Grattan on Friday: Morrison government needs to improve, rather than defend, its poor COVID aged care performance


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The state of aged care preparation in the era of COVID-19 is, it seems, in the eye of the beholder.

Vastly different claims emerged this week, when the royal commission examining the sector turned its attention to the handling of the pandemic.

According to the senior counsel assisting the commission, Peter Rozen, QC, federal authorities had no COVID-19 plan specifically for aged care, always potentially a major risk area. And, Rozen noted, compared with many countries, residents of facilities form a very high proportion of Australia’s deaths.

The government disputes the lack-of-plan allegation and has a different take on the statistics.

Brendan Murphy, secretary of the health department and until recently Australia’s chief medical officer, appearing before the commission, insisted there had been proper planning, and said the death proportion reflected not a failure in aged care but the low number of fatalities in the general community.

If you were taking a bet on who most people would believe, Rozen would be short odds.

Morrison knows the government is highly vulnerable on the issue. Aged care is a federal responsibility. It affects millions of Australians, counting those with relatives in homes. People’s anger buttons are easily triggered when things go wrong.

Some around the government might like to discount Rozen’s attack as being what counsels-assisting do at royal commissions. But his claims were backed by witnesses, from highly regarded geriatrician Joseph Ibrahim of Monash University to union officials with members on the front line.

They also resonated after the numerous first-hand accounts in the media from families as the virus has ripped through well over 100 facilities in Victoria. Currently, there are more than 1,000 cases among residents and over 1,000 among staff, linked to these homes.

Politicians have been congratulated during the pandemic for listening to experts, but according to Ibrahim, there was not enough aged care expertise applied in the preparations to firewall the sector.

It’s hard if not impossible, anyway, to build adequate safeguards when the structure itself is so compromised, due to bad decisions and neglect over many years.




Read more:
Royal Commission into Aged Care reminds Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy it sets the rules


A sector operating with low paid, often short term, casuals who pick up work across facilities and often have inadequate English (complicating even basic training) was always inviting disaster.

Health Minister Greg Hunt declared recently, after Victoria Premier Dan Andrews said he wouldn’t want his mother to be in some of these places:

The idea that our carers, that our nurses are not providing that care, I think, is a dangerous statement to make. They are wonderful human beings and I won’t hear a word against them.

This misses the point. No one doubts the commitment the majority of the carers have to their work. But the nature of the workforce brings dangers for residents.

Many facilities run on narrow financial margins. The rules allow them to keep their staffing to a minimum, in terms of numbers and skill.

Nor has regulatory oversight been adequate. Often it is families and the media that have exposed neglect and abuses. Morrison announced the royal commission in September 2018 a day before an ABC Four Corners investigation was to air.

The for-profit system emphasises the idea of facilities being “home-like”, which sounds great but can mean inadequate specialised care and challenges for inflection control.

The word “tragic” is thrown around too much by politicians and media. But what’s happened in aged care during COVID-19 has indeed been a tragedy.

It’s just possible if the pandemic had come two years later, after next year’s final report of the royal commission had forced some reform, that fewer lives would have been lost. But even with the system as it is, the evidence indicates better planning could have saved lives.

That’s certainly Ibrahim’s view. In his precis of evidence, he argued “hundreds of residents will die prematurely because people failed to act”.

We had enough knowledge to do better. We failed because when residents are treated as second class citizens there is an absence of accountability and consequences for those responsible for aged care in Australia.

There was “failure to provide the same health response to residential aged care that was delivered to the rest of Australia.”

The government has been playing catch-up on aged care all through the pandemic. It had to put substantial money in to help with staffing; it was slow to acknowledge the importance of masks; it set up a co-ordinated response in Victoria belatedly; National Cabinet only a week ago stepped up preparations in other parts of the country.

Morrison is now confronted at two levels: there must be root and branch reform after the royal commission, and his government is under immediate pressure over this week’s indictment.

The government’s tactic of inserting Murphy into the commission’s witness list was a miscalculation.

It seemed to assume the commission would defer to Murphy when he sought to make a statement to reject Rozen’s claims. But he was refused permission to commence with the statement (which he delivered at the end of the session) and all his appearance did was highlight the government’s sensitivity.

