Thursday 29th of October 2020

brilliantly standing by ignorance...

standing by

When the minister responsible for an aged care system in crisis fronted a parliamentary inquiry, he was asked a simple and predictable question: how many residents had so far died of coronavirus?

From his Devonport electorate office, Richard Colbeck put his reading glasses on and asked Labor senator Katy Gallagher to wait a moment while he looked up the latest figure.

What followed was an excruciating 35 seconds of silence — broadcast live on TV — of a minister fumbling through documents to find an answer that could have been at his fingertips.

Finally, Senator Gallagher broke the awkward silence and asked a department official for the answer: 254.

That was the current death toll in Victorian aged care homes as of 8:00am on Thursday, August 20.

When Senator Colbeck was asked how many residents were currently infected with the virus, Senator Gallagher initially got the same response from the Minister. Silence.

"You don't know how many people have passed away and you're now telling me you don't know how many people have the infection?" Senator Gallagher asked.

"You're the Minister for Aged Care."

Minutes earlier, the Minister told the committee "every death is an absolute tragedy" yet he couldn't immediately recall how many there had been.

Richard Colbeck's appearance before the COVID-19 committee has invited more questions, even within the Coalition's own ranks, about whether he is up to the job, and whether the Commonwealth has dropped the ball on aged care during a one-in-100-year pandemic. 

"In some circumstances, we haven't got it right," he conceded. 

"We apologise for that. 

"We are not happy that some things haven't worked out as we might've hoped or we have encountered circumstances that none of us had anticipated."

The problem with his argument is that, through the Aged Care Royal Commission, it has become evident that several of the issues the sector has encountered had, in fact, been anticipated.

Right from the beginning of the pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison identified a looming problem: "Those who are more at risk are the elderly, particularly those who are in aged care facilities."

Mr Morrison insists plans were put in place, advice prepared by federal authorities, and preparations made in case of an outbreak inside one of those facilities.

On March 3, the nation was about to witness just how catastrophic such an outbreak would be.

Sydney's Dorothy Henderson Lodge — an 80-bed nursing home operated by BaptistCare — recorded its first case of COVID-19 and, within five weeks, it had spread to five staff and 17 residents, six of whom died.

It wasn't until May that NSW Health declared the outbreak over, proving just how difficult this infectious virus was to contain.

As the first coronavirus cluster inside a nursing home, it should have served as a guinea pig for the way thousands of other facilities would respond to an outbreak.


Successive governments have deliberately handed the aged care portfolio to junior ministers, out of Cabinet, to keep the issue off the agenda and away from the front pages of newspapers.

It is unclear if Mr Morrison is prepared to elevate aged care but the minister who holds the portfolio appears to be safe.

"I do have confidence in him," he said in response to questions about Senator Colbeck's performance.

"What's necessary is the actions he's taken.

"I think it's important to play the issue, not the man, here."

But a reckoning is coming. If the Government doesn't use its October Budget to announce sweeping reforms of a sector that has failed our most vulnerable, then the Aged Care Royal Commission might force its hand.

It was Mr Morrison who called that inquiry.


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ignorance is bliss...

Asked later if he would sack Senator Colbeck as minister, Mr Morrison urged people to focus on the issues.

“This is a very demanding environment in which to be working,” he said.

“I know those issues are not far from his mind on a minute-by-minute basis. I am sure the Minister regrets not being able to bring those figures immediately to mind. On occasion I can’t bring figures to mind.

“I think it’s important to play the issue, not the man here.”

It came as Mr Morrison announced a further $171 million to help the aged-care sector battle the coronavirus, while saying more money will be announced in the October budget.


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Not remembering the exact number of stuff offhand is vaguely okay for a busy minister, but not having these important stats handy on a piece of paper nearby is a bit frivolous...

meanwhile, the covid rain in spain...


WATCH: Spanish Doctor Shoots Down Covid19 Myths

Front-line doctor attacks media, questions need for vaccine, before interview cut short




The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) says he hopes the coronavirus pandemic will be over in under two years.

Speaking in Geneva on Friday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Spanish flu of 1918 took two years to overcome.

But he added that current advances in technology could enable the world to halt the virus "in a shorter time".

