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‘At best a national embarrassment and at worst, a national disgrace’: royal commission

On day two of the Melbourne leg of the royal commission, we gained a rare insight into the thoughts of the commissioners.

In a scathing indictment of the disability and aged care sectors, commissioner Lynelle Briggs called the system “a national disgrace”.

This came after yet another day filled with tales of poor treatment and mismanagement, this time involving younger Australians in aged care. In testimony given by the first assistant secretary in the home aged care division with the Commonwealth Department of Health, Dr Nicholas Hartland, he agreed that aged care was no place for the young.

“It’s been a somewhat intractable problem in aged care and there has remained around about 6000 young people in residential aged care, and I don’t think there’s anyone who would say that that’s on appropriate. It’s far too high a number,” he told counsel assisting Peter Rozen.

We heard from Hartland that $120 million dollars in funding aimed at reducing the instance of young people in aged care yielded only a drop from 6557 people to 6381. And even then, as Rozen pointed out, on closer inspection of the statistics from the start of this funding in 2006, there was actually an increase in young people entering aged care every year. A fact Hartland put down to population growth.

“I accept your point about the general increase in population during the period, but it’s a very poor outcome, isn’t it, for such a program? If that’s the best we can do as a nation with all our governments combined and significant resources being thrown at this problem, it’s not a good outcome at all, is it?” Rozen said.

At times Rozen and Hartland disagreed on the intentions and interpretations of statistics of the various departments, causing Commissioner Briggs to interject when it seemed that Hartland wasn’t getting to the issue at hand.

“It seems that because the numbers of young people with disabilities are pretty much stable around 6000, with a flow-in each year of around 2000, that there’s not been a lot of will within the system to try and stem that flow or, indeed, to try and help people move out to other more appropriate arrangements. Do you think they’ve been forgotten?” she said at one point.

Rozen later questioned whether the targeting of funds to a specific age group within the under 65s was an attempt to manipulate the overall statistics.

“A cynic, Dr Hartland, might observe that if you pick a relatively small group and put all your resources into that small group; it used to be under 50, it’s now under 45s, we’re talking about a few hundred people, if you put all your resources in there then you’re going to be able to claim a bigger percentage reduction in that cohort at the end of the relevant period,” he said.

Frustrated by Hartland’s response, Briggs again interjected. As Rozen concluded his questioning on day two, Briggs took Hartland to task before making her feelings clear.

“Young people with disabilities is a clear area where Social Services, NDIS, Department of Health, States and Territories and various other stakeholders need to be working together, rather than separately and doing buck passes. I don’t want you to comment on that, I just want you to understand that that would be the view of certainly this Commissioner,” she said.

“I put it to you, Dr Hartland, that the current system is at best a national embarrassment and at worst, a national disgrace.”

The commission’s Melbourne leg concludes on Friday 13 September.

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