of Scott Morrisson’s pending announcement, their feelings of trepidation actually stemmed from the forewarning of a 4 Corners investigation into aged care that was due to hit our screens the following Monday evening.
“I heard it’s bad,” this person said. “This is going to be really big, so we have to be very careful with what we put out.”
The Royal Commission was announced on a Sunday, the day before the airing of the bruising exposé into aged care titled ‘Who Cares,’ in what felt like a preemptive strike to counter the oncoming barrage of questions and criticism.
Despite years of warnings, internal investigation, atrocities, and dogged aged care advocacy, it was the scrutiny from the mainstream media that sparked the Royal Commission, and those who welcomed the news have the ABC network and reporters like Anne Connoly to thank for it.
Apart from the ABC’s continual efforts, mainstream coverage of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has been sporadic and without much depth in the 14 months since the announcement.
The Interim Report, titled ‘Neglect,’ laid all the faults of the aged care sector to bare in terminology that was extremely candid and easy for the masses to digest, yet the report that said our aged care sector “diminishes Australia as a nation,” received very little media coverage.
Media monitoring analysis shows that the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry received more than three times the amount of media coverage of the aged care Royal Commission, despite the aged care investigation running over 100 days longer.
The lack of media interest in the plight of aged care is a stark reminder of how the sector was allowed to spiral into its current state, as well as an indication of why older people in this country are still undervalued.
No Lights, No Cameras .. No Action
The unlimited smorgasboard of information and entertainment that we currently have at our disposal is removing the elderly from the hearts and minds of the vast majority of Australians outside of the older age demographics.
The structure of modern-day entertainment platforms have the masses thinking and feeling that issues that are not relevant to them, simply aren’t relevant, and this mindset has trickled down into the mainstream news.
Aged care will never be the most glamorous subject, but the welfare of older people needs to mean more to news outlets than stories about Kim Kardashian’s newest hairstyle – even though the latter will generate more clicks and views.
A lack of media scrutiny equals a lack of accountability for those running the aged care sector, and some of the organisations that were identified as playing key roles in the sector’s failings have already managed to escape their brief moment in the spotlight.
The Australian Department of Health oversees a home care system that the Interim Report described as “cruel and discriminatory,” yet we have heard nothing from the head of the department, Glenys Beauchamp.
The Interim Report also shows that Commissioner’s were ‘flabbergasted’ by the methodology that the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission implemented when reporting on accreditation audits, but to date, there has been no real evidence of any acceptance or accountability.
You would think that a report of this magnitude would be the most appropriate time to probe Minister for Aged Care, Richard Colbeck on his thoughts on the future of the sector, but his press conference on the day of the Interim Report’s release was only attended by a handful of people.
Mr. Colbeck and Health Minister Greg Hunt both declared themselves ‘unavailable’ to answer questions the following morning, and have managed to shift the narrative away from the findings of the Interim Report over the last week.
The Interim report described the aged care sector as being “designed around transactions, not relationships or care,” and in a world where bad PR can have an immediate effect on finances, the media seem to be one of the few avenues capable of inciting change.
The only way that Australians can demand more for the older people of their country is by understanding the depth of the problems that they currently face.
Ratings and responses to programs like ‘Who Cares?’ and ‘Old People’s Home For 4-Year-Olds’ is an indication that Australians do care about these issues, but we need more mainstream outlets than just the ABC covering these issues with any real depth.
Giving the people what they need as opposed to what they want may not generate the most revenue, but doing so might just help those in the older age demographics get what they deserve.