2CC CANBERRA DRIVE
TUESDAY, 11 AUGUST 2020
SUBJECTS: Aged Care Royal Commission; Parliament sitting; ACT Liberal candidate dumped two days after replacing dumped Liberal candidate.
LEON DELANEY, HOST: Joining me now, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury and Charities and federal Member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh. Good afternoon.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good afternoon, Leon. Great to be with you.
DELANEY: Thanks for joining us again. Let's start with the Aged Care Royal Commission, because obviously that's been very important process in getting to the bottom of the deficiencies in our aged care system. And it was said yesterday that the pandemic has actually revealed all of the flaws that already exist in the aged care sector, in a way that has never been the case before. Some of the things that we've learned were shocking enough before the pandemic has struck, but the handling of the aged care system during the pandemic has also been extremely difficult and disappointing.
LEIGH: Certainly has, Leon. Labor called for a Royal Commission into aged care because we were aware of the significant problems within the sector, and the need for us as a nation to do better with aged care. But now we've found out of this Royal Commission that there was no plan to deal with COVID-19 in aged care, and that's just frankly scandalous, as Chris Bowen our Shadow Health Minister was pointed out. We know that aged care is a huge point of vulnerability for coronavirus. If you look at the deaths in Australia of COVID related deaths, 68 per cent have occurred in nursing homes. So the federal government's failure to better prepare aged care homes for coronavirus is a real scandal.
DELANEY: Yeah, the Royal Commission was told yesterday that there had been no advice from the authorities for a period of time between June 19 and August the third to the aged care sector. That's from the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee. They had made some three statements at various times, but there was a long delay between statements being made. And of course, the Health Minister Greg Hunt has said that the sector had been immensely prepared, but the evidence would suggest perhaps that’s not quite right.
LEIGH: Absolutely. I mean, you just take the example of St Basil’s in Melbourne. The aged care regulator knew they had problems for four days before telling the federal health department. That delay is one of the factors that allowed the virus to get such a hold in that facility. We also know that there weren't appropriate measures put in place to deal with nursing homes that had failed appropriate standards. There's 14 nursing homes in New South Wales alone that have failed their age care standards test. The people who are in there, and their friends and family need to know that those homes are safe for residents in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic.
DELANEY: We know from the experience at Newmarch House fairly early on, and also from Dorothy Henderson Lodge, that there was some difficulty in the idea of transferring aged care residents from those facilities and into hospitals once that tested positive for COVID-19. Some were from Dorothy Henderson Lodge, but there was a great deal of resistance from the state health authorities for whatever reason. Apparently it was suggested that they didn't want to set a precedent. But surely it should have been obvious, right from the very beginning, the appropriate clinical setting for anybody infected with COVID-19 under those circumstances would have been in a hospital, not an aged care facility. That's a gross failure of bureaucracy, isn't it?
LEIGH: Absolutely, it is. Certainly those early failures don't seem to have led to lessons which were taken up throughout the sector. There wasn't the preparation that was done. People who are in aged care are among the nation's most vulnerable, particularly when it comes to a pandemic like this. So the government should have been doing far more to prepare those aged care centres. Looking at things like casual workers in aged care working in multiple homes, looking at the importance of having processes to move people out of those homes. None of that has been done. Now Scott Morrison is there at his daily press conferences, pointing fingers at premiers, but he's not willing to take responsibility for aged care which is fundamentally monitored and regulated at a federal level.
DELANEY: Okay. And obviously, the Royal Commission has been examining the COVID-19 crisis, despite the fact that wasn't part of its initial brief. But it has been revealed, of course, that it does not have the resources to fully investigate what's going on in Victoria at the moment. Should the Royal Commission be given more resources, and extended to be given as much time as it needs?
LEIGH: The Royal Commission needs resources to do its work properly, and I think Australians want to see that Royal Commission getting to the bottom of the problems that have taken place in COVID-19. We've got more than 1000 cases in more than 100 facilities. We've had 168 deaths in those homes. And Scott Morrison again seems to be just absolving himself of any responsibility. It's a bit like back in the bushfires where he said, ‘I don't hold the hose, mate’. It's a bit like the Ruby Princess debacle, where he said that the Border Force officers weren't responsible for border protection. He's always looking to point the finger at somebody else, rather than manning up and taking responsibility himself.
