Covid-19 & Aged Care

26 August 2020

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:22): My question is to the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Colbeck. Since 20 March the federal government has paid an additional $1 billion to the sector to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to provide care for senior Australians in care. What transparency requirements did the government place on the aged-care sector to ensure how the additional $1 billion was spent; and is the minister confident that all of the federal funds provided were spent as intended by the Morrison government?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:22): The $1 billion that we've made available to the aged-care sector to manage the COVID-19 outbreak is not all just paid to the aged-care sector. There are a range of programs that provide different levels of support under different programs, whether that be to pay for surge workforce, for example, whether that be to support the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, whether that be to support mental health or whether that be an uplift to provide capacity for the sector to deal with additional costs that they're facing with COVID-19.

One measure in that sense was a $205 million general uplift that we provided to the sector, and we will be seeking a reconciliation of that amount. We are looking to get a sense of what's occurred with the funding that we provide into the sector, because we think it's appropriate. The other funds, such as those that support a facility that might have had a COVID outbreak, will be repatriated to the facilities based on accounting and paid in arrears. So there will be a clear understanding of what that funding was used for and a capacity for us to reconcile that against the accounts and the expenses that a facility may have occurred in managing a particular outbreak.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, a supplementary question?

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:24): With reference to the $205 million that you referred to which was announced on 1 May, this was given to providers to cover the cost for additional staffing, training, visitations and connections and the provision of PPE in the pandemic; $900 was paid per resident in major metro areas and $1,350 in other areas. Can the minister advise how many additional staff were employed, how much additional training was undertaken and how much additional PPE was purchased per aged-care facility?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:24): I thank the senator for his question. We have not received those reconciliations at this point in time. That money was put out through our usual funding processes to ensure that the facilities had the capacity to meet those costs. We believe it was important that we provided that. We understood the costs were higher in regional Australia than they were in metro areas; that's why we made that important distinction. We have not received those reconciliations at this point in time, so I'm not able to give the chamber any advice on that.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Griff, a final supplementary question.

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (14:25): Minister, will you take on notice the request on the previous question to provide that reconciliation? Do you concede that, in order to restore trust with Australians, the government must implement financial transparency rules for the aged-care sector to properly account for the billions in federal funds providers receive annually?

Senator COLBECK (TasmaniaMinister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth and Sport) (14:25): I actually agree with the senator that financial accountability is a very, very important element of where we go with the aged-care sector post the royal commission and how we respond to the royal commission. In fact, that's one of the conversations we've been having in our policy development work towards the response to the royal commission. I think it's a very important issue. Transparency and quality indicators as well, and I know that's something that you have an interest in, Mr President. Providing some visibility into the quality indicators that apply to the residential aged-care sector—and the home care sector, I might add—is important. We also do have some public reporting in respect of home care on the My Aged Care website. My view is that it's important—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Wong, on a point of order.

Senator Wong: Point of order. I apologise to Senator Griff for taking a point of order on his question. The minister was asked to take on notice and come back to the chamber with the question he couldn't answer. He hasn't responded to that in this answer. As a matter of direct relevance, I'd ask him to do the chamber the courtesy of responding to that request.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cormann, on the point of order.

Senator Cormann: Minister Colbeck could not have been more directly relevant if he tried.

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left, Senator Wong!

Senator Cormann: In terms of courtesy to the chamber, it would indeed be courteous to Senator Griff if he were allowed to pursue his own questions.

The PRESIDENT: The minister can respond to an answer any way he sees fit, as long as he's directly relevant. I believe he was being directly relevant to the answer.

Senator Wong: What are you hiding?

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left! Senator Cormann.

Senator Cormann: Interjections are always disorderly.

The PRESIDENT: They are.

Senator Wong: What are you hiding?

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left, Senator Wong! Senator Colbeck to continue.

Senator COLBECK: Thank you, Mr President. I will note that the royal commission is looking at those financial disclosure issues, and so we will consider that. Mr President, I will take on notice—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Time for the answer has concluded. There is therefore no option to have a point of order. Once the answer concludes—that was one second. Once the answer has concluded, there is no point of order on relevance to the question, unless Senator Griff want wanted to raise another point of order.

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