When he summed up the hearings on Thursday, Rozen did not resile from his initial criticisms. He concluded the problems in aged care had been foreseeable; “not all that could be done was done”; and the challenge remained.

Picking up a recommendation from Ibrahim, Rozen urged an “age-care specific national coordinating body to advise government”. It would bring together expertise in aged care, infection control and emergency preparedness.

With such a body, “a national aged care plan for COVID could still be put in place,” Rozen said.




Read more:
Government rejects Royal Commission’s claim of no aged care plan, as commission set to grill regulator


Although the advisory body is not a formal recommendation, commissioner Tony Pagone endorsed it among “practical things that perhaps should not wait.”

The virus doesn’t wait and nor should the measures that need to be implemented to deal with the virus wait either.

The government, which has previously signalled more assistance for aged care in the budget, should stop insisting it has done everything well and act immediately on this and some of the other suggestions made in the COVID-19 hearings.

Morrison said this week in a Facebook message, “I want to assure that where there are shortcomings in these areas they’ll be acknowledged. And the lessons will be learned.”

The government likes to talk about wanting a reform agenda, but this should not be just an economic one. Aged care must be near the top of any serious “reform” to-do list, and vested interests should not be allowed to limit necessary changes.

In his end-of-year ministerial reshuffle, prompted by Mathias Cormann deciding to quit parliament, Morrison should elevate the aged care portfolio from the outer ministry to cabinet.

Having the post in cabinet would send a positive signal but, more importantly, it would encourage a wider range of ministerial eyes on an issue that’s been mishandled for as long as anyone can remember.

Veterans’ affairs is in cabinet, and most families would think aged care is just as worthy of a place.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Royal Commission into Aged Care reminds Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy it sets the rules


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Royal Commission into Aged Care put the Secretary of the Federal Health Department, Brendan Murphy, firmly in his place when he tried to make an opening statement to attack claims by the senior counsel assisting the commission, Peter Rozen, QC.

Murphy, who became a nationally known figure when as Chief Medical Officer he appeared regularly at Scott Morrison’s news conferences, had not been due to give evidence at the commission’s sittings on COVID this week.

But after Rozen’s Monday statement the federal government, which is increasingly concerned at the criticism it is receiving over inadequate preparation for the pandemic in aged care facilities, asked to have him added to the panel of Commonwealth witnesses who appeared on Wednesday.

As questioning of the panel was about to start Murphy broke in, saying he wanted to make a statement in response to Rozen inaccurately claiming the Commonwealth had not planned for the outbreak in aged care and as a result there had been a high death rate.

But after a brief adjournment for consultations the commission denied his request, although he was allowed to make the statement at the session’s end. As commissioner Tony Pagone put it with the utmost politeness but equal firmness, “We are really in control of the procedure that we have and we just need to continue with that.”

On Wednesday Victoria announced a record 21 deaths from the previous 24 hours, 16 of them linked to aged care.

In a Facebook message Scott Morrison, expressing condolences, referred particularly to the need to protect the vulnerable elderly.

He also said pointedly: “I want to assure that where there are shortcomings in these areas they’ll be acknowledged. And the lessons will be learned.”

He warned there would be more “difficult news” in the days and weeks ahead.

Earlier on Wednesday professor Joseph Ibrahim, a specialist in geriatric medicine from Monash University, told the commission: “This is the worst disaster that is still unfolding before my eyes and it’s the worst in my entire career”.

He said hundreds of aged care residents would die prematurely because people had failed to act.

“There’s a level of apathy, a lack of urgency. There’s an attitude of futility which leads to an absence of action.

“The reliance or promotion of advance care plans as a way to manage the pandemic and the focus on leaving residents in their setting I think is wrong and inappropriate. When I voiced my concerns, I have had comments saying that everything is under control, that I’m simply overreacting and causing panic,” Ibrahim said.

Early in the crisis Ibrahim made representations to state and federal bodies, and to Morrison, health minister Greg Hunt and aged care minister Richard Colbeck.

The tension was evident when the panel of Commonwealth officials gave evidence.