DELANEY: Now onto other matters. There is some concern about the number of federal politicians who will be coming to the ACT for the next sitting of Parliament, which is later this month of course - I think from memory, the 24th. Now some are already here, isolating as they should. Others will be arriving in the days ahead. But there are concerns that this is an enormous risk bringing people in - especially from Victoria - along with the staff members and other support workers into the ACT, which is and has been for some time COVID free. Is there another way? Is there a better way? Should this parliamentary sitting have been handled in a different way?
LEIGH: It is appropriate to have scrutiny on the federal government at a time when we're spending more taxpayer money than ever before. Unprecedented spending requires parliamentary oversight, and that's best done in person. I think the arrangements that have been put in place with the guidance of the chief medical officer are appropriate. And I know from being in contact with colleagues that that's enormously hard on them, particularly for people with young families where they're now located in Canberra because the rules are that they have to be in the kind of lockdown procedure where nobody can leave the house. So they need to come to Canberra and spend that fortnight indoors. I think that'll keep the Canberra community safe, and I think it also ensures that people from Victoria get a voice in the Federal Parliament at a time when much of the pandemic is being experienced in Victoria.
DELANEY: But virtual video conferencing works extremely well for major multinational corporations and workplaces all around the world. If you get the technology right, and it's certainly available, there is no reason why we cannot have a virtual Parliament - something that I said back in March. We really should be working on putting that in place, just in case we need it.
LEIGH: Absolutely. Look, I think virtual linking up is good for a chat. It’s not necessarily as good for sharp edged debate and maintaining proper scrutiny. So we've called on the government to have video conferencing available by Monday the 24th of August when Parliament resumes. We think for Victorian MPs who are unable to come to Canberra and go through that full fortnight of isolation, they ought to have the ability to ask questions in the parliament and for that to operate just as it would if they were physically present in the chamber.
DELANEY: Now, of course, we were going to talk today about this candidate for the local MLA elections in October for the Liberal Party, Peter McKay. I can tell you that in the wake of the reports today about his controversial comments over the years, he's resigned from the candidacy.
LEIGH: Well, it says everything about the Canberra Liberals that they would preselect somebody who was peddling conspiracy theories about religious terrorism, who thought that ACT Policing was in the grip of lesbian control, and who thought that Welcome to Country ceremonies were ‘animistic’ practices. This is a Liberal Party which is fundamentally out of touch with Canberrans, and which is the most extreme Liberal Party anywhere in Australia. It’s been captured by a small set of people who are utterly unrepresentative of the Canberra electorate. They were unrepresentative of the Canberra electorate when it came to the National Arboretum, to light rail, to same-sex marriage. On so many issues they’re so far to the right of the typical Canberran, it's just not funny.
DELANEY: Well, regardless of what you may or may not think of the Liberal Party, the fact is this Peter McKay was brought in at the last minute to replace another candidate who bowed out due to differences with the party authorities. Now Peter’s gone because of his very strange views. I'm going to miss him, because I was going to have a whale over time over the next couple of months talking about that, but that's off the table now.
LEIGH: You could have pursued all kinds of issues with his various conspiracy theories.
LEIGH: But you know, the fact is that this is still an extremist Liberal Party.
DELANEY: Yeah, and I was going point out that just this process, as you know, revealed a chaotic situation within the local Liberal Party.
LEIGH: That’s absolutely right. I mean, the Canberra Liberals are a political party which is very much to the right of the old Gary Humphries-Kate Carnell Liberal Party. As you’d remember, Zed Seselja staged a sudden attack on Gary Humphries to remove the last Liberal to serve as Chief Minister from his Senate position. And Zed did that because the Liberal Party has moved far enough to the right, he'd managed to get enough of his extremist supporters in to be able to knock off Gary Humphries. Gary Humphries is no longer a member of the ACT Liberal Party, and that says something about the extent to which they've been captured by this small group of extremists who are utterly unrepresentative of the Canberra community.
DELANEY: Andrew Leigh, thanks very much for your time today.
LEIGH: Always a pleasure. Leon.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.