Aged Care Minister Defends Attending Cricket Test Match During Omicron

Aged Care Minister Defends Attending Cricket Test Match During Omicron
Australian Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck speaks at a press conference alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison on May 01, 2020 at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia. (Rohan Thomson/Getty Images)
Marina Zhang
The Minister for Aged Care and Sports Richard Colbeck has defended his choice to turn down the invitation for the COVID-19 parliamentary committee meeting and go to the cricket.

“The test match in Hobart was a significant event for Tasmania,” Colbeck stated at the parliamentary committee meeting held by the Senate Select Committee on Feb. 2.

“Obviously, as Minister for Sport as well as the Minister for Aged Care Services and Senior Australians, I had to be conscious of that as an issue, and I was very cognizant of the circumstances that the sector was in.”

Colbeck had declined a request to appear before the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 and Health Department staff on Jan. 14 for a public hearing, the first day of the three-day Ashes Test in Hobart.

“I am concerned about the impact of the timing of this hearing. The COVID-19 pandemic is at a critical point with the onset of numerous Omicron outbreaks,” he wrote in the letter.

He said for department leaders to give evidence before the committee “at this crucial time would impact the urgent and critical work within the Department [of Health] is undertaking.”

Colbeck has since come under public scrutiny after being found to be attending a cricket match on the day of the public hearing instead.

The Chair of the committee, Labor senator Katy Gallagher asked if he prioritised cricket over aged care; Colbeck said he did not “acknowledge that characterisation.”

“All through that weekend, I continued to work on matters relating to both of my portfolios, but particularly aged care, even though it was a weekend.”

“On the days of the test match, I wasn’t just at the cricket. I was actually working the problems with the officials in the department to try to work to manage the issues that were in working in aged care. So, it wasn’t one thing or the other.”

He implied that the timing of the match was also an issue as it was in the late afternoon and it would be “hypocritical” for him to take back on the decision he made to change it.

Colbeck also mentioned that he was not the only one at the matches and named Julie Collins, the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, another fellow Tasmanian.

When asked by Gallagher why should he “keep” his job, pointing out the thousands of COVID-19 cases in aged care homes during that time in January.

Colbeck answered that he took his responsibilities in all of his “portfolio areas seriously; I take all weapons to appropriately balance the activities that I undertake across those portfolios.”

He denied that the aged care facilities are in a “crisis” but maintained that “it is working very, very hard to manage the impacts particularly of the Omicron outbreak.”

The minister argued that from his perspective, despite the increase in aged care numbers, aged care numbers have been doing better in 2022 than in 2020.

“There’s been over 1.8 million cases of COVID in Australia, just over 15,000 of those have been an aged care which is 0.58 percent of cases. That says to me that the sector, despite all the difficulties, is performing so much better. In fact, it’s 12 times less than what it was in 2020,” Colbeck argued.

However, Gallagher disputed that the data have been presented to give a positive slant and questioned the 40 percent of aged care facilities in lockdown due to the Omicron outbreak.

The public hearing also probed into the delayed approval of rapid antigen tests, which resulted in unmet demands for RATs once the Omicron outbreak started and subsequent price gouging reports of RATs across many states of Australia.

John Skerrit from the TGA stated that the decision to push back on approval for rapid antigen tests was “deliberate” as the RATs give a lot of false positives, which would make it “dangerous” to introduce it during April 2021 when case numbers were low.

He said that RATs have higher reliability for places with a higher overall proportion of COVID-19 cases due to “statistical reasons” making them suitable for places such as New York but “inappropriate” for Australia at the time.

Marina Zhang is a health writer for The Epoch Times, based in New York. She mainly covers stories on COVID-19 and the healthcare system and has a bachelors in biomedicine from The University of Melbourne. Contact her at [email protected].
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