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Risk avoidance vs disaster response – how the Coalition creates crises

Whether we are talking about climate change, bushfire management, poverty, inequality, employment, health, education, Indigenous disadvantage, or the myriad other responsibilities of government, the Coalition will always put profit in front of risk avoidance.

Nowhere is this more tragically playing out than in the crisis we are witnessing in the aged care sector.

In the 1996-97 budget, the Howard government slashed $1 billion from aged care funding and introduced its Aged Care Act, claiming that higher fees and bonds would provide the incentive for investors to expand and improve the industry. Instead, conditions in nursing homes deteriorated and average waiting time lengthened significantly.

Under the Act, nursing home operators no longer had to allocate a set proportion of government subsidies to patient care. Links between the level of funding received and the number of qualified staff employed were removed. In 1998 the previous requirement for a registered nurse to be on duty was scrapped.

Homes and hostels were to be licensed for three years, with standards monitored through spot checks. Yet no such checks were ever conducted, Bishop admitted. According to Tim Burns, the general manager of the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency, its ability to carry out monitoring was severely compromised due to insufficient funding. He stated during Senate estimates hearings that the agency was 60 to 65 external assessors short in New South Wales and Victoria alone.

The Aged Care Act specified that audit reviews of nursing homes be made public on a regular basis. However, in late 1999, a list rating nursing homes was removed from the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency’s web site in order “not to put undue pressure on homes, which may be rapidly moving to improve their situations”.

The government’s changes made the industry a more lucrative target for corporate takeovers. Under the headline, “Golden Oldies,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported on 2 March 2000 that “Nursing homes are big business, with handsome profits, for some”. American-based corporations were “moving into Australia to capitalise on a growth industry protected by an assured flow of government funds”.

Managing director Kevin Moss said: “Once you are in the business you have a guaranteed government income. It’s a very good business. It’s been a cottage industry in Australia … and some have milked the cow. But we are trying to get it more corporatised and professional.”

Having been given cash to spend as they saw fit for the previous three years, business operators were free to exit the industry before January 1, 2001, the next accreditation deadline, without having invested a cent in improvements, and then sell their bed licenses for up to $35,000 each, the going price on the Sydney market at that time.

The doctors’ organisation, the Australian Medical Association, and the nurses’ union, the Australian Nursing Federation, warned that between 600 and 2,500 beds would close on January 1 in the state of Victoria alone, intensifying the crisis.

In 2000, Regina Lohr and Mike Head ended their article about the aged care crisis with a chilling warning.

“Like every other aspect of life, aged care has become an increasingly two-class system. High quality homes with modern facilities, strict medical and hygiene standards, fresh and nourishing food and tranquil surroundings exist—but they are reserved for the wealthy who can afford fees in the order of $900 a week and entry bonds around $250,000. For lower middle class and working class retirees, the conditions have become Dickensian.

Increasingly stripped of all protective and regulatory remnants of the post-war welfare state, the unleashing of the “free market” is producing conditions where the majority of elderly people are treated as so much unwanted refuse. Medical science has significantly increased life expectancy, but, under the imperatives of the profit system, those who suffer the misfortune of being poor are simply being disposed of as cheaply and quickly as possible.”

In May 2018, Bill Shorten said that the aged care industry was “in a state of national crisis”.

“That’s extreme language, but this situation in aged care calls for extreme,” Mr Shorten said, arguing the government has been “asleep at the wheel” for the last five years.

Former Aged Care Minister, Ken Wyatt, responded angrily.

“I’m slow to anger but I must admit that recently the Opposition Leader commenting that the system is in crisis and a national disgrace was not becoming of what I would expect in a bilateral and bipartisan approach to aged care.

“This demeans every one of those dedicated aged care workers and it achieves nothing but instilling fear into the hearts and minds of older Australians, just like Labor did in the lead-up to the last election when they were peddling ‘Medi-scare’ lies designed to scare the most deserving.

“For the Opposition Leader to continue this fear-mongering is verging on the abuse of elder Australians and it must stop.”

Mr Wyatt argued that the Turnbull government cared more about older Australians than Labor given their proposal to remove the cash refund arrangement on excess dividend imputation credits.

Seriously.

As we watch the pandemic devastate our aged care facilities, Scott Morrison now has the hide to stand up and remind us that he called the Royal Commission into Aged Care.  It’s a pity it took the spectre of an imminent Four Corners expose, Who Cares, to make him do it.  The program was to air on September 17, 2018.  #ScottyFromMarketing, in a preemptive move to cover his arse, called the RC on September 15.

When interviewed by the ABC about a month earlier, Wyatt had said a royal commission would be an unnecessary move because the Government was already reviewing the sector.

