The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report and its 148 recommendations make it absolutely clear – Australia’s aged care system is in crisis.
If the question is how on Earth did this eight-year-old government let it come to this, the answer is: Scott Morrison.
No prime minister in the history of federation has proven himself more averse to taking responsibility.
Tragically, he is the man who holds ultimate responsibility for the aged care system.
As we read through the all-too-real human stories described by the Royal Commission – whether it’s aged care residents with maggots crawling in their wounds or residents left malnourished – contemplate this Prime Minister’s role.
He is responsible for the $1.7bn in federal funding cuts and the terrible systemic neglect.
How could Australians trust Scott Morrison to fix his aged care crisis?
To quote Royal Commissioner Lynelle Briggs: “At times in this inquiry, it has felt like the government’s main consideration was what was the minimum commitment it could get away with, rather than what should be done to sustain the aged care system so that it is enabled to deliver high quality and safe care. This must change.”
The Commonwealth is responsible for the aged care system but Scott Morrison has stubbornly refused to step up to the job.
His preferred option is to blame the states.
That was the path he took even when he was caught asleep at the wheel when 685 older Australians died in nursing homes during last year’s Coronavirus outbreak.
Scott Morrison responded: “When it rains, everyone gets wet.”
He’d already told us he didn’t hold a hose, but that’s when he confirmed he’d had an empathy bypass.
Neither he nor his hapless Minister Richard Colbeck can be trusted to fix this broken system.
That this is the case comes as no surprise.
The interim report – which was so tellingly titled Neglect – was unflinching in the truths that it told.
Those truths were shared in that and in the final report thanks to the courage of families of aged care residents.
It must have been so hard talking about what their loved ones endured, but they wanted that truth to be told.
They didn’t want other families to suffer the way they have.
We also owe our gratitude to the aged care sector workers who came forward.
So many have been undervalued and underpaid, left to struggle with chronic understaffing, and until the Royal Commission finally gave them an outlet, left unheard.
The Coalition Government has neglected them all.
It is a national disgrace.
Now they are even neglecting their basic obligation to transparency, holding a press conference without giving journalists time to look at the Royal Commission report.
This is one of the most cynical manifestations of this Government’s all-announcement-no-delivery approach.
There have been nearly two dozen reports on aged care in the past decade.
More than half of them have been made public in the time that Scott Morrison has been Treasurer and Prime Minister.
For too long, the federal government has been too interested in hiding or handballing the issues in aged care.
Enough is enough.
Australians deserve more than this habitual buck-passing.
Labor will take time to digest and work our way through the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
The Government must take all recommendations from the Royal Commission seriously and respond accordingly.
Labor will consider both the recommendations and the Government’s response.
It should all boil down to one, straightforward objective for the Morrison government: to fix aged care.
Life is to be lived.
We cannot be content with warehousing our fellow Australians in the later stages of their lives.
We cannot be satisfied with a situation where older Australians are dying while waiting for their homecare packages.
The older Australians who built this country deserve care, dignity and respect until the very end.
We need proper funding.
We need real regulation and control, and we need to respond to the issues faced by the stretched workforce – and support them.
If you are an older Australian who wants safe and compassionate treatment in aged care, Labor is on your side.
If you want to know your parents and grandparents are safe and properly cared for in our aged care system, Labor is on your side.
If you are an aged care worker wanting adequate resources to look after older Australians in your care, Labor is on your side.
Labor is on the side of the fundamental idea that those in power must step up.
As Commissioner Briggs put it: “The government must step up and embrace its responsibilities for aged care.”
Those responsibilities include proper funding, proper regulation, and the sort of workforce we would all expect.
Not just for the older Australians of the present, but for the older Australians we all hope to one day be.
Anything less would add to the disgrace.
This opinion piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, 3 March 2021.