Colbeck arrived in Tokyo on July 19, despite the Japanese government recently announcing a state of emergency due to a recent COVID outbreak.
While Colbeck’s commitment to his role of Minister for Sport can not be questioned, his actions can only be described as tone-deaf when viewed regarding his aged care portfolio.
Unfortunately, this disconnect with the aged care sector and the inability to read the room has been a hallmark of Colbeck’s tenure.
Evidence of this can be found in his bumbling, uninformed reactions to some of the most pivotal moments relating to aged care in recent history.
When the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s Interim Report was released in October 2019, thousands of aged care professionals and families around the country looked to industry leaders to validate their concerns and take immediate steps to rectify the situation.
The Interim Report, titled Neglect, was both candid and scathing in its assessment of the Australian aged care sector, but all of the issues raised within the report’s findings were well documented by ongoing media coverage and also highlighted in previous investigations into the sector.
Research contained within the report also estimated that somewhere between 22-50% of people living in aged care were malnourished, a statistic that Colbeck was unaware of when questioned months later by NSW Senator Kristina Keneally.
At this point, aged care advocates across the country began to question if the Minister for Aged Care had actually read the report at all.
The added scrutiny of a pandemic has done nothing but reinforce the idea that Colbeck has little interest in aged care and takes even less accountability.
The federal government did not have a specific pandemic plan in place for the aged care sector, despite the forewarning of rising death tolls in foreign aged care homes prior to COVID arriving on Australian shores.
He also misrepresented Australia’s percentage of aged-care COVID deaths in comparison to other countries by using out-of-date data in a parliamentary inquiry last year.
At best, this highlights yet another example of a lack of knowledge or interest in the aged care sector. At worst, it can be viewed as deception, used to make Australia’s catastrophic failures in aged care look better.
Diluting the blame
If one specific act was used to represent Colbeck’s tenure in aged care, there would be no better example than his famous decision to walk out of a senate inquiry before Labor Senate Leader Penny Wong had the chance to reply to his previous statement.
As mounting pressure began to grow for Colbeck’s resignation, Health Minister Greg Hunt took on the primary responsibility of the aged care portfolio after the PM’s cabinet reshuffle in December.
While Colbeck still managed to retain the aged care portfolio, his official title was changed to the Minister for Aged Care Services. This shift also allowed him to fade into the background and positioned Hunt as the new spokesperson for aged care.
With the notoriously absent Colbeck now even further from sight, placing any blame for previous COVID failures in aged care becomes an even more diluted process and easy for the federal government to avoid.