Royal Commission Chair says Commission won’t conduct full inquiry into Victorian COVID-19 aged care outbreaks

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The Honourable Tony Pagone QC has corrected the record after Premier Minister Scott Morrison stated on Tuesday that he expected the Royal Commission to look into the situation in Victoria.

Speaking in Queensland before he flew back to Canberra to deal with the aged care outbreaks in Victoria, Mr Morrison said:

“I established the Aged Care Royal Commission and the Aged Care Royal Commission is already looking at issues relating to COVID in terms of what occurred in New South Wales and I would expect them to look at what has occurred in Victoria as well. We’re open to that.”

But Mr Pagone says the Royal Commission’s upcoming Sydney hearings – due to examine the sector’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – will not be holding a full enquiry into the Victorian outbreaks, despite public expectations.

“The impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s aged care sector is a national tragedy. It is a human tragedy. At the moment, that tragedy is unfolding daily,” he stated.

“It is important for the public to understand that this Royal Commission is not able, and is not intending, to conduct a full inquiry into that impact. We simply do not have the resources or time to conduct an inquiry that would do justice to the issues which have arisen so far and continue to change and develop. The issues associated with the impacts of COVID-19 in aged care warrant an inquiry of their own.”

The Commissioner noted that at the start of July, there had been no COVID-19 deaths linked to aged care in Victoria with just two active cases and six recoveries.

“By 29 July 2020, there were 440 active cases and 47 deaths. Only three residents have recovered. The first death did not occur until 11 July 2020,” he said.

Instead, Mr Pagone emphasised that their three-and-a-half-day hearing – starting on 10 August – will focus on the level of preparedness in the sector for a major infectious disease outbreak and “whether the human response to COVID-19 balanced appropriately the needs of all of those affected”.

“Our inquiries may reveal, as seems likely, that there needs to be a fuller and more forensic inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 in aged care. Such an inquiry would need adequate time and resources extending beyond the time frame available to us. It will be for Government to determine if such an inquiry is to be undertaken.”

Will the Commission also look at the Department of Health’s preparedness?