Michael Lye, the health department’s deputy secretary for ageing and aged care, unsuccessfully tried to divert to Murphy a question about Australia faring badly on aged care deaths compared to other countries. Rozen insisted Lye answer, saying sharply, “No, I don’t want professor Murphy to answer the question, Mr Lye. I’m asking you. You told us you were the senior most official with aged care responsibility within the Commonwealth department of health”.

In one embarrassing moment for the federal officials, Rozen drew attention to Murphy prompting Lye when the latter was struggling under the questioning.

Rozen told both Lye and Murphy, as they periodically veered into wider comments, to just answer his questions.

Quizzed about the apparent lateness of a July 13 decision to make masks compulsory for care providers in Victorian homes, Murphy admitted “in hindsight, you could have implemented that earlier”, agreeing it was “possible” it might have reduced the number of infections entering homes.

In his forcefully-delivered statement at the end of the session, Murphy declared: “We reject categorically that the Australian government failed to adequately plan and prepare” for COVID in aged care.

He also strongly rejected that there was anything pejorative in the fact people from aged care formed a high proportion of “an extraordinary low death rate in Australia”. “I would say the contrary is true.” He said across Australia’s aged care facilities 0.1% of residents had succumbed to COVID compared to 5% in the UK with many more not detected.

The fact that two thirds of Australia’s about 350 deaths were from aged care “is really a reflection of the extraordinarily low community death rate,” Murphy said.

Diana Asmar, Victorian secretary of the Health Workers Union, told the commission: “Our members right now feel like they’re on the bottom of the Titanic ship”. They did not have proper access to personal protective equipment, they were suffering from huge staffing pressures, and they were feeling neglected.

“The lack of communication, the lack of training, the lack of staffing and the lack of protection unfortunately has caused a huge concern in the aged care sector,” she said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Government rejects Royal Commission’s claim of no aged care plan, as commission set to grill regulator


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government has clashed with the Royal Commission into Aged Care, strongly rejecting the claim by senior counsel assisting the inquiry Peter Rozen that it had no specific COVID-19 plan for the sector.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck told a news conference: “We have had a plan to deal with COVID-19 in residential aged care, going right back to the beginnings of our preparations.

“We’ve been engaged with the sector since late January, and continuously working with the sector to ensure they have all the information they require and the support that they need in the circumstance that they might have an outbreak of COVID-19.”

Acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly said: “We have been planning for our aged population as a vulnerable group since the beginning of our planning in relation to COVID-19”. And there had been “very strong communication with the sector throughout,” he said.

Rozen, in a Monday statement at the opening of this week’s hearings on COVID in the aged care sector, said while much was done to prepare the health sector more generally for the pandemic, “neither the Commonwealth Department of Health nor the aged care regulator developed a COVID-19 plan specifically for the aged care sector”.

The sector had been underprepared, he said.

Asked whether the government’s plan had failed, Colbeck admitted there had been “some circumstances where things haven’t gone as we would like”, saying “the circumstance at St Basil’s [in Melbourne] is one, where we didn’t get it all right”.

On Wednesday the commission will take evidence from Janet Anderson, head of the Commonwealth regulator, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which Rozen said “did not have an appropriate aged care sector COVID-19 response plan”.

The government has left Anderson out to dry, after it was belatedly discovered her body was told of an outbreak at St Basil’s two days after a staffer was diagnosed, but it failed to pass on the information.

Quizzed about this, Colbeck said under the protocols, “the Commonwealth should have been advised of the outbreak on 9 July by either the Victorian health department or St Basil’s management or both. Instead it was formally informed on July 14.”

But he was also critical of the Quality and Safety Commission which was informed of the outbreak when it was speaking to the home as part of a survey about preparedness and infection control.

“The disappointing thing, from my perspective, is that the information that was gleaned … about a positive outbreak wasn’t passed on to anyone else,” Colbeck said.

“There was an assumption made … that information had already been passed on. It wasn’t.

“The gap in the supply chain, or the information chain, has now been closed. … There should not have been a hole in our systems. That’s been rectified appropriately, as it should have been.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Federal departments had no specific COVID plan for aged care: royal commission counsel




Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia’s aged care sector was “underprepared” to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak and federal authorities had no specific plan for it, according to a stinging indictment from Peter Rozen QC, senior counsel assisting the royal commission into aged care.