“A royal commission, after two years and maybe $200 million being spent on it, will come back with the same set or a very similar set of recommendations,” he said, preferring to see that money go towards frontline aged care services.

Emails revealed at the RC show a flurry of activity in response to programs on the ABC whilst reports from the department on how to address the problems languished on the Minister’s desk.

That’s their MO.  If the media make a fuss, commission a report and then ignore it whilst focusing on how to minimise regulations and workers’ entitlements whilst maximising profit for investors.

We can thank the ABC for dragging the government kicking and screaming to conduct various different commissions and inquiries.  Sadly, they cannot make them act on their recommendations and, instead, face prosecution for truthfully revealing the nefarious dealings of those who purport to govern in the best interests of the nation.

We are witnessing what their deregulation and erosion of job security and ignoring of expert warnings deliver.  Rather than learn any lessons during this pandemic, our Treasurer invokes Thatcher and Reagan who hugely increased inequality and diminished workers’ rights and protections.  Persistently high rates of income or wealth inequality are bad for social cohesion, political inclusion and crime. The evidence for this is overwhelming.

As Bobby Kennedy so wisely said:

“the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

That is something that those fixated solely on profit and the seemingly infinite growth of GDP will never understand.

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22 comments

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  1. George Swalwell

    Superbly incisive and comprehensive, as usual, this is a strong warning to us all about the reasons for the parlous state of aged-care in Australia. Allowing overseas investors to make profits out of what
    should always be a government-run caring program for senior citizens was a scandalous error. Welcome back Kaye, it has been a long while since I read your last posting. Nothing escapes your “eagle eye” I’m glad to say. Of course greed, corruption, neglect, victimization, indifference, cruelty, the field is sadly open to expert analysis and exposure. Well done, Kaye Lee.

  2. Bronte D G ALLAN

    Great article as usual Kaye! As a rapidly ageing “Senior” I am scared as to what will happen to my wife & me with regard to entering the Aged Care establishments. Will we get good service, good meals & what standard of care will we get. Our home is owned by us & is small enough that we will carry on living here for some time, but still, the inevitable will happen. I am fearful for our future! Bugger all the bloody money hungry Liberals & their mates, they ALL must go!

  3. Vikingduk

    Welcome back. Once again a concise, informative article showing this crime syndicate masquerading as government performing to their usual standards. Snouts in the trough, happy as pigs in shit as they rort, root and remake democracy into a haven for the corrupt, the morally bankrupt, the rotten to the core. A pack of lying spivs sliming their way over any decency, compassion or truth. And still these corrupt, rotten bastards are supported by the braindead. Of course. At the helm the supreme leader, the authoritarian in training, the liar from the shire, the majorly incompetent smirking jerk, crime monster motormouth morrison, donny dumpster’s best mate. Obvious these shonks use the republican party’s playbook — lies, disinformation, take from the poor to pay the rich, major announcements that go nowhere, which gives the most incompetent pack of fuckers ever seen.

  4. Phil Pryor

    At the moment, too many greedy, ugly, filthy, conservative sluts for money, for cheapness, for exploitation, are running things, in local, state and federal goverments here and in corporations everywhere. You cannot trust statements, find truth, believe any money grubbing seeker and profiteer. The corporate capitalist, consumer society created by decades, centuries of filthy drives to pose, profit, control, accumulate, coerce, thieve and manipulate are ruining life, now and in future. Fight for survival, citizens, the large proportions of ordinary folk who wanted to see better results over time in education, health, daily living. It is a corrupt, polluted, dishonest conservative manipulated world, thanks to unwiped anuses of the Murdoch, Trump, Abbott, Morrison, Palmer, Rinehart, Hanson types. Wanting cheap to profiteer, they have created insecure, poorly paid (if not robbed) jobs, gig work, without much training, maintenance, reliability, decency, attractiveness. Take it or leave it, the hun and nazi way. Irresponsible to us, fixated on self, egotistical and vain, the conservative thieves have been prospering, attracting recruits of the can’tbeat’emsojoin’em type. It’s murderous, suicidal, futile, uncivilised, bitter…

  5. David Evans

    The aged care system within Federal “government” has been seriously degraded over the last few years….A national disgrace.

    From Ged Kearney
    ‪ Of 769 cases of COVID in Vic aged care only 5 are in public sector aged care. So what’s the difference?
    There’s no minimum mandated staffing levels or ratios in private aged care. I am so frustrated – aged care workers & their unions have been raising this for years.
    It’s time for the federal govt to act.
    We need minimum staffing numbers, a better skill mix + transparency & accountability of how the providers spent billions of taxpayer dollars.‬

  6. leefe

    So, according to Wyatt, saying there are major problems with the system is the problem, not the actual major problems within the system? Riiiight.

