04 August 2020













SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s aged care failures; the Government’s lack of a plan for COVID-19 and aged care; letter to Gladys Berejiklian about the Ruby Princess inquiry; Scott Morrison preventing Federal officials from answering questions.


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let’s bring in the Labor Senator Kristina Keneally. The COVID Committee has been looking at the aged care crisis. It's been an absolute tragedy and apparently five days it took for St Basil's – the nursing home where we've seen several deaths – for the information of the COVID outbreak to reach the top medical panel. If the facility's not passing on the information, how can the Federal authorities be blamed?


KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Kieran, good afternoon; good afternoon to your viewers. Today, extraordinary evidence at the COVID Committee when it comes to aged care and first let's just acknowledge these heartbreaking numbers that came out today through that committee hearing. And my heart goes out to the family members, to the residents, and to the workers in aged care who are really struggling with some of these bad stories. 700 cases of COVID-19 in aged care, Kieran, 370 in hospital. 153 deaths counting the 11 deaths today. Just extraordinary numbers. Now you talked about the five days that it took St Basil's to inform authorities about the outbreak there. Listening to that evidence today I was reminded of Newmarch House here in New South Wales, not just four months ago, and we had the Commonwealth officials in front of us not long after Newmarch House; the COVID committee. And today we pretty much have the same thing Kieran. Poor communication, poor planning when it comes to infection control and personal protective equipment. The lack of planning, the lack of, really, a solid relationship between the sector and the level of government that is responsible - and that is the Commonwealth Government. The buck stops with the Commonwealth Government when it comes to aged care. And you sat there listening today thinking "we knew about these challenges four months ago, how is it that we've got to this point where we had this kind of outbreak at St Basil's and across Victoria?" and the Minister, Richard Colbeck, and the Prime Minister seem to have complacency and no plan to deal with it.


GILBERT: The point that's been made, though, is that the workforce at St Basils had to be replaced in full basically, whereas that's not the situation at Newmarch?


KENEALLY: I'm really glad you brought this up Kieran because this was another startling aspect of the hearing today. The officials before us said they couldn't imagine a circumstance where they would have to replace an entire workforce. Well, first of all, we're in the middle of a pandemic. So it's not that hard to imagine, with a highly infectious global disease in a global pandemic that you might have a circumstance where the whole workforce would have to be replaced. That clearly, by their own evidence, wasn't part of their pandemic planning. Secondly, again, what we knew from Newmarch, what we knew from Earle Haven last year – a different set of circumstances but nonetheless with a whole workforce had to be replaced – why wasn't there a plan put in place to roster workers and to have a shift that accommodated so you could keep the workforce separate and manage the workforce issues in aged care homes so you weren't put in that position. Again, Kieran, it comes back to the fact that after a Royal Commission, after numerous reports- some dozen reports in the past three years into aged care- none of these issues were sadly new. The frustrating thing here I think for family members is that they wouldn't have had much comfort that the Commonwealth are addressing the issues in aged care.


GILBERT: Now you've written to Premier Berejiklian and this relates to the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess. You've urged her to give Commissioner Walker more time. Why is that?


KENEALLY: Well Kieran we've had in the past week some really clear revelations from the Commonwealth Government, Freedom of Information documents as well as the Government's own thousand page submission to the Special Commission of Inquiry, where they buried within that these revelations that it was Australian Border Force and Federal Agriculture officials onboard the ship that morning. It was Federal officials who gave the pratique- the approval- for people to disembark the ship. It was Federal officials that did not have the right health advice in front of them when they made that decision; indeed made some tragic mistakes when it came to misreading flu tests for COVID tests. But what those documents also show is that the Commonwealth Government are fighting a legal summons from the Commissioner of Inquiry, Bret Walker. The Prime Minister said in April that his Government would "cooperate" fully with the Special Commission of Inquiry but that is just not the case. They are fighting a legal summons for Federal officials to appear before Bret Walker; Bret Walker has issued that legal summons. I think, given these revelations, given these documents that are now in the public domain, it's important that if we're going to have a comprehensive look at what happened with the Ruby Princess, we need to understand the responsibilities at both state and federal level and it is not good enough for the Prime Minister to be blocking Federal officials from appearing in public and answering the questions that clearly the Commissioner wants to put to them. So this is now an opportunity for the Premier- who I'm sure shares my view- that we need to get to the bottom of what happened onboard the Ruby Princess and for her to talk to the Prime Minister. Ask him to stop fighting that legal summons and to allow the Federal officials to appear. Because Kieran, let's just be clear here, this Government whether it's age care, our borders, what happened onboard the Ruby Princess, the COVIDSafe app, all of these things are Commonwealth responsibilities. The Prime Minister is great at making an announcement. He's great at getting a headline; he's not very good with the follow through. And what we see with the app, what we see with the Ruby Princess, what we see with aged care, is the Commonwealth ducking and weaving and hiding, trying to point the finger at other people. It's now time with this Special Commission of Inquiry that we hear from Federal officials.


GILBERT: Deputy Labor Leader in the Senate, Senator Keneally, thank you. We'll talk to you soon.