In a statement critical of authorities and providers, Rozen said while much was done to prepare the health sector more generally for the pandemic, “neither the Commonwealth Department of Health nor the aged care regulator developed a COVID-19 plan specifically for the aged care sector”.

Rozen was speaking at the start of several days of hearings to look at the sector’s preparations and response to the crisis. The commission will probe the NSW outbreaks in homes but not delve in detail into particular homes in Victoria because the crisis is ongoing there.

Aged care is a Commonwealth responsibility, while the states are responsible for health.

Rozen said on Commonwealth data, more than 1,000 residents had been diagnosed with COVID-19, of whom 168 had died.

The pandemic had “starkly exposed” the flaws in the sector that had been highlighted during the royal commission.

In view of the deficiencies it was “hardly surprising that the aged care sector has struggled to respond to COVID-19”.

He stressed the consequences of the deskilling of the aged care workforce and a shortage of clinical skills in homes.

Rozen quoted health minister Greg Hunt saying on July 29 that “aged care around the country has been immensely prepared”. But, Rozen said, “in a number of important respects, the evidence will demonstrate that the sector has been underprepared”.

“We will be asking if greater attention to preparation may have saved lives and could save lives in the future.”

Rozen said that between June 19 and August 3, a crucial period when new infections in Victoria escalated, there was no updated advice for the aged care sector from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee – the main source of COVID advice.

“There was no advice about how the sector should respond to the risk posed by aged care workers who may be COVID-19 positive yet asymptomatic, particularly those who work in multiple facilities.”

Rozen was critical of the Commonwealth regulator, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which oversees the sector.

“The regulator did not have an appropriate aged care sector COVID-19 response plan. Given that it was widely understood that recipients of aged care services were a high risk group, this seems surprising.”

On March 17, the regulator wrote to providers with a survey asking about their preparedness. Overwhelmingly they claimed to be prepared, but evidence would be critical of this survey, Rozen said.

He questioned the late timing of the regulator’s action in relation to the Newmarch House in Sydney and the fact the regulator had not investigated the circumstances of the Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House outbreaks.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Aged care crisis reflects poor preparation and a broken system


“We also have concerns about whether the regulator’s powers of investigation are adequate,” Rozen said, adding that comparable regulators in areas such as workplace or airline safety were not as fettered.

There were “notorious problems” in the relationship between the health system run by the states and the Commonwealth aged care sector, Rozen said.

He detailed an argument between federal and NSW authorities about whether residents with COVID should be transferred to hospitals, with the federal authorities wanting transfers and the state official opposing.

“Equal access to the hospital system is the fundamental right of all Australians young or old and regardless of where they live,” Rozen said.

“Many of the residents in aged care homes worked their entire lives to build the world class health system of which Australians are justifiable proud.

“They have the same right to access it in their hour of need as the rest of the community. To put it very directly, older people are no less deserving of care because they are old. Such an approach is ageist”.

Rozen noted the time it took, after experience in Sydney, for the Commonwealth health department to advise providers that 80-100% of their workforce might need to isolate in a major outbreak, and even then it was not highlighted.

“Regulators in other fields such as workplace safety publish page one ‘alerts’ to disseminate promptly via safety information they learn from incident investigations.”

Rozen said masks were not made compulsory for aged care workers until July 13 – two days after the first recorded deaths of an aged care resident in Victoria. On July 13, the number of new Victorian infections was 250.

“Why did authorities wait until after the fir
st death to take what seems the simple and obvious step of making masks compulsory for aged care workers?”

Commonwealth aged care regulator admits it was told of St Basil’s outbreak

The head of the Commonwealth’s Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, Janet Anderson, has told a Senate inquiry St Basil’s Home for the Aged informed the commission of its COVID outbreak on July 10 – contrary to claims made previously that the Commonwealth was not told until July 14.

In a letter to the Senate committee on COVID-19, Anderson wrote she had become aware that on July 10, during a telephone call responding to the commission’s assessment contact program the St Basil’s representative “provided information that one staff member … was diagnosed with COVID-19 on 8 July 2020 and the Public Health Unit (PHU) had been advised”.

