Morrison's Legacy

So Australia is going to have another Royal Commission, this time into Aged Care. It really doesn’t matter if the announcement was a pre-emptive response to the two-part ABCTV 4 Corners program or a Fairfax media investigation, if the events just happened to coincide or some other happenstance.

For a change we come to praise Morrison, not to bury him (with apologies to William Shakespeare). While the terms of reference and the Commissioner have yet to be announced, it is not likely that the Commission will be a placebo as there is considerable public support for the Inquiry. However, Morrison doesn’t get off scot free (pun intended). In the 2016 federal budget, then Treasurer Morrison cut $1.2billion from the budget for the aged care sector. At the time, The Conversation reported
In aged care, $1.2 billion will be saved through the “better use of funding”. Some of the $249 million reinvestments will be welcomed, including $102 million to improve services for those living in rural and remote areas, $10 million for unannounced compliance site visits of aged care providers and $136 million for My Aged Care, a contact point for older people seeking to explore their aged care options.

Yet it is difficult to see how these relatively small investments will meet the intended aims of “preventing a spending blowout” in coming years and are likely to shift increasing costs of aged care to future governments.
By the time of the 2018 budget, Morrison was increasing funding to support older Australians staying in their own home, conceptually not a bad idea as people are more comfortable in familiar surroundings, but arguably again putting pressure on those providing residential aged care facilities.

Traditionally, residential aged care was provided by government, religious bodies and other non-profit organisations. While the majority of the religious and non-profit bodies hearts were probably in the right place, over the years there have been the gradual introduction of mandatory standards, introduction of hoops to jump through for those who need to access residential aged care and reductions in government funding to contend with. The religious and non-profit sector don’t have an imperative to supply a dividend to their shareholders (as public and private ‘for-profit’ companies do), but they do need to retain a level of profitability to fund additional services, upgrades to the facilities and comply with required standards as they are tightened. The Conversation recently discussed the difficulties of making money out of aged care. So, it makes sense in a climate of declining funding and decreasing levels of membership of religious and non-profit bodies that they would consider the no doubt generous offer from a ‘for profit’ sector operator to come in and take on the future operations of existing residential aged care facilities.

There are obvious efficiencies in combining the ‘back of house’ operations if a number of smaller residential aged care facilities were combined in areas such as payroll, accounts payable and receivable as well as compliance, building maintenance and operations, marketing and so on. There are also a number of larger service providers that will probably come through the Royal Commission process more or less unscathed. By the same token, the funding for aged care is not actually tied to the provision of services to residents. It’s probably reasonable to suggest that the greater the distance between the management and those receiving the service, the greater the possibility that the level of individual and personal care offered to residents could be submerged under averages, balance sheets and PowerPoint presentations.

Fairfax media has published their suggested terms of reference for the forthcoming Royal Commission. How many of the suggestions Morrison uses is, at the moment, anyone’s guess. Evidence so far presented in the media suggests that if the Aged Care Royal Commission is as diligent as other recent Royal Commissions (maybe with the exception of Abbott’s ‘kill Bill’ Royal Commission into alleged misdeeds of the Trade Union movement), the Australian public is in for another few years of literally shocking revelations of how some of those who are supposed to be caring for individual Australians abuse and misuse the trust we have shown in them.

Likewise, assuming Morrison is fair dinkum about the Royal Commission and allows it to investigate the dark corners and hidden crevices as Gillard did with the Institutional Abuse Royal Commission and Turnbull did with the Royal Commission into the Finance Industry (after he was dragged kicking and screaming to establish it), it will be a richly deserved positive feature in history’s judgement of Morrison’s Prime Ministership. This is regardless of his previous actions in this space or his Prime Ministership generally. Gillard rightly gets the kudos for the establishment of the Institutional Abuse Commission and the Banking and Finance Commission has been so successful that large companies are pre-empting the Commission’s findings through actions such as refunding inappropriately or illegally charged fees – thanks to Turnbull’s terms of reference.

Along with the other recent Royal Commissions, Morrison’s Aged Care Royal Commission has the potential to make Australia a fairer society, by demonstrating that we as a nation value and support all Australians. And that’s not a bad thing.

What do you think?

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