PM warns of ‘bruis­ing’ abuse tales

ROYAL COM­MIS­SION INTO AGED-CARE SEC­TOR

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - RICK MOR­TON MICHAEL RODDAN

The na­tion needs to brace it­self for some “bruis­ing” rev­e­la­tions of abuse in the $18 bil­lion aged-care sec­tor, Scott Mor­ri­son warned yes­ter­day, as he launched a sweep­ing royal com­mis­sion in a move to out­flank La­bor on the is­sue, head off more dam­ag­ing re­ports and re­cap­ture the vote of older Aus­tralians.

Just weeks af­ter dump­ing a long-planned rise in the pen­sion age to 70 and days af­ter an­nounc­ing some re­forms from this year’s bud­get will be­gin im­me­di­ately in­stead of in the out­ly­ing years, the Prime Min­is­ter will es­tab­lish a royal com­mis­sion that will be­gin as soon as pos­si­ble and not re­port un­til “at least the sec­ond half of next year”.

“I think we should brace our­selves for some pretty bruis­ing in­for­ma­tion about the way our loved ones have ex­pe­ri­enced mis­treat­ment,” Mr Mor­ri­son said yes­ter­day. “I think that is go­ing to be tough for us all to deal with but you can’t walk past it, you can’t not look at it and that is what the gov­ern­ment is en­sur­ing that we don’t do.”

The Aus­tralian un­der­stands La­bor had be­gun sound­ing out stake­hold­ers such as the Coun­cil on the Age­ing and Se­niors Aus­tralia as re­cently as Fri­day on whether it should push for a royal com­mis­sion and had a plan un­der “ac­tive con­sid­er­a­tion”. Bill Shorten backed the in­quiry yes­ter­day.

Mr Mor­ri­son has been telling his own MPs that the peo­ple most af­fected by aged care “are Coali­tion vot­ers and peo­ple who should be sup­ported”.

Coali­tion MPs in par­tic­u­lar have been urg­ing the Prime Min­is­ter to act, say­ing they have been in­un­dated with con­cerns about the state of the aged-care sys­tem, which has been the sub­ject of at least five in­de­pen­dent re­ports to gov­ern­ment and two parliamentary in­quiries in the past two years. In­dus­try groups and peak bod­ies rep­re­sent­ing the el­derly wel­comed the news of a royal com­mis­sion yes­ter­day, adding that re­forms un­der way should not stop while the na­tion waits for it to re­port.

Mr Mor­ri­son said spec­u­la­tion that he was try­ing to shore up votes was “cyn­i­cal” and that cab­i­net signed off on a royal com­mis­sion last week.

He guar­an­teed cur­rent re­form work would con­tinue, in­clud­ing moves to bring a “tough cop” to the sec­tor in the form of the Aged Care Qual­ity and Safety Com­mis­sion, due to be­gin in Jan­uary.

Mr Mor­ri­son said the num­ber of se­ri­ous risk no­tices given to aged-care providers had jumped 170 per cent in the past year and sig­nif­i­cant non­com­pli­ance in the sec­tor had leapt by 292 per cent.

“When you are con­fronted with that, you ask a sim­ple ques­tion: How wide­spread is this? Does it touch on the whole sec­tor? Now un­til we can have clear an­swers to those ques­tions I think Aus­tralians will be un­sure,” he said. “And that is why … last week we dis­cussed this to­gether as a cab­i­net and we de­cided it was nec­es­sary to move for­ward with a royal com­mis­sion into the sec­tor which in­cludes the care pro­vided to young Aus­tralians with a dis­abil­ity in the res­i­den­tial aged-care sec­tor.”

When Mr Mor­ri­son was

trea­surer, the in­crease in fund­ing for the Aged Care Fund­ing In­stru­ment, which pro­vides tax­payer sub­sidy for the di­rect care costs of res­i­dents in nurs­ing homes, was re­duced by a to­tal of $2bn across the 2015 mid-year eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial out­look and the 2016-17 bud­get.

Over­all spend­ing un­der the fund­ing in­stru­ment still rose by $1.8bn but it had been pro­jected to grow $3.8bn be­fore the sav­ings mea­sure was an­nounced.

The Coali­tion ar­gued at the time that aged-care providers were over­claim­ing.

The fund­ing in­stru­ment cov­ers di­rect nurs­ing care costs, which make up the vast ma­jor­ity of provider over­heads in the sec­tor. Many op­er­a­tors said they were pe­nalised by the bad be­hav­iour of a few big play­ers.

“This is why we are hav­ing a royal com­mis­sion be­cause I am not go­ing to put up with lies be­ing told about the aged-care sec­tor,” Mr Mor­ri­son said yes­ter­day.

“Pol­icy must be based on facts, not facts that are dreamt up, not facts that are mis­in­ter­preted, not facts that have an agenda sit­ting be­hind them.”

The ABC’s Four Cor­ners is due to air an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the is­sue tonight. Just a month ago, min­is­ter Ken Wy­att told the pro­gram he did not think it was nec­es­sary to hold a royal com­mis­sion.

“A royal com­mis­sion af­ter two years and maybe $200m be­ing spent on it will come back with the same set, or a very sim­i­lar set of rec­om­men­da­tions,” Mr Wy­att told the pro­gram.

La­bor’s aged-care spokes­woman, Julie Collins, said it was “no co­in­ci­dence” the Coali­tion was mov­ing to es­tab­lish a com­mis­sion.

“You can­not rip al­most $2bn out of an aged-care sys­tem and not have an im­pact on qual­ity,” Ms Collins said yes­ter­day.

When La­bor was last in gov­ern­ment, it also raided the fund­ing in­stru­ment and pro­duced sav­ings of $1.6bn over the for­ward es­ti­mates.

The three main ASX-listed aged-care providers — Regis, Es­tia and Ja­para — re­ceive close to $200 a day from the gov­ern­ment for each oc­cu­pied bed. How­ever, wages in the sec­tor have grown about twice as fast as sub­si­dies.

Con­sul­tants Ste­wartBrown es­ti­mate nearly half of all aged-care cen­tres are op­er­at­ing at a loss, a rate that wors­ens in re­gional ar­eas.

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