Anderson, the aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, and the secretary of the federal health department Brendan Murphy all told the committee on August 4 the Commonwealth had not been informed about the outbreak until July 14.

That was when the Victorian health and human services department notified it. The time lag has been seen by the Andrews government’s critics as further evidence of its poor administration.

In her letter Anderson said the commission was not the first responder to an outbreak and the phone contact had been part of a commission program to seek assurances from facilities that COVID plans had been developed and were ready to be acted on.

“The regulatory official from the Commission who made the assessment contact referred the service’s responses to the Commission’s COVID-19 Response Team and this information was escalated internally and recorded in the Commission’s daily COVID-19 confirmed case tracker, Anderson wrote.

“The Commission did not escalate the matter externally at the time because the St Basil’s representative had confirmed in the interview that they had advised the PHU [the Victorian Public Health Unit] of the outbreak. The representative also confirmed that they had read the ‘First 24 hours’ document.”

Anderson noted this federal health department document lists four actions to be taken in the first 30 minutes. These steps are: isolate and inform the COVID-19 positive case(s); contact the local Public Health Unit; contact the Commonwealth Health Department; lock down the facility.

Anderson said the commission was later advised about the outbreak by the health department on July 14.

“To manage any risks of provider failure to notify the relevant authorities of a COVID-19 outbreak, the Commission now has arrangements in place to confirm immediately with the Commonwealth Department of Health that they have been directly notified by the affected aged care service of any outbreak at that service that comes to the Commision’s attention by whatever means.”

Asked about the bungle, Scott Morrison was sharp. He said the commission was an independent body that operated formally separate from the government but he was concerned about the breakdown in communication.

He said where there were breakdowns and issues, he wanted to know about them and fix them.

“We will be following [the matter] through with the commissioner. And at the end of the day, they’re an independent statutory office and they know their responsibilities and they need to live up to them.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We have already had countless bushfire inquiries. What good will it do to have another?



We know what has to be done. Now it’s time to implement previous recommendations.
CPL TRISTAN KENNEDY/FIRST JOINT PUBLIC AFFAIRS UNIT HANDOUT/EPA

Kevin Tolhurst, University of Melbourne

As our country battles the most extensive fires of our lifetime, there are increasing calls for a royal commission into the states and territories’ preparedness and the federal government’s response to the disaster.

A royal commission has coercive powers beyond a government inquiry, and the need for one implies there are facts and evidence that would otherwise be “hidden” to an inquiry or review.

Research I’ve recently conducted with other fire experts has concluded there have been 57 formal public inquiries, reviews and royal commissions related to bushfires and fire management since 1939, most of which are listed here. I have given expert evidence to at least seven of them, including the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

That is more than one inquiry every two years in the past 80 years. Do we need yet another?

Previous reviews that went nowhere

Some of the recommendations of the Stretton Royal Commission following the Black Friday fires of 1939 have still not been fully implemented.

Many of the recommendations of the subsequent 56 inquiries have not been fully implemented either, so it raises serious questions about whether another royal commission will offer anything new or compelling.




Read more:
Bushfires won’t change climate policy overnight. But Morrison can shift the Coalition without losing face


Royal commissions are also expensive and time-consuming. The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission had a budget of A$40 million and ran for about 18 months.

This cost did not include the very considerable time and resources committed by various government agencies, companies and individuals who prepared and presented evidence to the commission. When these costs are taken into account, I estimate the total cost of the commission to Victoria would have been much more.

This begs the question as to how money spent on a federal royal commission could be better used to deal with bushfire management across the country.

A comprehensive fire management plan already exists

In response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission and various other inquiries, fire managers from government agencies in all states and territories prepared a National Bushfire Management Policy Statement for Forests and Rangelands.

This policy statement was signed off by all COAG (Council of Australian Governments) members by early 2012 and published in 2014. As yet, there has been little action on implementing this policy.

The policy had a stated vision that

fire regimes are effectively managed to maintain and enhance the protection of human life and property, and the health, biodiversity, tourism, recreation and production benefits derived from Australia’s forests and rangelands.

Central to this vision is

the role fire plays in maintaining and enhancing biodiversity. Sustainable long-term solutions are needed to address the causes of increased bushfire risk.

To achieve the intent of this policy, 14 national goals were identified.

