The minister said he would not “pre-empt” the government’s official response to the royal commission’s 769-page interim report, released on Thursday, by agreeing to fund this amount.
He said the royal commission’s “confronting” findings had gone “beyond anything that I had expected”, framing the crisis as “a national cultural issue” linked with ageism that was the responsibility of both government and the wider community.
“But as a government, we have to take primary responsibility. It’s been multiple governments over decades,” he said.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the neglect and mistreatment highlighted by the royal commission were a direct consequence of Coalition funding cuts to the aged care sector.
“It’s not good enough for the government to be sitting on its hands while these cuts have been made, while even the money that was allocated hasn’t been spent,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Tasmania on Sunday.
Mr Hunt said the government would be taking “stronger action” on the use of chemical restraints, but would not make immediate changes to the regulations.
Asked if he would “force a reduced use” of chemical restraints by requiring “clear and informed consent” and a behavioural plan before the drugs were administered, as recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission, Mr Hunt said the government would be “dealing” with the issue in due course.
He said the government was “working to make sure that we have the right response” to the interim report, which found that inadequate staffing, a lack of knowledge and workload pressures meant there was “often no time to do anything other than restrain people”.
Mr Albanese said the government must act urgently on chemical restraints, saying the stories of patients “essentially being drugged up … in part, because some of these facilities don’t have adequate staff” were “a damning indictment of this government”.
Mr Hunt said he had raised the issue of chemical restraints with state and territory ministers at last week’s COAG health council meeting as part of broader discussions about medicine safety and use, which the council resolved to make a national health priority area.
Labor’s aged care spokeswoman Julie Collins said hundreds of elderly Australians were dying without their home care package – or going into care prematurely – every week that action was delayed.
Labor will be ramping up pressure on the government over the coming weeks, gathering petitions from around the country to present to the Parliament when it resumes next month for the final sitting period of the year.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.