The hundreds of people who died this year in Australian care homes deserve justice in the election | Jeff Sparrow


Will it be the election of elderly care?

One would like to believe so, given the carnage that the federal government has sown in the sector.

On Wednesday, Senate estimates learned that so far in 2022 more than 700 elderly residents have perished from Covid, a toll already higher than throughout last year.

In response to questions, Seniors Services Minister Richard Colbeck, says that “performance in dealing with Covid-19 has improved” and then blamed Labor for bullying him.

Some might object that he was not intimidated enough.

Colbeck says any suggestion he has “put his sporting commitments ahead of the health and well-being of senior Australians… [was] completely misplaced” because his presence at a Test was “part of his commitments as Minister for Sport and Senator of Tasmania”; he also says he had done other Covid-related duties that day and that the “test was a daytime night [that] didn’t start until late afternoon.

Still, the fact remains that as the death toll swelled in mid-January, Colbeck declared himself too busy to attend a crisis committee… and then spent three days cricketing .

At least Nero gave music to the Romans.

Meanwhile, although Scott Morrison has pledged to ease personnel shortages by sending in the ADF (increasingly, a panacea for policy failures), elder care providers say they haven’t been told yet how to access the promised help, even if the lack of staff has led to closures.

Everyone ages. If they don’t need support now, neither for themselves nor for their loved ones, one day they will.

At the polls, they will vote accordingly, right?

Well, it’s not that simple.

the Adam Smith Institutea neoliberal think tank, recently published an article claiming that to “energize scientific discovery and give all of humanity a greater interest in space exploration,” the moon should be privatized (yes, really!).

Back here on planet Earth, most of us recognize that while Elon Musk can take advantage of unregulated market forces, the weak and poor do not.

Yet for decades Australia has relied on the invisible hand of Adam Smith to look after the elderly, with John Howard’s Aged Care Act of 1997 calling on big business to make money. money to the country’s most vulnerable people.

The results were just as you predicted. The report of the royal commission on the quality and safety of care for the elderly describes a spectacle of absolute horror: residents lying in their own filth, widespread malnutrition, rampant over-medication, sexual and physical abuse, staff under -paid and undervalued and many more.

The Prime Minister launched this survey in 2018explaining, in characteristic Morrisonese, that he wanted to be “fair dinkum” to understand the full extent of the issues.

But now, since 1997, we have had no less than 18 Major Elder Care Reviews and Surveys.

In other words, everyone knows the system is stuffed – and has been for a long, long time.

However, this awareness has not translated into political action.

In 2020, when Catholic Health Australia surveyed Eden Monaro voters84% of respondents described care for the elderly as “in crisis”.

Yet when asked about the list of issues close to their hearts, less than 4% cited the treatment of the elderly.

We could blame an innate reluctance to dwell on old age and the various indignities it brings.

But in fact, there is nothing inevitable about all this. Other cultures in other times have revered the elderly, taking collective pride in the respect they accord to the elderly.

It is more accurate to attribute our indifference to the priorities of an atomized society, in which the value of an individual declines precipitously once they are no longer considered an economic asset.

And, perhaps, attitudes are changing.

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on care for the elderly. But it also showed that the vast majority of the public wanted to protect older citizens and were willing to change their behavior (by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, etc.) to do so.

In particular, young Australians – many of whom were not necessarily at great risk themselves – have made significant sacrifices in the fight against the virus.

Having done their part to protect their grandparents, when they arrive at the voting booth, they may well be bent on punishing Colbeck and Morrison for not doing enough.

Of course, much will depend on whether Labor is willing to offer a tangible alternative.

In Victoria, the stark contrast between a high proportion of Covid cases and deaths in private facilities and much less affected public homes show what could be possible.

So far, Anthony Albanese has made no specific promises on raising salaries for desperately underpaid staff in the sector.

A bold alternative policy would go a long way to putting care for the elderly on the election agenda.

The hundreds of dead deserve at least that.


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