The first was to maintain appropriate fire regimes with the right combination of size, intensity, frequency and seasonality to properly sustain the ecosystems in Australia’s forests and rangelands.

Another goal was to promote Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of fire management. This recognised the benefits of widespread, low-intensity, patchy fires across the landscape that are sustainable and create landscapes resilient to climate extremes.




Read more:
There’s only one way to make bushfires less powerful: take out the stuff that burns


And a third goal was to create employment, workforce education and training in bushfire management. This recognised the importance of fire management as an integrated part of our lives.

These goals – along with the 11 others in the statement – still need to be developed into measurable outputs and outcomes, but they set a comprehensive and sustainable fire management strategy for the country.

This policy statement goes much further than just considering how to respond to a bushfire emergency, which seems to be the focus of the call for a new royal commission by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Morrison said Sunday he would take a proposal to establish a new royal commission into the bushfire disaster to Cabinet.
David Mariuz/AAP

A better way forward

Over the past 20 years or so, the tertiary education for land managers, such as professional foresters and rangers, has been reduced to the level of generic “environmental science”. This has largely been due to the politicisation of public land management.

Bushfire science is complex and fire management even more complex, so we need to have highly trained and qualified people managing our parks and forests. Instead, we typically have groups of individual specialists trying to collaborate without the strong leadership and direction such a task requires.




Read more:
Watching our politicians fumble through the bushfire crisis, I’m overwhelmed by déjà vu


We do not expect a physicist or chemist to build a bridge, even though they could provide great detail about the forces acting on it and the metallurgy of the structure. Instead, we employ engineers. Likewise, we should not expect botanists, zoologists, ecologists or environmental scientists to manage the natural landscape. That, however, is what is happening now.

What’s needed is a better national bushfire management strategy, not a commission into the response to the crisis.
STATE GOVERNMENT OF VICTORIA

The responsibility for land and fire management rests with each state and territory government. However, with support from the federal government and coordination through COAG, we should be able to develop an efficient and effective fire and land management program across Australia.

In his 1939 royal commission report, Judge Stretton observed of the Victorian Forests Commission chairman of the time, A.V. Galbraith,

if his Commission were placed beyond the reach of the sort of political authority to which he and his Department has for some time past been subjected, he would be of greater value to the State.

His meaning is clear: good fire and land management needs to be done with long-term perspective, not a short-term political focus.

Stretton also observed the need to have public support, because

without their approval and goodwill, there can be no real plan.

Our changing climate has put more pressure on our natural ecosystems and the weaknesses in our land and fire management are being ruthlessly exposed.

Rather than using time and resources on inquiry No. 58, we should instead commit to fully implement the recommendations of all the previous inquiries, reviews and royal commissions we have already held. Another royal commission will only reiterate what we have known for decades.The Conversation

Kevin Tolhurst, Hon. Assoc. Prof., Fire Ecology and Management, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Frydenberg outlines financial sector reform timetable


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has issued a timetable for the government’s dealing with the recommendations from the royal commission into banking, superannuation and financial services, which aims to have all measures needing legislation introduced by the end of next year.

The opposition has accused the government of dragging its feet on putting into effect the results of the inquiry, which delivered its final report early this year.

“The need for change is undeniable, and the community expects that the government response to the royal commission will be implemented swiftly,” Frydenberg said in a statement on the timetable.

Fydenberg said that in his final report Commissioner Kenneth Hayne made 76 recommendations – 54 directed to the federal government (more than 40 of them needing legislation), 12 to the regulators, and 10 to the industry. Beyond the 76 recommendations, the government had announced another 18 commitments to address issues in the report.

The government had implemented 15 of the commitments it outlined in responding to the report, Frydenberg said. This included eight out of the 54 recommendations, and seven of the 18 additional commitments the government made. “Significant progress” had been made on another five recommendations, with draft legislation in parliament or out for comment or consultation papers produced.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: How ‘guaranteed’ is a rise in the superannuation guarantee?


Frydenberg said that, excluding the reviews to be conducted in 2022, his timetable was:

  • by the end of 2019, more than 20 commitments (about a third of the government’s commitments) would have been implemented or have legislation in parliament

  • by mid 2020, more than 50 commitments would have been implemented or be before parliament

  • by the end of 2020, the rest of the commission’s recommendations needing legislation would have been introduced.

