Aged Care Minister under fire for attending Ashes Test after declining to appear at COVID-19 committee

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The Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services and Minister for Sport, Senator Richard Colbeck has revealed that he was at Hobart’s Ashes Test on the same day he declined a request to appear before the committee.

In an update to his register of interests, Minister Colbeck said that he received “sponsored travel or hospitality” to attend three days of the Hobart Test between Australia and England from Friday 14 to Sunday 16 January, The Guardian reported this week.

The Senate Committee – which is examining the Government’s response to the pandemic and is predominantly comprised of Labor and independent MPs – had requested the Minister attend in a letter on 7 January, but he and the Prime Minister’s Department rejected the invitation, citing “numerous Omicron outbreaks” and offering a videoconference as an alternative.

Through a spokesperson, Colbeck said the suggestion he had “put his sporting commitments ahead of the health and wellbeing of senior Australians … (is) completely misguided”.

The spokesperson said that the Minister had met with the head of the COVID-19 vaccine response Lt Gen John Frewen, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson, the acting Secretary of Health and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer on 14 January and Colbeck’s attendance at the test was “part of his commitments as minister for sport and Senator for Tasmania” with the Test “a day/night match (that) did not start until late afternoon”.

“At a time when the Australian government continues to work to protect the lives of senior Australians in care, attempts by the Senate select committee on COVID-19 to redirect resources away from the Department of Health for political purposes is of serious concern and should be noted by Australians as we navigate the impact of the pandemic,” the spokesperson added.