Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck has apologised for his embarrassing failure to know how many nursing homes residents had died from coronavirus.
The embattled frontbencher conceded he should have had the data on hand during Friday’s parliamentary hearing into the aged care response.
“I should have had the information, I didn’t and I take full responsibility for that,” he told the Senate on Monday.
Labor’s Katy Gallagher asked Senator Colbeck to update the chamber on the number of deaths across the sector since last week’s inquiry.
Instead, he gave the overall national death toll of 335 aged care residents.
The minister later mistakenly said there was 385 deaths before correcting himself to 335.
Aged care royal commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs said on Monday successive governments had failed to act on aged care.
“Had the Australian government acted upon previous reviews of aged care, the persistent problems in aged care would have been known much earlier and the suffering of many people could have been avoided,” they said.
Senator Colbeck rejected the correlation, saying the coalition government – which has been in power since 2013 – provided pandemic advice to the sector.
Labor’s deputy Senate leader Kristina Keneally also zeroed in on the minister’s grasp on crucial figures.
She asked how many cases had been linked to Melbourne’s Epping Gardens, one of the worst hit facilities.
Senator Colbeck took the question on notice before later saying 100 residents, 82 staff and 29 others were connected to the cluster.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said more than 448 residents had been transferred from aged care homes to hospitals since the response centre was set up in Victoria.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission had visited 83 centres.
“And most significantly 13 ‘hot’ facilities reduced to three as of this morning’s briefing with the prime minister,” Mr Hunt said.
“Yes, there has been tragedy, there is more work to do, but what these people have done is they worked together to potentially save thousands of lives.”
Senator Colbeck pointed to a further $171 million for the sector announced last week and argued Australia was performing better than similar countries.
“Every single death in residential aged care is a tragedy,” he said.
“I again offer my condolences to every family who has lost a family member.”