The Opposition has ramped up pressure on the Prime Minister’s department over the handling of coronavirus in aged care homes.
The Opposition has ramped up pressure on the Prime Minister’s department over the handling of coronavirus in aged care homes.

PM’s office says it had ‘no role’ in aged care virus change

The head of the Prime Minister's department has been grilled over its involvement in the handling of coronavirus in nursing homes.

Secretary Phil Gaetjens defended his department at a COVID-19 committee hearing on Tuesday, saying it had "no role" in the Aged Care Safety and Quality Commission correcting evidence.

The aged care watchdog on Monday revealed it was notified about the outbreak at St Basil's aged care home in Melbourne four days earlier than it had previously stated.

Mr Gaetjens was asked when he became aware about the blunder.

"Probably from reporting this morning," he said.

"It's a matter between the regulator, the health department and the sector.

"We have no role in that."

Staff remove medical waste from St Basil's Home for the Aged at Fawkner. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw
Staff remove medical waste from St Basil's Home for the Aged at Fawkner. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw

But Labor Senator Katy Gallagher said she was concerned the Prime Minister's own department had distanced itself from the matter.

"We need a better response than that," she said.

Mr Gaetjens, who spoke with the Prime Minister before giving evidence, said Scott Morrison had raised issues about the aged care watchdog with the health department on Tuesday morning but did not ask for any action to be taken by his department.

He also dismissed claims federal agencies were unprepared for coronavirus cases in aged care homes, saying there were guidelines published by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia on March 13.

National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board chair Neville Power also confirmed he was continuing to assist the Government without pay but would receive an allowance for his travel costs.

It is unclear how much the Prime Minister's new advisory board will cost taxpayers.

The former COVID-19 commission, which Mr Power chaired, spent $2.6 million of its $3 million budget.

National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board chair Neville Power is continuing to assist the Government. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Gary Ramage
National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board chair Neville Power is continuing to assist the Government. Picture: NCA NewsWire /Gary Ramage

Mr Power said businesses in Victoria had raised concerns about the potential impact of stage four restrictions on their businesses with the group.

"The major concern by far has been the reduction of workforce of the businesses by a fixed amount rather than the closure of businesses on a risk versus economic impact basis," he said.

Mr Power said workplaces needed to make sure that everyone, including employees and their families, understood what was required to keep the virus under control.

"That includes communicating in employees' first languages where language barriers exist," he said.

Originally published as PM's office had 'no role' in virus change



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