When the Hayne report was released early this year, the government agreed to act on all the recommendations.

But one recommendation it has notably not signed up to was on mortgage brokers.

Hayne found that mortgage brokers should be paid by borrowers, not lenders, and recommended commissions paid by lenders be phased out over two to three years.




Read more:
Wealth inequality shows superannuation changes are overdue


The government at first accepted most of this recommendation, announcing the payment of ongoing so-called “trailing commissions” would be banned on new loans from July 2020. Upfront commissions would be the subject to a separate review. Four weeks later in March Frydenberg announced the government wouldn’t be banning trailing commissions after all. Instead, it would review their operation in three years.

Releasing the timetable, Frydenberg said the reform program was the “biggest shake up of the financial sector in three decades” and the speed of implementation “is unprecedented”.

“It will be done in a way that enhances consumer outcomes with more accountability, transparency and protections without compromising the flow of credit and competition,” he said.

He undertook to ensure the opposition was briefed on each piece of legislation before it came into parliament.

“This will begin with the offer of a briefing by Treasury on the implementation plan. Given both the government and opposition agreed to act on the commission’s recommendations, we expect to achieve passage of relevant legislation without undue delays,” he said.

He said the industry was “on notice. The public’s tolerance has been exhausted. They expect and we will ensure that the reforms are delivered and the behaviour of those in the sector reflects community expectations.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Royal commission on the abuse of disabled people to be announced soon


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government is about to establish a royal commission into violence and abuse of people with a disability.

The aim is to have the terms of reference finalised before the
election. The disability area is a shared one, so the royal commission would be set up jointly with the states and territories.

As of late Wednesday, Queensland, Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania had agreed to the inquiry; Western Australia and the two territories are expected to do so soon.

Scott Morrison, campaigning in Tasmania, flagged a very extensive
scope for the commission.

“I think it will be a royal commission of a similar size and standing as what we saw with institutional child sexual abuse. Let’s remember that went for four years. It had five commissioners,” he said.

There is no cost for the royal commission as yet and the federal
government wants the other governments to contribute. The child sexual abuse commission cost about A$500 million; the banking inquiry was around $75 million; the aged care one is set to cost about $100 million.

The disability sector has been pressing for the inquiry. Greens
senator Jordon Steele-John, who has a disability, has been one of the loudest voices. The opposition has promised a royal commission, and earlier this month parliament passed a motion calling for one. The Coalition opposed that motion in the Senate but voted for it in the lower house.

In a letter to state and territory leaders Morrison said the scope of the inquiry being proposed by disabled people and advocates “is broad, including mainstream services that are regulated by state and territory governments such as health, mental health and education services provided prior to the establishment of the NDIS.

“The cooperation and support of state and territory governments is therefore essential”.

Morrison said he was seeking views from the states and territories on the “most appropriate consultation pathways to progress” the commission, including through the Council of Australian Governments. This process should also consider cost sharing. “I am also seeking views on options to undertake meaningful consultation with the disability sector, to ensure that the perspectives of people with disability are incorporated and they are provided with appropriate support”.

The opposition accused Morrison of haggling with the states over the funding of the royal commission, saying that “Labor committed to a separate, dedicated and fully federally funded royal commission in May 2017”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NAB’s Andrew Thorburn and Ken Henry quit after royal commission lashing


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The banking royal commission report has claimed its first high-profile victims, with National Australia Bank’s chief executive officer Andrew Thorburn and chairman Ken Henry quitting their positions.

The two were subject to scathing assessments in the report from
commissioner Kenneth Hayne.

Hayne said that after having heard from both men he was “not as confident as I would wish to be that the lessons of the past have been learned.

More particularly, I was not persuaded that NAB is willing to accept the necessary responsibility for deciding, for itself, what is the right thing to do, and then having its staff act accordingly. I thought it telling that Dr Henry seemed unwilling to accept any criticism of how the board had dealt with some issues.

I thought it telling that Mr Thorburn treated all issues of fees for no service as nothing more than carelessness combined with system deficiencies … Overall, my fear – that there may be a wide gap between the public face NAB seeks to show and what it does in practice – remains.

