The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety hearings resumed in Adelaide on Monday 18th March, which makes this the third week of public hearings since early February. Some of the headlines as reported in the mainstream media so far have been sobering and stand as a stark reminder to us all, that how we look after elderly Australians, our parents and grandparents in many cases has not been up to standard or community expectations.
It is not an understatement to say the standard of care being delivered may be reflective of the current levels of funding for the aged care system in Australia. That is, funding levels require a significant boost if we are to ensure that our senior citizens can live out their final years with dignity and compassion.
At this early stage, there are a number of observable differences between the Aged Care Royal Commission and the recent Hayne Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services.
Firstly, the time allocated for the Aged Care Royal Commission is approximately 19 months (8th October 2018 – 30th April 2020) compared with just 13 and a half months (14th December 2017 – 1st February 2019) for the Hayne Royal Commission.
Secondly, the Aged Care Royal Commission has announced it intends to conduct a series of community forums (in addition to its formal hearings in all capital cities) in a number of regional centres across Australia. There have been community forums in Bankstown, Bendigo and Wollongong during the month of March. The Commission website notes the forums are an opportunity for members of the local community to hear about the work of the Royal Commission and to offer ideas on the challenges, strengths and opportunities to improve aged care. This did not occur in the Hayne Royal Commission and may be due to some criticism at the time around the low number of Australians that were able to provide direct evidence at the hearings in the Hayne Royal Commission.
What is also interesting about this Royal Commission compared to the recent Hayne Royal Commission is the frequency of media reporting appears to be less. I am not sure if this is due to the same level of community interest or rather, the level of engagement by the media. This can be seen in the almost nightly reporting on the news of several high-profile lawyers (Counsel Assisting) grilling nervous banking and financial services executives that appeared before Commissioner Hayne to answer for their organisations’ treatment of Australians seeking finance or being flogged some over-priced or non-existent service that in many cases they didn’t even require.
It is early days yet in the Aged Care Royal Commission and no doubt some of the evidence we hear is not going to be pleasant, but there are already early signs that Commissioners – the Honourable Richard Tracey AM RFD QC and Ms Lynelle Briggs AO – are undertaking a thorough examination of our aged care system and are providing an opportunity for as many Australians as possible to access this important inquiry.