Aged Care Minister and Tasmanian Liberal senator Richard Colbeck has apologised for not knowing how many residents of aged care facilities had died from COVID-19.
On Friday, senator Colbeck was questioned during a COVID committee hearing, but when asked to provide the figure, he was unable to find it in his paperwork.
It prompted an immediate reaction from Labor, including senator Kristina Keneally calling for his resignation as minister.
Tasmanian Labor senator, and the party’s spokesperson for ageing and seniors, Julie Collins, said senator Colbeck’s response during the hearing was “totally inadequate and embarrassing” but stopped short of calling for his resignation.
“The Prime Minister needs to assure the Australian public that his minister and his government can actually fix the problems in aged care,” she said.
“What we’ve seen from the current minister is, is that there have been delays, that things have not been done in a timely manner.”
The Aged Care Royal Commission is due to report in February, having been extended due to COVID. Labor is calling on the government to outline how further outbreaks in aged care facilities would be handled, and to detail infection control training.
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On Friday, senator Colbeck said it was the federal government’s responsibility to ensure the aged care sector had “appropriate systems in place to provide high-quality care”, including the application of standards through the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
When asked if the federal government had ultimate responsibility for the sector, he repeatedly stated that “we are the principal funders and regulators of aged care in Australia”.
After facing criticism for not knowing the number of deaths that occurred in aged care facilities in Australia, senator Colbeck offered an apology on Monday.
“I should’ve had the data on Friday, and I apologise for not having done that,” he told the Senate.
“To my colleagues, who I have successfully taken the attention off what it should be, which is our efforts to combat the virus, but also to the Senate, I should’ve had the information and my fault, my responsibility, and I take full responsibility for not having that information available to me at the time.”
He updated the Senate with figures that 335 Australians had died in residential and home care in the aged care sector.