Richard Colbeck was not prepared for questioning when being asked to provide latest stats with regards to deaths that have occurred in Aged Care. It is most unfortunate for the Minister to look uncaring with regards to the deaths of 258 people in aged care homes… and Colbeck was looking even worse and out of his depth when asked about what to do next.
The minister being directly responsible for those homes, did nothing on Friday to raise confidence in his ability to handle the coronavirus outbreaks in aged care.
Minister for Aged Care, Richard Colbeck, was unprepared and was unable to recall how many aged care residents had lost their lives or had contracted the coronavirus.
When asked how many residents had died from the virus, the federal Aged Care Minister could not answer as he did not know. The Minister could not say how many cases there were.
“My fault, my responsibility and I take full responsibility for not having that information available to me at that time.”
A minister can be forgiven for not knowing the answer to a surprise question in a somewhat hostile Senate committee hearing, but Colbeck was asked for basic facts about the biggest health crisis he is likely to face in his political career.
Things became worse when for the minister when he struggled to offer compelling answers about his actions in aged care even when a better answer was possible.
When asked whether the government had prepared costings to protect older Australians, Colbeck raised objections by arguing it was not possible to save everyone.
“Where there has been widespread community transmission the reality is that we will continue to see outbreaks in all parts of our community but we see tragically the results that occur in residential aged care,” he said at one point.
There is a grim logic here: aged care homes cannot be fully protected and shielded from the second wave in Victoria.
Why should Colbeck want to sound resigned to more deaths? The government keeps using “community transmission” as a crutch in every argument.
Colbeck could have given a better answer to the questions at hand and provide positive reassurance by stipulating fats such as the government had already committed a further $850 million to aged care prior to him giving his statement. The government also announced another $171 million soon after he concluded.
As a result, the government is not sitting idle. It is committed to spending money on a surge workforce, retention bonuses for staff and cash payments to aged care operators. It is promising more funds in the October budget.
Meanwhile, Colbeck was not across all the details. It was almost as if he needed to be jolted into realising he was in charge.
Scott Morrison backed his minister on Friday afternoon. However, some would argue that it is not the Prime Minister’s job to save his minister. It is the minister’s job to deal with this emergency as a matter of priority, ensuring that he is prepared with as much factual information as possible for such questions. It is the minister’s job to save himself.