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Photo: Himbrechts Dan

Disgraced ex-Opal boss given large government contract to look into aged care finance

Officials from the Department of Health have defended giving over $900,000 in contracts to a firm headed up by disgraced former Opal Aged Care managing director Gary Barnier.

A senate estimates hearing on Tuesday heard that Cooperage Capital Pty Limited has received two grants from the Department of Health this year on limited tender, to help look at financial pressures in aged care.

Officials confirmed that Cooperage is “largely” run by Barnier, who is also a board member of the department’s Aged Care Financing Authority, and that Cooperage signed two contracts with the health department for $415,800 and $503,800.

Barnier is a controversial figure in the aged care industry. He left Opal Aged Care abruptly in 2017, before an investigation into his conduct as managing director reached its conclusion.

He was accused of bullying the relatives of sick residents who complained about ill treatment at Opal Facilities, as well as attempting to silence the family of a dead resident with a $10,000 payoff.

An ABC 7.30 program investigation uncovered several cases of alleged bullying by Barnier including getting into a “screaming match” with one concerned relative, telling her to “see a psychiatrist” when she complained about an Opal care worker who hit her 84-year-old mother across the head in 2013.

Another incident, found by the ABC, saw Barnier tell a 94-year-old resident she had to leave if she continued “intimidating” the facility manager. The resident’s family denied the accusations and said that she was in fact intimidated by the threat of legal action from Barnier.

The Opal board eventually launched an independent review “into clinical leadership, customer service and complaints management”.

Barnier, however, resigned his post before findings could be handed down, a fact seized upon by Labor senator Kristina Kenneally at the hearing.

Kenneally also pointed out that Barnier’s experience included being the chief executive of Domain Principal Group, which ran a Sydney nursing home where a staff member pleaded guilty to lighting a fire where nine residents died.

A resident was found with maggots in her mouth at a nursing home near Newcastle run by Opal when Mr Barnier led the company.

“Is this the kind of real world experience the department was looking for?” she said.

Department deputy secretary Michael Lye told a Senate estimates hearing Barnier received the grants because he had “real world” experience running aged care services.

“And we need, in the department, real world experience to understand the practical viability of individual facilities that might be at risk,” he said on Tuesday.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said he was aware of the issues but couldn’t say if this was before the $900,000 in contracts had been awarded to Barnier.

Lye said the department had been aware of the bullying allegations, but no findings were made against Barnier.

But Senator Keneally said he had left the company before the investigation was finalised.

Mr Lye insisted due diligence was followed, saying Mr Barnier had helped the department identify aged care homes that were at financial risk.

“In our view, he has the appropriate skills and he has demonstrated the appropriate skill set to enable us to do that task,” he told senators.

“We are very, very focused at this particular point in time in preventing organisations from ending up in administration and closing and leaving residents without a home.”

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One comment

  1. Minister Richard Colbeck should stand down. One disaster after another.
    He is incompetent to manage this important portfolio. He continually denies responsibility.

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