In a statement late Thursday, NAB said Thorburn would finish at the end of this month while Henry would leave the board once a new CEO had been appointed.

The board will search internationally for a CEO while also considering internal candidates, the statement said.

Philip Chronican, a NAB director with extensive banking experience
will act as CEO from March 1 until a replacement is found.




Read more:
Defence mechanisms. Why NAB chairman Ken Henry lost his job


It has been speculated that Mike Baird, former NSW premier, a senior executive at NAB could get the CEO post.

Thorburn, who has been CEO since 2005, said he had had a number of
conversations with Henry this week.

“I acknowledge that the bank has sustained damage as a result of its past practices and comments in the royal commission’s final report about them.

“As CEO, I understand accountability. I have always sought to act in the best interests of the bank and customers and I know that I have always acted with integrity. However, I recognise there is a desire for change.”

Sydney Morning Herald journalist Bevan Shields tweeted: “NAB boss Andrew Thorburn effectively says in a call just now that he was sacked by the board and didn’t voluntarily resign”.

Thornburn appeared to be fighting for his job early this week, cancelling leave, but he admitted on Tuesday that he could not guarantee he would still have his position on Friday.

Henry, a former secretary of the federal treasury, said he and the
board had recognised change was needed.

“The timing of my departure will minimise disruption for customers,
employees and shareholders,” he said.

He said the board should have the opportunity to appoint a new chair as NAB “seeks to reset its culture and ensure all decisions are made on behalf of customers.

“I am enormously proud of what the bank has achieved and equally
disappointed about what the royal commission has brought to light in areas where we have not met customer expectations.

“Andrew and I are deeply sorry for this. My decision is not made in
reaction to any specific event, but more broadly looking at the bank’s needs in coming months and years.”

The Board is to recruit new non-executive directors “to increase
diversity of thinking and experience”. It will also establish a board committee for customer outcomes.

Chronican, who joined the NAB board in 2016, said he was “confident in our existing strategy to
transform the bank to be better for customers”.

“Our strategy and the self-assessment we completed into our culture, governance and accountability set out clearly the steps we need to take to change and we are committed to them,” he said.



In a mea culpa interview on Thursday night, Henry told the ABC that what had changed since the indications on Tuesday that he and
Thorburn would stay on was that “we’ve had further time for
reflection.

“And we came to the view jointly really that it was in the best
interests of NAB that we take the decision together to step down from our respective roles.”

He said the enduring legacy of the commission’s report “will be that intense scrutiny that it has shone on financial institutions and the way it’s forced senior people in those organisations to confront some really challenging things”.

Asked whether there was as wide a gap as Hayne said between the public face the NAB sought to present and what was does in practice, Henry said: “There is a big gap.




Read more:
Hayne’s failure to tackle bank structure means that in a decade or so another treasurer will have to call another royal commission


“The gap as I see it is NAB does aspire to do the right thing by every customer every time and everywhere. And we’re a long way from that. We’ve got an absolute mountain to climb in NAB in order to achieve our aspiration for the bank”, although it was on the right path.

“We’ve not been able to satisfy customer expectations, nor community expectations … For that, we’re deeply sorry”.

He and Thorburn hoped their departures would “contribute to the
development of a better industry that’s capable of delivering better outcomes for customers”.

Quizzed about his performance at the commission, which was widely
criticised as looking defensive and contemptuous, Henry said he was initially surprised by that commentary.

“And I was upset by it. The more I thought about it – and I can’t
tell you how many times I’ve relived that appearance – I understand
the criticism. I did not perform well. I really should have performed quite differently. I should have been much more open”.

He said he believed he was leaving NAB in better shape than he found it. “And yet… I also believe that we are not much closer yet to delivering on community expectations. So the gap that was there, that gap still remains. We’ve closed it a bit. We have an intention to close it completely with the investments we’re making and the changes that are under way in the bank.

“That remains the aspiration. I’m confident within a few years,
hopefully much sooner than that, NAB will be a much stronger
institution than when I joined it”.




Read more:
Banking Royal Commission: no commissions, no exemptions, no fees without permission. Hayne gets the government to do a U-turn


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.