  7. Florence

    Love Hunt’s last claim. The reason there has been very few incidents in public age care is because most are in regional not city area. Still doesn’t explain high positives among staff. If Hunt is correct, we should expect hospitals area be in same strife.

  8. Harry Lime

    The execrable little Lying Rodent,the poisonous capuchin monkey lookalike, whose egregious sins still despoil.Can we expect better from the Liar and his thieving ,incompetent shitheads? Not fucking likely.

  9. Michael Taylor

    That little old bloke from the Muppets – the one standing next to the failed marketing bloke – I’m convinced that everything that is heartless in the Liberal Party can be traced back to him.

    They say that Abbott – in adopting Tea Party antics – changed the face of Australian politics, but it was Howard who changed the face (and character) of Australia.

  10. DrakeN

    Thank you, Kaye.
    It’s good to read such rational material again.

  11. RomeoCharlie29

    One of this , and all LNP governments mantras is “cut the red— and now green— tape” and let the markets get on with their rapacious activities but the results of the serial assaults on regulation are now becoming more obvious in an area where practically the entire population has some sort of interest: the elderly, either through membership ( like me) or as children or grandchildren of them/us.

    We have known for decades that the increasing privatisation of aged care, for from improving it, has encouraged its decline. The incredibly stupidity of allowing foreign companies to own aged care facilities, and profit from them, (or indeed hospitals) must surely be seeping into the understanding of even the most brain-dead LNP parliamentarian who has actively or tacitly participated in the deregulation processes so eloquently outlined by Kaye Lee.

    The ideological pursuit of a deregulation agenda impacts on every area of endeavour where there is a profit to be increased by stifling those controls which are supposed to protect consumers or citizens.

    Look at any area where regulationhas been gutted and you will see disasters either happening or in the making. The mining industries and their impact on the environment; the vocational education and its infiltration by fly-by-Night operators who grab the government money and offer bogus courses, or just cut and run. Look at wage theft, the rorting of Suprrannuation by greedy employers or the wealthy, consider the private health insurance system, propped up by taxpayer funding but offering poor service, useless options and refusal to honour their obligations.

    Almost everywhere you look there are examples of LNP mates being given unfettered and increasingly unregulated, access to taxpayer money often knowing there will be no expectation of real outcomes. The Indue card, the Great Barrier Reef Grant, the “multimillion gifts” to Murdoch via Fox, the unembarassed rorting of sporting and other grants, the stacking of the AAT and other sinecures with failed or former political apparatchiks and on it goes.

    Scummo has been, apparently, been getting some positive recognition for his handling of the pandemic but a close look reveals his responses, especially the health ones, are the result of expert advice while the economic ones have been patchy at best and probably the result of pressure from his state and Territory colleagues.

    Some credit is certainly deserved for elements of the economic packages but the misses, and now the proposed resets for Jobseeker and Jobkeeper, reveal there has been no change to his fundamental, ideological hatred of those without work, a situation that was already in place and only exacerbated by the pandemic.

    These are the policies by which he should be judged and, being found wanting, should be consigned to electoral oblivion at the first available opportunity. The sooner the better.

  12. wam

    Congrats, Kaye,
    What tragic compilation. fitting perfectly with the picture of boys giggling over he miracle of god thwarting the devil at the last election.
    Received via a respected clp, catholic, a facebook share of a post from ‘a Angel Card Reader, Intuitive Healer, Guide & Spiritual Coach. Holistic & Complementary Therapy practitioner. at White Light Garden’ outlining wages $30k-$180k with the tax payable and reasons for hating the lazy dole bludgers.
    The ‘nice; ‘ordinary’ christian conservative must have a fear or ‘hate’ to absolve themselves from any guilt of collateral damage of their actions. To them the need to expose the welfare cheats is far greater than the want to catch any white collar cheats.
    Why???
    How such, kind, honest family oriented intelligent women and men can rationalise their callous disregard of circumstances as necessary for society to function is beyond my ken.
    How the same people can loathe socialism is aligned to the cold war, santamaria godlessness and ignorance through church and family.
    Are they able to accept they are wrong???
    Albo can only influence the workers who voted for scummo in 4 seats in nth qld and NE tassie
    Spot on michael, the lying radent’s vicious hatred for unions, labor and the loonies is paranoid. He is the worst example of a man ever in politics.

  13. David

    Please share this with everyone… know why their old parents/grandparents are dying from LNP greed.

  14. James Lawrie

    Kaye Lee, this may well be your best article to date.

