Senate votes to censure Aged Care Minister over COVID outbreaks – but can he take all the blame?

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A week after calling out Senator Richard Colbeck in the Senate, its Leader of the Opposition Penny Wong has successfully moved a motion to censure the Minister over his handling of the COVID outbreaks in Australian aged care homes.

The crossbench and the Greens joined with Labor to ensure the motion – which condemned both the Morrison Government for failing to protect residents from the virus and the Aged Care Minister for failing to take responsibility for the crisis – was passed through 25 votes to 21.

Ms Wong told the Senate she did not move the censure lightly, but said that if the Morrison Government will not act to protect older Australians, then the Senate would.

Wong says Colbeck has lost the confidence of Parliament

“This nation must do better, this Minister must do better, the Morrison government must do better,” she said.

“And the Senate should express that we must do better by censuring this Minister.”

“The country has lost confidence in this Minister.”

“He has lost the confidence of the Parliament. He has lost the confidence of his colleagues and he should be censured.”

Only five Senators censured in 10 years

The move is largely a symbolic one and requires no action from Senator Colbeck – unlike a motion of no confidence which can force the party to resign.

But it is not a common practice – Senators have only been censured five times since 2010.

The last Senator to be censured was former Senator Fraser Anning in April last year over his comments after the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand in which he blamed the attacks on “the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate”.

Cormann on the defensive

Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann stood up to defend Senator Colbeck, saying he and his Liberal colleagues were strongly opposed to the motion – to some heckling.

He underlined that the Minister was overseeing a “challenging area” in a “very difficult context” and was continuing to work around the clock to protect residents.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also repeatedly stated that Senator Colbeck still has his confidence.

The question is: is it fair to blame the Minister for what has unfolded in aged care?

Or is it the Victorian Government who refused to allow immediate hospital transfers, like South Australia and initially the NSW Government with Dorothy Henderson?

The Royal Commission has underscored again this week how the current system is the result of years of poor decision making – or none at all.

Can you hold one man accountable for the failures of progressive Governments?


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