Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck has been relieved of the aged care portfolio in the prime minister’s cabinet reshuffle announced on Friday, a day after the government announced increased funding for the sector in the MYEFO budget.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday that the aged care job would be elevated to a cabinet position with Health Minister Greg Hunt subsuming the responsibilities into his current role.
Morrison announced that the aged care portfolio would be split, with Colbeck retaining the bureaucratic aspects of the job. He now looks after aged care services, including the delivery of residential and home care packages and regulation of the sector.
Colbeck has been head of the aged care portfolio for a little over a year and the news appears to be a demotion, if not a comment on his ability to head up a cabinet post, after a tumultuous period where many figures have questioned his knowledge of the sector.
A former carpenter and small business owner in the construction industry prior to entering politics, Colbeck has been a Liberal politician since his first election as a senator in 2002.
He was re-elected in the 2007 and 2013 elections but fell victim to the factional wars of Abbott-Turnbull-Dutton-Morrison and, due to his support of Turnbull, was given an unwinnable position on the ticket in 2016.
However, Colbeck became one of the lucky winners of the section 44 debacle, finding his way back into a senate position in 2018 after senate president Stephen Parry was forced to resign.
He was rewarded by the new Morrison government with a position as Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, and during his career he has served as parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Finance and Administration, and Agriculture. He has also served as Minister for Tourism and International Education and minister assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment.
Colbeck also served under shadow parliamentary secretary roles in the Health, Industry and Innovation, and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry portfolios before taking the aged care job from Ken Wyatt in 2019.
MYEFO boost to HCPs
Elsewhere, new Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt announced that the government will release an extra $1 billion into the aged care sector.
The bulk of the funding will be aimed at keeping Aussies at home for longer, with 10,000 home care packages announced – at a cost of more than $850 million.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the new packages are in addition to a $1.6 billion investment for more than 23,000 packages announced in the 2020–21 Budget.
“The latest investment underlines our commitment to help older Australians live at home for longer,” Hunt said.
“It’s an important measure that can be instrumental to overall health and wellbeing and offer reassurance to families that their loved one is receiving appropriate care.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the health and wellbeing of our elderly is a priority and that the Liberal government has increased funding in aged care every year by more than $1 billion.
“At every opportunity for the last three years, the Government has grown the number of home care packages and in addition to Budget announcements, we have provided 10,000 additional home care packages at MYEFO every year for the past three years. This commitment continues.”
The funding also sees $57.8 million for aged care under the National Partnership on COVID-19 Response and $63.3 million to support increased access to allied health services and improved mental health care support for people in residential aged care.
That figure includes $35.5 million to better access to Medicare subsidised individual psychological services, $12.1 million for additional individual allied health sessions under Medicare chronic disease management plans, and $15.7 million for allied health group services for residents living in facilities affected by COVID-19 outbreaks.
Leading Aged Services Australia (LASA) welcomed the funding boost, but called for a comprehensive plan for residential aged care reform as well as more work on HCP waitlists.
“We have had a 100,000 plus home care queue for three years now and this is just another downpayment on the much broader challenges facing home and residential care,” said LASA’s acting chief advocate, Tim Hicks.
“We want to work with the Government on a detailed plan to reduce the waitlist and increase the number of high-level packages.
“The Government also needs to urgently support investment in aged care workforce training and recruitment to prepare for likely Royal Commission recommendations to clear the home care queue and expand the number of staff in residential care.
“Immediate investment in the aged care workforce is a no brainer, addressing COVID-19 related unemployment while also allowing vital aged care reforms to proceed more quickly.”
ACSA chief executive Patricia Sparrow said the $1 billion investment is “fantastic”.
“It’s fantastic that the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth see the health and wellbeing of older Australians as an ‘absolute priority’ and we hope to see more substantial measures announced immediately following the Royal Commission final report,” she said.
“The Royal Commission, reporting in February, provides a significant opportunity for a reset of aged care so that it meets our growing expectations for how older Australians live and are supported in the twenty-first century,” Ms Sparrow said.
“We will always welcome more support, but we need more than the drip-feed that’s kept our services to older people on life support even prior to the pandemic.”Do you have an idea for a story?
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