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Aged care royal commission winds up public hearings

by Nick White (Senior Associate) and Philip Gardner (Special Counsel) : Gordon Legal

The Aged Care Royal Commission held its final public hearing on 23 October 2020, following 99 days of public hearings. The commission is to deliver its final report to the Federal Government by 26 February 2021.

The commission was established in October 2018, just ahead of the broadcast of a distressing story about residential aged care on the ABC’s Four Corners program. The commission delivered an interim report in October 2019. The commissioners, the Honourable Richard Tracey AM RFD QC and Ms Lynelle Briggs AO, called their interim report Neglect. It was a scathing indictment of the aged care system. Commissioner Tracey sadly died before that interim report was published. He has been replaced by the Honourable Tony Pagone QC.

In its interim report, the commission concluded that the aged care system ‘does not deliver uniformly safe and quality care for older people. It is unkind and uncaring towards them. In too many instances, it simply neglects them.’

The commission issued a special report in October 2019 concerning the impact of COVID-19 in residential care and the extent of preparation by the sector for the pandemic. The report was critical of numerous aspects of the system’s response to the pandemic.

The ANMF has made submissions and provided witnesses for hearings and workshops, including Vic Branch Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert and Federal Secretary Annie Butler, and responded to the commission’s position papers. The focus of ANMF’s submissions has been:

  • The establishment of mandated minimum staffing levels and skills mix in residential aged care
  • The need for legislated clinical governance and leadership arrangements
  • The registration of personal care workers
  • Improved wages and terms and conditions such that aged care nurses and personal carers receive similar entitlement to those in the public sector and
  • The imposition on providers of systems for transparency and accountability for the use of government funding for the provision of care.

The ANMF made over 25 submissions on topics including dementia care, funding, home care, workforce issues, person-centred care, nutrition and diet in residential care, the interface between aged care and the general health system, and the needs of rural and remote communities.

The counsel assisting the commission have made over 120 recommendations which generally reflect positions advanced by the ANMF, including minimum staffing and the creation of an independent aged care commission.

The process will begin with the commissioners reporting – it remains to be seen what they will recommend to the government, or whether the government will adopt the royal commission’s recommendations. The record of governments interventions to date in the sector has not been positive, but as Branch Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert said in his evidence to the commission, we hope that the time has come to stop kicking the can down the road.

On the last day of public hearings, Commissioner Briggs made some concluding observations:

After two years of evidence, it’s clear to me that we have an underfunded system that demonstrably fails to meet community standards of health, personal care and sustenance.

We need a skilled, compassionate and appropriately trained and paid ongoing workforce that helps to provide not only great care, but also a good quality of life

The current aged care system is sadly a poor reflection on us.

In his concluding remarks, Commissioner Pagone put it simply: “What we don’t want this commission to do is to bring about changes for things to remain the same.”


Nick and Philip have advised and assisted ANMF on its response to the royal commission over the last two years.