By Andrew Wicks
The last time Richard Colbeck made headlines was the discovery that no one knew how many aged care workers were vaccinated.
Richard Colbeck has done it again. As reported by Josh Butler of The Guardian, “Scott Morrison has backed the embattled aged care minister despite saying he can ‘understand the criticism’ of Colbeck, who attended the Ashes cricket match in Hobart on the same day he failed to front a parliamentary inquiry into the Covid crisis. The finance minister, Simon Birmingham, also defended Colbeck on Friday, saying people could ‘walk and chew gum at the same time’. He noted the aged care minister – who is also the sports minister – had held Covid meetings earlier in the day before attending the Test match a fortnight ago.
“Colbeck declined to attend the Senate Covid-19 committee on 14 January. He cited the need not to divert health department officials from their “urgent and critical” work but it was revealed this week he attended three days of the Hobart Test from Friday 14 January to Sunday 16 January.”
In June of last year, Colbeck hit the headlines, as the nation realised that we didn’t know how many aged care workers had been vaccinated, as there was no one keeping track of who has received the vaccine, and who hasn’t. After sustained backlash, the Department of Health said that work was “underway” to survey aged care workers at the nation’s facilities (read: literally counting heads).
At the time, we wanted to know who was responsible for this monumental cock up. According to Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, it’s not him. Fronting a senate committee this morning, Colbeck was asked by Senator Katy Gallagher whether he thought he was responsible, yes or no. Colbeck proclaimed that it wasn’t “a yes or no answer.”
Interestingly, Birmingham appeared in this issue as well, telling ABC News Breakfast, “I do accept that it has not gone as we would have hoped.”
However, Birmingham was quick to shift blame, stating that the rollout was primarily hampered by the availability of vaccines. Birmingham took it further, claiming that the reason why 600 aged care facilities haven’t been vaccinated was primarily down the 12 weeks period between jabs with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Yet, prior to the rollout, residents and workers in aged and disability care were told that they’d receive the vaccine within the first six weeks.
As journalist Christopher Knaus noted, “…a key area of responsibility for the federal government is vaccinating aged care staff and residents who are both in the highest priority group for vaccinations – phase 1a. Initially, the government said it had planned to complete phase 1a within roughly six weeks of the program’s commencement on 22 February. That included vaccinating 190,000 aged and disability care residents and 318,000 aged care and disability staff.”
“We know we aren’t where we want to be but we don’t know where we are,” Gerard Hayes, secretary of the Health Services Union in NSW, said of record-keeping in the sector’s “haphazard” rollout last year.
In early April, Health Minister Greg Hunt said that the program was “accelerating as intended” and “We were conservative in our estimates.”
Hunt also mentioned at that time that “we remain on track to complete first doses for all Australians who seek it by the end of October.”
As The Big Smoke reported, “Pre-rollout, Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested the rollout capacity will start at around 80,000 doses per week and increase from there. That’s 16,000 a day (over five-day weeks), well short of the required 200,000 a day. The planned peak capacity hasn’t been announced, but even back-of-the-beer-mat calculation would suggest a minimum of 167,000 vaccines per day to give two doses each to 20 million Australians in the eight months between March and October 2021. The longer it takes to reach such capacity, the higher that daily number will get – or we will not reach the target vaccination percentage this year.”
In conversation with The Guardian, The Council on the Ageing chief executive, Ian Yates, claimed that the government overpromised, and underdelivered the vaccine. Yates also highlighted the lack of a plan for vaccinating aged care workers a month into the rollout.
This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.
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