Aged care minister apologises for not knowing the sector's coronavirus death tally

Richard Colbeck says he should have known the numbers when asked about them at a parliamentary hearing last week.

Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck during Question Time in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, August 24, 2020. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING

Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck during Question Time in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Monday, August 24, 2020. Source: AAP

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck has apologised for not knowing last week how many Australians in nursing homes had died from COVID-19.

He said on Monday 335 aged care residents have died in residential or home care across the country since the start of the pandemic - a figure he said he should have known when asked at a Senate hearing on Friday. 

Senator Colbeck was appearing before a committee looking into the government's COVID-19 response in the aged care sector when he said he didn't know the number of residents who had either died from or contracted the virus. 

"I don't have the report with the detail in front of me," he said.

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher was aghast.

"You don't know how many people have passed away and you're now telling me you don't know how many people have the infection?" 

"You're the minister for aged care." 

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck appears via video link at the Senate inquiry into COVID-19 at Parliament House in Canberra on 21 August.
Source: AAP

Senator Gallagher directed the same question to Senator Colbeck during question time in the Senate on Monday.

Senator Colbeck started his response by apologising to both the loved ones of aged care residents who have died from COVID-19, as well as his colleagues. 

"Can I, at the outset, express my sincere condolences to every resident's family who has lost a loved one during the pandemic in aged care [and] to my colleagues, who I have successfully taken the attention off what it should be, which is our efforts to combat the virus," he said.  

"I should have had the information ... I take full responsibility for not having that information available to me at the time." 

Senator Colbeck said every one of the 335 deaths in aged care settings was "an absolute tragedy". 

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stood by his minister following the blunder. On Monday, he faced pressure from the opposition over it.

"We saw, frankly, a minister appear before the COVID-19 committee who is not up to this task, just not up to it," Labor leader Anthony Albanese told the House of Representatives. 

"I don't know what it takes to lose your job on the frontbench of this government."

Labor's deputy Senate leader Kristina Keneally also zeroed in on the minister's knowledge of figures, asking how many coronavirus cases had been linked to Melbourne's Epping Gardens - one of the worst-hit facilities. 

Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally during Question Time in the Senate chamber.
Source: AAP

Senator Colbeck took the question on notice, before later saying 100 residents, 82 staff and 29 others were connected to the cluster. 

Mr Albanese on Monday also repeated assertions made during the royal commission the federal government did not have a specific plan in place to respond to the virus in the aged care sector. 

“The fact is there wasn’t a plan, and there wasn’t the action that was required,” Mr Albanese said.

Mr Morrison again rejected assertions his government did not have a plan. 

"Where there is an assertion that is made, whether it be before the royal commission, or any other place that asserts something the government has not done when we believe that is not correct, then we will correct that record," he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg arrive during House of Representatives Question Time.
Source: AAP

Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Monday more than 448 residents had been transferred from aged care homes to hospitals since a response centre was set up in Victoria last month.

"Yes there has been a tragedy, there is more work to do, but what these people have done is they worked together to potentially save thousands of lives." 

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If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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With AAP. 

Published 24 August 2020 at 7:12pm, updated 24 August 2020 at 7:19pm
By Emma Brancatisano