Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

In hindsight, yesterday’s release by Scott Morrison of the aged care royal commission’s final report was predictable.

Given the disaster that is aged care in Australia — the ongoing misery so many senior Australians endure in substandard care in an industry chronically underfunded and under-resourced — surely we would get a break from the prime minister’s incessant focus on spin and presentation and get some substance?

Perhaps some acknowledgment of failure — not just, or even particularly, from the Morrison government, but an acknowledgment that all governments since the 1990s have failed grievously to properly provide for the sector?

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After all, Morrison has only been prime minister since 2018 — he hardly carries the can for 30 years of policy failure.

Instead it was treated as just another political issue, to be given the special spin treatment that is the only thing Morrison and his office — the shabby outfit whose idea of responding to Brittany Higgins was to obfuscate, cover-up and smear — are good at, and which is their response to literally every issue.

Journalists were summoned at short notice to Kirribilli House — not to the Blue Room or the PM’s courtyard in Canberra, or even the Commonwealth offices in Bligh Street — where the prime minister “released” the report, which was not available until shortly before he walked out to talk to the journalists who could make it over to North Sydney in time.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) didn’t have enough time to make the report available, but it had enough time to cobble together a hopelessly inadequate filler announcement: $450 million for “immediate priorities”, nearly half of which was a handout to service providers “to provide stability and maintain services while the government considers the recommendations”.

The wholly discredited Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, which both commissions want given the flick, would get an additional “assistant commissioner”.

We’ve seen what happened with the banking royal commission: enthusiastic embrace followed by legislative reluctance followed by wholesale walking back. This time the government is only “considering” the recommendations in the first place.

All this for a report that was utterly damning of governments and the way they immiserated senior Australians in residential aged care for decades.

The challenges of the report — to fundamentally overhaul the philosophy, governance, funding, legislation, administration and regulation of one of Australia’s biggest industries, along with the small matter of the billions in extra funding needed to make up for years of neglect — are profound, a years-long endeavour that would test any government.

Who has confidence Morrison is up to the job? Who thinks Morrison’s response will be anything more than more announcements like yesterday’s, while nothing substantial ever happens?

This is the man who began the political year announcing he was done with doing anything hard in policy terms. This is the man who, in the weeks since the Higgins revelations emerged, has treated even the most serious issues in completely political, partisan terms. A man who cannot lead.

Had he even read any of the royal commission report, and digested just how damning it was of the business-as-usual approach successive governments had taken? Or had he just read the PMO briefing with its talking points about what announceables and key messages he needed to get across — confident that journalists wouldn’t have been able to ask him about the commissioners’ views?

The prime minister stands at the lectern and announces and intones, but nothing ever happens except whatever is needed to meet the political demands of the day. Policy, leadership, actual substance — doing difficult things — are all beyond him.

Morrison’s a smirking absence where the nation’s leader should be. He’s the discount price tag instead of the product, a TV advertisement idea of a PM, who might have greeted Lara Bingle on a beach in a shitty tourism ad. Meantime Australia’s seniors face the grim reality of a system wholly unfit for purpose in which they’ll have to spend their final months and years.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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