Scott Morrison’s announcement of a royal commission into aged care has worked for the moment to have the chattering classes talking about something other than disarray in his government.
Clearly Mr Morrison has made the judgement that he needs to look and sound more like the leader of the nation, rather than a partisan political brawler suspected of having his predecessor’s blood on his hands.
He told Parliament he wanted both chambers to work together “to ensure that we can deliver on the needs of Australians being cared for in the residential aged care sector”.
He soared above the ruck saying “I don’t want to fight about this issue. I want to fix it.”
He revealed he had rung Opposition Leader Bill Shorten the night before he made the announcement that he would set up the royal commission. He won Bill Shorten’s support.
Even though five months ago Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt slammed the Labor leader for speaking of a national crisis in aged care. He accused Mr Shorten of “fear mongering verging on the abuse of older Australians that must stop”.
Mr Wyatt also told the Four Corners crew making Monday’s night’s expose of abuse in the sector that he thought a royal commission would be a waste of time and money.
He had a point. There have been 30 inquiries since the kerosene baths affair in 1997 and the minister was already acting on the latest review set up after the South Australian Oakden scandal.
Mr Wyatt told the ABC after two years and maybe $200 million being spent on a commission “we’ll come back with the same set or a very similar set of recommendations”.
He is supported in this claim by the fact his new reporting regimes have shown a 292 per cent non-compliance with regulations and the Department of Health has closed one aged care service a month in the past year.
The nurses’ union is certainly worried the commission, which will not report back until late next year, well after the election, is a time-buying exercise. Though its federal secretary Annie Butler is hoping it will lead to better staffing ratios and funding tied to outcomes.
In the meantime, as a political ploy it has worked a treat. Cabinet backed Mr Morrison’s strategy last Thursday at the end of a horror week politically. All but two of the 21 questions in Parliament were about the issue.
Even seven of Labor’s nine questions were about older Australians, mostly to challenge Mr Morrison’s assertion he had not cut funding to the sector.
Wearing his former treasurer’s hat, the Prime Minister denied any cut by going into budget eco-babble speak. This didn’t convince Sean Rooney, the head of Leading Age Services Australia. He says $3 billion has been taken out of the system over the past four years.
Julia Gillard’s much-lauded royal commission into institutional sexual abuse didn’t save her prime ministership or the Labor government. Such was the disunity on display for so long.
The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government is presenting no more edifying a spectacle. It was not helped late Monday by marginal seat holder Ann Sudmalis announcing she’s quitting at the election with a scathing farewell.
Though Ms Sudmalis says she supports Mr Morrison, she accuses the New South Wales Liberal Party of “bullying, intimidation, leaking and undermining at the local level”.
A clue to voters’ revulsion overall may have been in the Ipsos Fairfax poll giving Labor a convincing lead and finding 70 per cent of respondents believe Mr Shorten has the confidence of his party compared to 49 per cent for Mr Morrison.