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Royal Commission Report into Aged Care exposes capitalism’s priorities

Written by: Bill F. on 4 March 2021


The exhaustive documentation of neglect, abuse, cruelty and fraud contained in the Final Report of the Royal Commission is no great surprise. Much of this has been known for decades but is still outrageous in its detail.

Two years in the making, it has been completed immediately after twelve months of shocking deaths in Aged Care facilities across the country, due to the Covd-19 pandemic. It is the latest of a series of government inquiries and reviews into the Age Care system, more than 20 since 1987, and yet the scandalous treatment of vulnerable older people is worse than ever.

Privatised and self-regulated
Of Australia’s 909 Covid-19 related deaths, 685 were in aged care facilities.

In Victoria, the state with the highest number of fatalities, 655 occurred in private aged care homes, supposedly regulated by the Federal government. Many of these 622 facilities functioned with no set standard for staff-resident ratios, lacked 24-hour qualified nursing staff, and operated with inadequate training for nurse assistants, volunteers and contract workers, and poor records of nutrition and palliative care. For the owners and managements, profits came from the harsh exploitation of the workforce and the mean and uncaring treatment of residents and their families.

The 178 aged care facilities run by the Victorian government are located in mainly smaller rural towns where the private providers choose not to invest. By way of contrast, these publicly owned facilities have set nursing staff ratios over all shifts, and up to one nurse per seven residents in high-care wards. While far from perfect in often dated buildings and crowded circumstances, these facilities had far less infection and death than either the expensive private ones or those run on a shoestring by various religious orders.

A note from Wikileaks
“The Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, originally known as Queens Memorial Infectious Diseases Hospital, operated from 1904 to its closure in 1996. Perched high on the banks of the Yarra River at Yarra Bend in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fairfield, it developed an international reputation for the research and treatment of infectious diseases. When it closed, it was the last specific infectious diseases hospital in Australia.”

Commodities and the scrapheap
More staff, better training and qualifications must result in better care for the aged.

But this is not the priority for monopoly capitalism. Everything that people need and want must be turned into a commodity from which profits can be made, whether healthcare, education, vocational training, water, electricity, housing, social services, and so on. The state extracts people’s taxes to build infrastructure for the system and its ruling class favourites, and to dole out enough crumbs to keep the exploited masses from rebellion.

If people are “beyond their use-by date” for exploitation in the workplace, they are tossed aside by the system and left to survive as best they can. For many, that means years of struggling on miserable welfare payments, such as Jobseeker, the single parent pension, the age pension and various allowances well below the “official” poverty line. 

For the disabled and those suffering mental illness, it is even harder, and further misery is endured by the deliberately complex and exhausting processes of government bureaucracy.

And for the frail aged, there is the two year waiting list for home care, or the daunting task of finding a private aged care facility that lives up to the promises featured in their glossy brochures. Government websites are not much help with this. “Commercial in confidence” is the mantra of the private healthcare industry; staffing ratios, qualifications, deaths, doctors’ visits, medication practices and government inspection reports are all kept secret.

The two Royal Commissioners have put forward a list of 148 recommendations, but disagree on 43. This will allow the government room to cherry-pick the least expensive and to water down or reject others that impinge on the profits of the private operators.

Over the coming weeks, people will be examining the Report and Recommendations and hoping for a compassionate response from the Federal government in the May Budget and beyond. A campaign that brings together workers and professionals in the aged care sector, families and relatives of the aged, medical and social workers, can win support in the community and force some much needed reform. Yet the government will inevitably scream about the cost and try to frighten people with talk of higher taxes (after cutting them for the rich!)

Older people, including many who have spent big parts of their lives contributing to the development of this country, deserve genuine respect and care, companionship and dignity as they age. These are not commodities that capitalism can profit from.

Capitalism’s focus on economic rationalism means decreasing taxation for the rich, privatising all services and and a user pays approach. The considerations of people’s welfare and dignity is not a priority. Only socialism, a system based on collective support and serving the people, can deliver the full scope of change needed.


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