“Reform takes time” says outgoing Aged Care Services Minister Senator Richard Colbeck

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Senator Richard Colbeck, the outgoing Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services and Minister for Sport, has been on the receiving end of criticism from the Labor Party in recent years.

But with Labor now in power, it is important to acknowledge the departing Minister’s contribution to the sector.

Minister Colbeck was appointed Aged Care and Senior Australians Minister (plus Youth and Sport) in May 2019, overseeing the portfolio during the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

He then moved to the role of Senior Australians and Aged Care Services Minister in December 2020 as the Morrison Government looked to respond to the Royal Commission with an “ambitious” five-year aged care reform program.

Senator Colbeck, in an online webinar with the outgoing Council on the Ageing Chief Executive, Ian Yates AM, said aged care reform has been “one of the most important” achievements of his working career but it takes time.

One of the reforms that Minister Colbeck named as a key achievement was the increase in the number of Home Care Packages and decline in the waiting list.

“When I came to the portfolio, the number of people on the national priority list was something like 129,000. It’s now down to about 60,000 and continuing to decline. We’re rolling out new packages at the rate of about 770 a week,” he told the webinar.

The Minister said when someone is assessed as a high needs recipient for any level of Home Care Package, they will now receive that in less than 30 days.

The maximum wait for a Package at the assessed level is seven months compared with 18 to 24 months when he took over the portfolio.

The onset of COVID-19 variant Omicron in aged care homes this year has dampened Senator Colbeck’s performance. More residents have died this year than in 2020 and 2021 put together, despite successful vaccination programs.

Labor has yet to appoint a new Health and Aged Care Minister, with Finance Minister Senator Katy Gallagher, temporarily holding the post.

Mark Butler (pictured), who has held the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing portfolio since January 2021, is the obvious choice to replace Senator Colbeck and Heath Minister Greg Hunt. He was also the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing under Labor from 2010–2013.

The Health and Ageing Minister will be voted on by the Labor Party caucus on Tuesday and will be sworn in the following day.