August 26, 2020

The performance that we just saw from Senator Seselja was completely unbecoming of this chamber. One of the things that I have really found difficult to deal with over the last couple of months has been speaking to some of my Victorian colleagues and hearing the firsthand accounts from them of the work that they have been doing, dealing with the aged-care crisis in Victoria. They have been traumatised by the work they have had to do helping out their constituents in aged care. Some of the stories that we have been highlighting at part of our work here this week have been really important to put a spotlight on the neglect of this government. What we went through in question time today was not only the neglect that this government has been responsible for this year but that, going back over many years, this government has been responsible for the neglect in aged care.

We saw through the questions from Senator Watt, Senator Ciccone, Senator O'Neill, Senator Carr and me that the government were warned by experts and they were warned by their own reports, but they were also warned by people on their own team—by Mr Broadbent and Senator Fierravanti-Wells—numerous times about their neglect of aged care. Senator Ciccone and Senator Carr focused on the workforce issues. As Senator Watt mentioned, the government had a report on that years ago that they failed to actually take any action on. Senator O'Neill and I focused on the warnings from colleagues.

There is a history and a pattern with this government when it comes to difficult challenges on this issue. There is a timeline through this that tells the story of the government's neglect of aged care now going back five or six years. The timeline actually centres around the now Prime Minister, who was Treasurer at the time. We know that in December 2015 and May 2016, as Treasurer, the now Prime Minister cut $2 billion from the aged-care budget. These decisions have real consequences,. In June 2018, the government received a report from the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce and failed to implement its recommendations. What happened after this? We know that—and I am sure Senator Cormann recalls this as well; the anniversary was recently—on 24 August Scott Morrison became Prime Minister. We saw Minister Colbeck respond on this numerous times today. We know that a few weeks later he called a royal commission into aged care. What we know with this Prime Minister is that, before he makes any decision, it's politics first, politics second and politics third. We know in those three weeks after he became Prime Minister, before he called a royal commission, he would have been sitting around with his colleagues saying: 'Right. What do we have to try to neutralise to get through an election campaign? I know! Let's have a royal commission into aged care.' Their motivation wasn't to fix these problems. Their motivation was to get this off the agenda so they didn't have to deal with the real challenges of aged care between then and their election. That's what their motivation was. Their motivation was always around the politics and not around fixing these challenges. We know this because they received the interim report from the royal commission titled Neglect. What could possibly get you more motivated to take more action than receiving a report titled Neglect? They failed to act on its findings.

What we have seen this year is devastation that this government needs to be held accountable for. We saw aged-care homes hit throughout the world, providing a warning shot for the Australian government to be ready. We know in March and April there were outbreaks in New South Wales and then obviously over the last couple of months we have seen the devastation in Victoria. There is one figure that Senator Seselja didn't mention, and that's the more than 300 deaths that we've had in Victoria as a result of this, with more than a thousand people in aged care battling the virus at the moment.

Minister Colbeck happens to be the one who is in the job now who is bearing responsibility for these decisions that the government have made over numerous years. The minister was warned and the government were warned about years of neglect. The minister was the one there when it all caught up with them in devastating fashion, because they have been found wanting in aged care. They have been found wanting in their response to COVID and how they are dealing with it. There is no doubt that there is a lack of confidence in this minister to deal with this COVID outbreak. But the long-term worry for Australians is that he's not going to be capable enough to put in the long-term reforms that aged care needs, and this is what this government needs to be held accountable for.