Scott Morrison has come under fire after promising to send in Australian Defence Force troops to help the embattled aged care sector.
His promise to assist struggling nursing homes has so far fallen short, with just over 130 ADF personnel deployed.
Last week, the prime minister announced up to 1700 Australian Defence Force personnel would be sent into residential aged care.
But a Senate estimates hearing was told on Wednesday that just 106 had been deployed.
Under pressure in question time hours later, Health Minister Greg Hunt corrected the record to show 133 troops had been sent to 25 facilities across the country.
“When the lives of aged care residents are at stake, why won't the Prime Minister do his job and deliver what he promised?” Labor’s Brendan O’Connor asked.
Hunt’s intervention did little to quash the outrage on Labor benches as they continue to pursue the sacking of scandal-prone Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck.
Earlier in Senate estimates, Colbeck rejected calls to resign despite revelations over 700 aged care residents have died in the past six weeks.
Colbeck, who came under fire earlier this year for attending a cricket game instead of a senate Covid-19 committee, fronted the hearing on Wednesday and was immediately called into question by Queensland senator Murray Watt.
Referring to a report by Network Ten on Tuesday night that Morrison is “getting ready to sack one of his scandal-plagued ministers”, understood to be Alan Tudge, Senator Watt asked why Senator Colbeck still had his job.
“After everything we’ve seen in aged care, shouldn’t that (the minister being sacked) be you?” Watt asked.
Colbeck responded: “No, I don’t believe so.”
Firing up, Senator Watt tried again: “You think that you’ve done a good enough job in this portfolio despite the deaths that we’ve seen over a couple of different outbreaks in aged care?
“You don’t think you’re the scandal-plagued minister who should be resigning?
“How can anyone have confidence in you, if they’re a resident in aged care, if they’re a family member of someone in aged care, if they’re a worker in aged care, that you are the man to fix the system which is in absolute crisis?”
When Colbeck failed to respond, instead reinstating the government’s commitment to responding to all recommendations of the royal commission, Watt cited sobering statistics of the number of deaths in aged care.
“In the time that you’ve been the Minister for Aged Care Services, over 1600 residential care residents have died of Covid. This year alone, which is only a bit over a month old, over 700 aged care residents have died from Covid,” Watt said.
“Over 17,000 confirmed cases in residential aged care. But you don’t think that you should be the scandal-plagued minister to resign from this government?”
Colbeck disputed the data cited by Senator Watt despite Department of Health officials providing official data later in the grilling.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 1658 aged care residents have died of Covid-19 – 685 in 2020, 282 in 2021 and 691 since January 1, 2022.
Colbeck said Australia wasn’t unique in having aged care deaths.
“We are going through a global pandemic, and the suggestion that’s implied by your answer that if you were in government no one would have died in aged care from Covid doesn’t stand up,” he said.
“It is very clear that the measures that we’ve put in place during the pandemic have improved the circumstances in residential aged care.”
Asked about the data on the floor of the house, Morrison said the deaths were tragic but there was no way of knowing if they died because of Covid or simply died with the virus.
“While we mourn the loss of those who have passed away in aged care who have had Covid when they passed away … passing away with Covid is not the same as passing away because of Covid,” the Prime Minister said.
“Those opposite may inject on that, but that is the medical advice that has been provided by the Chief Medical Officer.”
Labor also sought to demand if the Aged Care Services Minister would finally acknowledge the aged care sector was in crisis.
“I’ve been very careful about the language that I’ve used,” Colbeck said.
Estimates was told there were 915 aged care facilities – an estimated third of all facilities – in Australia with Covid-19.
How many aged care residents died of Covid-19 this year after receiving their booster shot is yet to be determined.
One unnamed jurisdiction has found that of 410 deaths in its facilities between December 1, 2021, and February 9 of this year, only 87 – or 21 per cent – had received a booster.
In that same jurisdiction, 233 people who died had received two doses and 90 were unvaccinated.Do you have an idea for a story?
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