Peter Khalil: The current aged-care crisis that we are facing here, particularly in Victoria, has had a huge impact on us all, particularly in my own electorate of Wills. I understand that this pandemic is unprecedented and mistakes have been made from all levels of government—state and federal—and from both sides of politics. What I don’t understand and what I won’t accept—and nor should we accept—is a Prime Minister and a minister for aged care who refuse to hold themselves accountable for their lack of planning and for what they were and still are responsible for. Like many Australians, I’m appalled at the Morrison government’s lack of accountability and action in the private aged-care sector, which they are responsible for. There are more than 653 families grieving who deserve to know why their loved ones were not protected and why that planning wasn’t put in place. Instead of answering those questions, such as why they ignored the warning signs with the Newmarch House outbreak in New South Wales and failed to act, the Prime Minister and the minister for aged care have chosen to dodge and duck and weave at every turn.
In my electorate of Wills, there are hundreds of families and friends of these families who do not have the same luxury of dodging the reality they face. They cannot simply ignore and push aside their grief—particularly those who had loved ones in the St Basil’s aged-care home in my electorate of Wills. I’ve spoken to many family members. There are around 200 COVID cases linked to St Basil’s aged-care facility in Faulkner, and 44 people lost their lives. Once again, I send my deepest condolences to all those grieving families. Behind those numbers there are many, many stories. Most who lost their lives were Greek Australians, migrants who came here to Australia and who worked exceptionally hard. They helped build the Melbourne and the Australia we know today. Many worked in factories or started small businesses. They contributed to their communities and they worked hard to give their children a better life here in Australia, and, after all their hard work and contributions, in the end they were effectively neglected by the federal government.
The Prime Minister didn’t listen. Indeed, he neglected to listen to the royal commission’s interim report. The title should have been an obvious pointer to the Prime Minister; it was Neglect. The report was published over a year ago. The commissioners recommended that the Morrison government urgently fix the home-care packages waiting list, which was described as cruel, unfair and discriminatory. It was another piece of critical advice ignored by the Prime Minister. If he’d listened and if his aged-care minister had listened and acted, this disaster could have been avoided or at least mitigated. Many families would still have their loved ones to cherish. Instead, they had to say goodbye on FaceTime or not at all.
You would think, Mr Deputy Speaker, that after seeing the disaster develop before their eyes they would react quickly to mitigate the extent of it. But, no, the Prime Minister and the rest of the Morrison government stood still. Commissioner Pagone suggested back in August that the government establish a national body dedicated to dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak in aged care. Did the Prime Minister listen to the commissioner’s suggestion? No, he did not. He said it was just a proposal. Two months later, the royal commission’s COVID-19 special report confirmed in black and white what we already knew: the Morrison government had no plan for COVID-19 in aged care. The facts are stark. As at August 2020, at the height of the outbreak in Victoria, there were 1,923 COVID cases in private aged-care facilities. There were six cases in public aged-care facilities, which are the responsibility of the state government.
The Morrison government’s inability to plan and prepare is a catastrophic failure. It’s a national tragedy. To those families in my community: I’m truly, deeply sorry for your loss. And to the people in my electorate of Wills and all Australians who have lost loved ones in aged care to COVID-19: you deserve better.