The media had a field day late Friday and over the weekend with the vision of the aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, being grilled by the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19.
He stumbled over facts like the number of aged care deaths that day in Victoria – he did not have the exact number immediately at hand. This was interpreted as weak and ineffectual leadership.
Is this fair? The numbers change every day and it is the actions that matter. Behind Colbeck and his portfolio is $1B that has been added to the response to COVID in aged care, with $171M allocated just last week.
Everyone touched by COVID is tired; it has been with us approaching six months now. Minister Colbeck has been living with it 24/7, no doubt. The Prime Minister was one of many who came out in his defence, saying “I am sure the minister regrets not being able to bring those figures immediately to mind. On occasion I can’t bring figures to mind.”
Led by the Committee Chair, Labor Senator Katy Gallagher, Colbeck was attacked on why the government was ‘absent’ while COVID-19 was infecting Victoria’s aged care homes. He was emotional in his response.
“I reject the assertion … in fact I find it offensive. The government wasn’t absent. The government has been there every single step of the way providing every single resource it could muster in the interests of these people.”
“We haven’t got it right. We apologise for that. We are not happy that some things haven’t worked out as we might have hoped. It has cost lives and that is an absolute tragedy in every single circumstance. There were things that we could have done better. I acknowledge that.”
A human response.
Katy Gallagher is a career politician, having commenced as union organiser and working her way through the Labor party. You may recall she lost her seat in May 2018 after the High Court ruled she did not renounce her British citizenship in time for the 2016 election.
She is human too.
The Committee is supposed to be a fact finding mission to learn. One of the few success of COVID is the bipartisan desire to work collegiately to get the best outcomes. Mutual respect and balanced fairness are the required cornerstones.