  15. Kaye Lee

    December 2013…Tony Abbott’s first economic statement….

    “The federal government has dismantled a $1.2bn Labor scheme to increase the pay of aged-care workers, arguing the package was designed to impose “unionism by stealth”.

    The move comes two days after the government announced a $300m fund earmarked for childcare worker wage increases would largely be redirected into professional development.”

    “As a first priority, if elected the Coalition will take the necessary steps to put back into the general pool of aged care funding the $1.2bn allocated to the Workforce Compact. We will work with providers to ensure available funding from the $1.2bn is distributed in a way that is more flexible and better targeted, without jeopardising the viability of aged care facilities.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/12/coalition-dismantles-pay-rise-aged-care-workers

    Moving along to Morrison as Treasurer and the 2016-17 budget….

    “The combined effect of aged care measures in the Budget is a reduction in expenditure of $902.7 million over five years.”

    https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/BudgetReview201617/AgedCare

    But hey…..BaseballCapWearingScotty really cares now…look at how he is offering up his army to help…..those that aren’t too busy getting ready to poke at China with provocative pointless sail-bys or engage in cyber and space warfare that is.

  16. Kerri

    Ah Ken Wyatt! Never fails to disappoint!
    Many journalists have been flagging the failing aged care system for years now. May I recommend Rick Morton’s excellent piece in The Saturday Paper circa October 2019, Growing Old In A Pyramid Scheme, where he flagged the future collapse of the aged care system as way too many people tried to make a living from aged care as an investment.
    The aged care system has been in crisis for years. Well before COVID19 reared it’s ugly head.
    The solution to aged care lies in the simple understanding that when an aged care business runs to make a profit for shareholders, their first loyalty is to those shareholders. As aged care does not involve fashion trends or new technological breakthroughs, these people are making a profit from the daily care of frail elderly people by underpaid, overworked and largely migrant people. You cannot make a profit without cutting back somewhere. So where do you cut? Services for the elderly? Or the pay and conditions of those providing the service.
    It’s not rocket science.
    Well said Kaye Lee

  17. Kaye Lee

    James, it is actually just an update and compilation of two previous articles.

    https://theaimn.com/how-john-howard-contributed-to-the-aged-care-crisis/

    https://theaimn.com/i-called-the-royal-commission/

    Writing about politics is kind of soul-destroying. We know what is wrong. We know how to fix it. But we are stuck in these endless games played by highly inadequate ambitious (read greedy) people with an inflated idea of their capabilities. They are brought up on mantras, apparently incapable of any form of evaluation of the dross they have regurgitated for years. Frydenberg is such a lightweight (as is Ken Wyatt, Kerri – I agree).

  18. Carina McNaughton

    Great article Kaye. My Aged Care is another scam. Over 100,000 people waiting for a package. An aged care package which costs the individuals when they access care. Before My Aged Care with no packages people could get the care they needed. Nursing under the Commonwealth home service system ( CHSP) cost the individual on a pension 3.80 no matter how long the visit takes and it is capped per month. Now with all private providers entering the market the same care costs over 100.00 an hour. My Aged Care is privatisation of the home care for the elderly. If you need alot of care then your package funding will be insufficient. No such issue under CHSP. I know of elderly people in rural areas who cant access certain services or only have home help for 1 hr a month. It is better for older people to remain in their own homes, but how can they when they cant access the services they need. We nurses in the public system, who visit elderly people, in their own homes are constantly told we must meet targets for CHSP which are unrealistic. The money to be made is now in home care packages. Privatisation, the only way for the LNP. Always profits before people.

  19. RosemaryJ36

    The Coalition abhors regulations – possibly because regular checks might reveal problems arising from inadequate processes.
    How can we dislodge this mob which is destroying all that is good in society?

  20. Terence Mills

    Reading those words from Bobby Kennedy had me reflecting on the White House today and how far the US has slipped under Trump. He came to Washington with a pledge to drain the swamp and in the process created a sewer tended by his extended family and sycophants.

    I heard this morning Donald Trump wondering why some people take an instant dislike to him………………Donald, it saves time !

  21. Egalitarian

    Yes Terence Nepotism and ignorance, unfairness and dirty deeds done by sycophants shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere!

  22. paul walter

    It does indeed put money first, so it can socialise debt and privatise assets.

    It also does this with politics, if it can make political capital gain out of even an egregious and cruel wrong, it will do so every time, as it demonstrated over ROBODEBT, a policy acceptable to the redneck hordes primed by Murdoch.

    Funny how so few people see the similarities between this era and the 1930’s. Hobsbawm the historian for one observed how quickly the social memory fades under consent manufacture in “Age of Extremes”.

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