"Of course with more connectiveness, the virus has a better chance of spreading," he said.

"But at the same time, we have also the technology to stop it, and the knowledge to stop it," he noted, stressing the importance of "national unity, global solidarity".

The deadly flu of 1918 killed at least 50 million people.

The coronavirus has so far killed almost 800,000 people and infected 22.7 million more.

Dr Tedros also responded to a question about corruption relating to personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic, which he described as "criminal". 

"Any type of corruption is unacceptable," he answered.


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overworked, beleaguered and bruised...

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his beleaguered aged care minister, who walked out of the Senate during a debate on the response to COVID outbreaks in nursing homes on Thursday.

Mr Morrison said Richard Colbeck – who has had a bruising week in federal parliament – had urgent business to attend to when he left the Senate immediately after giving a statement about deadly errors in the virus-ridden aged-care sector.

“The Aged Care Minister left the chamber to deal directly with some very serious issues that were happening in a couple of centres, which is what his job is,” Mr Morrison told Seven’s Sunrise on Friday.

“This is a job he is doing morning, noon and night.


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Read from top.

the scomo team should be sacked...

Australia’s principal health committee wasn’t consulted before the aged-care regulator halted critical unannounced inspections of nursing homes for 11 weeks at the height of the pandemic.

It comes as the Labor Party promises to move another censure motion against embattled Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck in the Senate.

Unannounced visits to aged-care homes are a crucial part of the regulatory process from the federal government, with Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission inspectors meant to check if facilities were properly caring for residents.

However, the commission reportedly made just 235 unannounced visits to homes since March – despite there being more than 2700 facilities in the system.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said there were 620 unannounced visits this year, but the aged-care regulator admitted on Tuesday unannounced visits had been canned for 11 weeks between March and June.

At least 450 Australians in Commonwealth aged care have died of COVID, according to federal statistics.

Horror stories from facilities in Melbourne and Sydney have told of poor infection control, a lack of personal protective equipment, and lax adherence to protocols on communication and reporting – all areas that regulator visits would aim to pick up.

On Monday, Senator Colbeck admitted inspections had been wound back earlier in the year, with the system changed from undertaking unannounced visits to short-notice visits – meaning homes were notified in advance.


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Read from top.

oh for dying in peace, than going in a vaccinated age-care...

"I have little doubt that if a direction for vaccination of all people in Victoria were made by the Chief Health Officer under section 200 and if it were challenged in the courts, the courts would say it was unlawful for such a requirement to be imposed on the population under delegated legislation."

Dr O'Brien said that executive or delegated legislation, such as the emergency powers, had not passed through the normal checks and balances of Parliament, making them less legitimate in the eyes of the courts when it comes to serious matters of liberty.

While it is doubtless that some restrictions currently imposed in response to COVID-19 under emergency powers seriously curtail individual freedoms, Dr O'Brien believes governments see a line in the sand when it comes to making medical interventions.

"Bodily autonomy is such a fundamental principle to our society," she said. 

She pointed to states so far being unwilling to mandate COVID-19 testing in hotel quarantine as evidence they would be highly unlikely to attempt using executive powers to enforce something as intrusive as mandatory vaccination. 

Alternative methods

Short of legislating for a universal compulsory vaccine, federal and state governments have at their disposal other mechanisms to compel Australians to be vaccinated.

In an opinion piece in The Age, Victorian Labor senator Raff Ciccone proposed that people who refused a COVID-19 vaccine could be barred entry from mass gatherings, restaurants and other private businesses. 

"As a community, we should consider to what extent we allow organisations to prevent those who object to being vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter their premises," he said.

Read more about coronavirus:


The "carrot and stick" approach of offering incentives to those who comply and disincentives for those who do not, is already a tactic used in Australia. 

At the federal level, the immunisation of children is tied to eligibility for some welfare payments. If children aren't vaccinated or participating in a catch-up schedule, parents are not eligible for the Child Care Subsidy and can have their Family Tax Benefit reduced by $28.84 per fortnight. 

In March, the national cabinet resolved that being immunised for influenza would be a condition of entry to aged care facilities in all states and territories. 

But when it comes to the approach to vaccination of each state and territory, there remain clear differences.... 


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Bodily autonomy?... Read from top.