This is an opinion piece and is not indicative of the view of HelloCare

The royal commission’s bruising findings shine a light on the government’s inaction over the last seven years, writes Shadow Minister for Ageing Julie Collins.

You may remember the words of the Prime Minister when he announced a Royal Commission into aged care two years ago.

Scott Morrison said, ‘we should brace ourselves for some pretty bruising information about the way our loved ones, some of them, have experienced some real mistreatment’.

Unfortunately for Scott Morrison these words have come back to haunt him as the Royal Commission’s evidence and findings increasingly shine a very bright light on the inaction of his government.

The evidence from the Royal Commission can only be described as confronting. Expert after expert are conveying a bleak picture to the Commissioners of a system that is broken and needing major reform. Direct witnesses have had the courage to convey the heartbreaking and traumatic accounts of their loved-ones and what they endured when care was not adequately delivered.

There has also been some bruising information that highlights the inaction over the last seven years of the current Government. The brighter this spotlight becomes the more defensive and arrogant the response from the current Government. It increasingly looks like the Morrison government has stopped listening.  The last major reforms to aged care were done by the former Labor Government in 2013 and focussed on getting more beds into the market and significantly increasing home care.

If you open the Royal Commission’s interim report titled ‘Neglect’ that was published in October last year , you get a feel for a system that is groaning under pressure.

The Commissioners sent a clear and concise message to the Morrison government in its interim report.  Recommendations are very rare in interim reports by Royal Commissions, however the Commissioners said there were three areas they said needed immediate action that could wait for the final report – more home care packages to reduce the home care waitlist, reducing the significant overreliance of chemical restraint and to take younger people with disability out of aged care facilities. The Commissioners also stated that they saw no reason to delay action on these areas.

This was a chance for Scott Morrison to listen and act. But disappointingly a month later he and his Ministers did the minimum of response.

Take for instance the home care packages waitlist that the Commissioners described in their interim report as cruel, unfair and discriminatory. At the time the interim report was made public there were more than 119,000 older Australians waiting for their approved package. Equally concerning was that in two years prior almost 30,000 older Australians had died waiting for their home care package and more than 30,000 entered residential aged care prematurely.

And with all this information before Scott Morrison and his Ministers what was the Government response? A mere 10,000 home care packages.

Why didn’t the Morrison Government do more to address this waitlist and provide further reform measures to ensure older Australians were getting the care they so desperately needed in their own homes? Scott Morrison should have taken responsibility because the blow out of the home care waitlist happened under his watch.

The reality is that almost a year on there are still more than 100,000 older Australians waiting for their approved home care package – many of whom have no care at all. This is indicative of a Government that isn’t listening but it also speaks volumes about Scott Morrison who prepared the nation for confronting stories from the Royal Commission but then fails to act when the focus is on him.

The concern is if Scott Morrison isn’t listening now how can we trust him to carry through and implement the Commissioners’ final recommendations? Will he cherry pick through the recommendations as has happened with dozens of reports, reviews and inquiries before simply to hide the reform mistakes that should have happened over the past seven years?

The opening and closing remarks of Counsel Assisting, Peter Rozen QC, at the Royal Commission’s COVID-19 hearings said it all. Scott Morrison and his Ministers took umbrage when Mr Rozen stated they weren’t prepared, that the Federal Government had no comprehensive plan to deal with COVID-19 in aged care services and there was a degree of self-congratulatory and hubris from the Government.

Instead of listening to the evidence around these statements and the remarks by Commissioner Pagone the Morrison Government set forth a monumental defensive strategy. The energy spent defending itself could have been better directed towards getting on with the job and protecting older Australians, particularly in light of the devastation being felt by family and loved ones of those lives lost to COVID-19 in aged care.

The problem is that if Scott Morrison has a tin ear about the information coming from the Royal Commission now what will he be like when there are significant decisions to be made about the pathway to major reform when the final report is handed down in February next year?

It is time for Scott Morrison to reflect on the words he said two years ago. There will be more bruising information to come, some of which will point out the reform failures of the Morrison Government.

Scott Morrison cannot be thin-skinned  – he and his Ministers must take responsibility for the aged care system because it is under their remit. No one should forget who is at the heart of this Royal Commission.  It is older Australians who helped build this country, their families and carers who want to see an aged care system that we can all rely on – one that is no longer broken.

The nation is up for reform of the system, the Australian people want it fixed and Scott Morrison is in charge – he needs to fix it and he needs to do it quickly.  There should be no more delays, no more smoke and mirrors but real action.

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