In a mind-bogglingly bizarre press conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that he doesn’t accept that he, as treasurer, cut $1.2 billion from the aged care budget. This was the exchange between Morrison and social affairs columnist at The Australian, Rick Morton1:
Morton: Prime minister, when you were treasurer you cut $2 billion from aged care.
Morrison: No, no. That’s what the Labor Party says.
Morton: No, you did.
Morrison: No I didn’t. The Labor Party says that.
Morton: You cut $1.2 billion from aged care funding.
Morrison: No, I don’t accept that. If people want to put questions, they’re not allowed to put lies.
Morton: Aged care funding had $1.2 billion …
Morrison: No. We’re increasing aged care funding by $1 billion every year.
Morton: No, it’s a direct question, Prime Minister.
Morrison: We have put in place compliance measures to ensure that public funds don’t get misused. So, this is why we are going to have a royal commission …
Morton: Are you ignoring the facts?
Morrison: No, I’m not ignoring facts. That’s why I’m calling a royal commission, if you’ll just let me finish the answer1.
The $1.2 billion figure comes from the 2016-2017 federal budget papers themselves which were tabled by Morrison, when he was treasurer2.
Savings were said to include $1.2 billion over four years through changes to the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) used by residential aged care providers to determine the base funding for each resident in their care. This is in addition to the $472.4 million savings over four years through changes to the ACFI scoring matrix announced in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) 2015-20162. This is the reality that Morrison does not accept; and that is from his own budget.
Now Morrison has announced that there will be a Royal Commission into the aged care industry, prompted by the realisation that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Four Corners investigative program was going to air a two-parter on abuse, poor quality care, poor nutrition, overmedication and understaffing in aged care3. Like most things, the government has to be dragged screaming into acknowledging there is a problem. The same was the case for the Royal Commission into the institutional abuse of children. It was called by Julia Gillard, but it was resisted by the then opposition and their supporters in the Murdoch press4. The same was true of the Royal Commission into the Banking and Financial Services Industry5. It was voted against many times by the government. This seems symptomatic of the Coalition in that they are not only reactionary, but are reactive as well, in that they would prefer only to keep the status quo and would prefer not to know about any criminal activity (the Sergeant Schultz defence*). After all, the Royal Commissions completed and under way have demonstrated criminal activity, and the Royal Commission announced a couple of days ago will likely do the same. The reason the government would prefer not to know is because the organisations whose behaviour is being examined are donors to or supporters of the Coalition parties.
*The ‘Sergeant Schultz defence’, is where a person, often in a court of law, claims to know nothing of a crime or incident. It comes from the 1970s television sitcom ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ where the POW camp guard, a Sergeant Schultz, upon learning of a plot the POWs were planning, would say emphatically in heavily accented English “I know nothing!”.