Senator McLACHLAN (South Australia) (16:53): I rise to speak to a matter of urgency moved by Senator Keneally, which concerns and incorporates some, in my view, unfair criticisms of the coalition government in relation to its response to the COVID-19 impact on the aged-care sector. In particular, the motion calls on the Prime Minister and the minister, Senator Colbeck, to demonstrate leadership and take responsibility. My response to that call is that it has been answered and it is being answered and it will continue to be answered.
Whilst I oppose the motion, and I strongly oppose it, I do join Senator Keneally in extending my sympathies to the families who have lost loved ones because of the virus. I know I can be confident that every honourable senator in this place feels the same sentiment.
The mover of this motion appears to have crafted their propositions based on articles that have appeared in The Guardian or media of similar disposition. The mover of the motion has failed to properly reflect on the incredible and Herculean efforts that have been undertaken by the coalition government to keep our aged safe. Aristotle said, ‘To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.’ The federal government, the coalition government, is a government of action in an environment that is difficult, challenging, and ever-changing. While the motion is critical of the Prime Minister and Minister Colbeck, I praise them both. The Prime Minister has said this has been his No. 1 focus. This does not sound like a leader seeking to deflect blame or refusing to take responsibility. Rather, it is the opposite. The minister, Senator Colbeck, has worked extremely hard and his endeavours have been extremely effective. It is difficult to think at this time of having a more capable or effective minister to face these challenges. To unfairly lay criticism on the minister is to ignore that the states also have a critical role to play in the movement of people in their jurisdictions, for they govern the public health laws that apply to these facilities. We must bear in mind the providers that have been supported by the federal government who also have a critical role to play. This is why the coalition government has chosen to work collaboratively and closely with the states and the providers and not seek, as Labor are doing today, to lay blame and sow discourse and disharmony.
The Morrison government is scaling up its aged-care support programs in Victoria and across Australia with an additional $171.5 million to boost a new COVID-19 response plan, which has been agreed by all states and territories. This brings the total Commonwealth funding to support this sector to more than $1 billion. This $1 billion dollars is being used to support the sector, including directly and indirectly supporting providers and the sector overall, and, importantly, to support residents and staff. For example, the federal and Victorian governments have established a dedicated Victorian Aged Care Response Centre in Melbourne to coordinate support to each aged-care provider experiencing an outbreak.
The federal government did understand the implications the spread of COVID-19 could have for the aged-care workforce. This is why it set out a plan, in the early days, to reinforce and repair the sector with tangible actions. This included providing critical information to providers and initially committing $101.2 million to help build capacity through a workforce surge program. The Morrison government is committed to providing an unlimited amount of surge workforce facilities during this outbreak. That is an incredible commitment by the minister and the Prime Minister. It is worth noting that the government is also delivering record investment in the aged-care system over the forward estimates. From $13.3 billion in 2012-13, under Labor, it grows to $21.4 billion in 2019-20 to an estimated $25.4 billion in 2022-23. This is, on average, $1.2 billion of extra support for older Australians each year over the forward estimates.
I would also point out to honourable senators that it is the Prime Minister, a Liberal Prime Minister, that called a royal commission into aged care quality and safety. This is not the act of a government that is avoiding accountability or responsibility. Rather, this is a government that has no fear of accountability, that seeks out responsibility and that is driven to protecting the most vulnerable.
You can watch my speech here.See full session on Hansard