The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has opened with a preliminary hearing in which Commissioners emphasised that, "The hallmark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable ..."
Commissioner the Honourable Richard Tracey AM RFD QC and Commissioner Ms Lynelle Briggs AO made a statement to the hearing at Roma Mitchell Commonwealth Law Courts in Adelaide on Friday, 18 January 2019.
Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, Mr Peter Gray QC, and Dr Tim McEvoy QC, also made brief statements ahead of public hearings commencing in Adelaide on 11 February, 2019.
The Royal Commission will visit all capital cities as well as regional centres and is due to produce an interim report not later than 31 October 2019 and a final report not later than 30 April 2020.
Commissioner Briggs said the Royal Commission had begun the process of gathering and analysing information and had held meetings with consumer groups, key government agencies and other stakeholders. Information requests had been made to approved aged care providers and public submissions were also being made via the Commission's website.
- "The likely major themes to be addressed include: quality and safety, access and inclusion, young people with disability, interfaces and transitions, future challenges and opportunities, and how to deliver quality in a sustainable way. We will look at the expectations of Australians for quality and safe care, how and where it should be provided and the workforce implications, amongst other things," Commissioner Briggs said.
A significant focus of the Commission's work will be understanding how the aged care system currently works. This would involve some site visits and community engagement involving roundtable discussions.
"We will look to the future, canvassing demographic pressures, community expectations, technology, risks and opportunities. We will consider aged people's position in society, what they want and how they are perceived. We will give voice to them," Commissioner Briggs said.
Commissioner Tracey said the Royal Commission was a once in a lifetime opportunity to come together as a nation to consider how we can create a better system of care for elderly Australians.
"The hallmark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable people, and our elderly are often amongst our most physically, emotionally, and financially vulnerable. Frail and elderly members of our community deserve to, and should, be looked after in the best possible way, and we intend to do our best to see that it happens," Commissioner Tracey said.
Addressing concerns raised with the Royal Commission, Commissioner Tracey warned that it would be against the law for employers to take action against an employee or former employee who wanted to give evidence.
"We would be gravely concerned if any operators in the aged care sector or government bodies were to instruct their staff not to talk to the Royal Commission or to withhold information," Commissioner Tracey said.
"Anyone who wishes to make a submission or tell us their story and who has a concern about doing so should tell a Commission officer of their concerns before making the submission or telling their story so that appropriate steps can be taken."
Counsel Assisting said the Royal Commission has the potential to lead to real improvements in the lives of older Australians.
On Christmas Eve the online submissions form on the website began receiving public submissions. To date, over 300 submission have been received.
Counsel Assisting said the Commissioners have a number of compulsory powers that can use used for gathering information.
"The power to issue notices requiring a person to give information or a statement in writing is a new power. This Commission will be the first Royal Commission to exercise this power. We expect this power will be exercised in preparation for public hearings," Counsel Assisting said.
The first public hearing will be held on 11 February 2019 in Adelaide, continuing into the week of 18 February.
At these hearings evidence will be presented will involve key features of the aged care quality, safety and complaints system, and how that system works in practice on a general level. There will also be information about the challenges faced by the aged care system.
This will include accounts from consumer advocacy bodies, health care provider peak bodies, national aged care provider peak bodies and regulators. Importantly, the Commission also expects to be able to call evidence from people receiving care and their families.
A transcript of the statements by the Commissioner and Counsel Assisting are available on the transcript page.