Senator Richard Colbeck (pictured above) quietly defended his handling of the COVID outbreaks that have now led to the deaths of almost 700 older Australians in aged care homes, during a fiery meeting of the Senate Estimates committee on community affairs on Tuesday.
Labor Senator Kristina Keneally (pictured below) was scathing in her attack on the Minister, often losing her composure, while the Minister remained dignified despite the pair often talking over each other in an attempt to get their points across.
Second wave responsible for aged care COVID deaths, Minister says
Minister Colbeck rejected Senator Keneally’s assessment that Australia’s three out of four COVID deaths in residential care ranked the country third worst in the world, saying it was “not a reasonable measure”.
Noting earlier evidence to the Committee that Australia’s actions had saved the equivalent of 16,000 lives compared to the UK – where deaths have topped 45,000 – the Minister added that those figures had also not been supported by the Royal Commission.
Asked if he had offered to resign to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister Colbeck said he had not.
“I don’t feel responsible personally for the deaths that have occurred, as tragic as they all are, which have been caused by COVID-19,” he said.
“The thing that would have saved lives is the prevention of the escape of COVID-19 in Victoria leading to the second wave.”
Minister Colbeck says he would like to retain aged care
Senator Keneally continued to goad the Minister however.
Noting that he had previously held the post of Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resource before he was appointed in May 2019, she asked if he had requested the aged care portfolio.
“It was the gift of the Prime Minister. We all serve at his pleasure,” he replied, adding that he would like to stay in the aged care portfolio when the Cabinet is expected to reshuffle at the end of the year.
The Senator was unwilling to let the matter go however, accusing the Morrison Government of “ducking and weaving” which led to a number of jeers across the room.
“You can hector all you like,” said Minister Colbeck.
“Well, you can actually care about the fact that 700 people died on your watch,” threw back Senator Keneally.
Government well advanced on Royal Commission’s COVID recommendations
The Aged Care Minister maintained that the Government was well-progressed in its response to the six recommendations made by the Royal Commission in its special COVID report – though he had scant details to confirm this – including how the Government will meet the requirement to report to Parliament on its progress by 1 December.
“We’re still considering the process,” he said.
Minister Colbeck also wouldn’t accept that the Government didn’t have a national COVID plan for the aged care sector, prompting more heckling from the Labor senators.
“The Government said we have a plan,” he said. “We have worked very closely with the sector right through the pandemic and we continue to do so.”