The Australian Senate has reprimanded the aged care minister for failing to take responsibility for the ongoing coronavirus crisis in the aged care sector.
There have been more than 4,000 positive cases of COVID-19 linked to aged care facilities in Victoria. Since July, 1,850 Victorian aged care residents have tested positive and 602 have died, updated Federal government data on Friday shows.
A total of 1,924 aged care residents have tested positive nationally and 634 covid-positive residents have died since the pandemic started.
Labor Senator Penny Wong moved a motion in the Senate on Thursday to censure Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck for “failing to take responsibility” for the crisis and “describing his management of aged care as a high water mark.”
The censure, which is a formal way to express strong disapproval or dissatisfaction with a minister’s performance, passed 25 votes to 21.
Mr Colbeck was also censured for “failing to recall the most basic and tragic facts about aged care residents” referring to his inability to recall the number of covid-positive residents and related deaths at a recent Senate committe hearing, and for “dismissing deaths as a function of aged.”
Ms Wong said the move to censure the minister was not taken lightly.
“The country has lost confidence in this minister, he has lost the confidence of the parliament, he has lost the confidence of his colleagues and he should be censured,” Ms Wong told the Senate in Canberra.
“If this government, the Morrison Government will not act to protect older Australians, this senate must act,” she said.
“Senator Colbeck has been warned repeatedly every three months since he has become minister, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has told him standards were not met” in as many as 45 per cent of site audits and 100 per cent of review audits.
“This nation must do better, the Morrison Government must do better,” she said.
Senator Mathias Cormann stepped in to say the government, Liberal and national senators “strongly” oppose the motion.
“We stand with our colleague Senator Colbeck who is doing a very good job in a very challenging area in a very difficult context,” Mr Cormann told the Senate.
“We continue to work, and Senator Colbeck continues to work day and night to safeguard the most vulnerable in the community,’ he said.
He stressed the government had provided over $1.5 billion as part of its aged care pandemic response package.
On Friday afternoon, Mr Colbeck told Australian Ageing Agenda that the Government has continued to progress the interests of aged care residents through a range of measures and that the “the opposition seeks to politicise.”
He said the extensive measures have resulted in 8 per cent of Australian facilities being affected by COVID-19 in either residents or staff compared to the United Kingdom, which has experienced outbreaks in 56 per cent of facilities.
“As the Prime Minister has said, the actions this Government has put in place have ensured we have been able to mitigate what has been a terrible blow for the sector.
“So I will continue to ensure senior Australians have access to the resources and support they need to guarantee an appropriate level of care,” Mr Colbeck told AAA.
Qld provider reports a positive case
The censure comes as Queensland announces a new positive case linked to residential aged care.
A staff member from Carinity’s Karinya Place tested positive for COVID-19 and all residents and staff are undergoing testing.
The staff member did not work while experiencing any symptoms and is isolating at home, Carinity said in a statement on Thursday.
“A resident and a small number of staff who had contact with the affected staff member have been advised by Carinity and Queensland Health and are now self-isolating as a precaution,” Carinity said.
“Testing of residents and staff commenced overnight and will continue today.”
Carinity said the organisation was working closely with Queensland Health and the Federal Department of Health to prevent it spreading in the facility.
Meanwhile in Victoria, there are 1,156 active cases in aged care among a cumulative total of 4,070 cases, the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre said on Thursday morning.
That total includes 1,807 residents, 1,765 staff and 498 close contacts.
There are no aged care facilities categorised as high risk for the first time since the VACRC began operating in August.
“This a significant milestone in the stabilisation of aged care facilities in Victoria,” the VACRC said in its operational update.
This article was updated on Friday afternoon with additional commentary.