Slinging Mud During Election Campaign Did Not Help Resolve Aged Care Crisis

20 May 2019

A confidential internal inquiry into the office of the Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt was leaked to the media during the recent election campaign. The journalist described the leaker as a “whistle blower.”

Whistle blowers are honourable people who are motivated by altruistic intentions. Anonymous disgruntled staff members who are dissatisfied with the outcome of an internal grievance process are not whistle blowers.

I have never worked in Minister Wyatt’s office so I do not have inside knowledge. However, this leak had all the markings of a political attack. Normal administrative processes resolved this grievance. That should have been the end of it.

Instead, a confidential document was leaked to the media in the middle of an election campaign. The leakers’ aim was to throw the Aged Care Minister, the first Indigenous frontbencher in federal parliament, and his Senior Advisor under the bus for political purposes.

The leakers went so far as to accuse Minister Wyatt’s Senior Adviser of bullying. The oldest trick in a bully’s handbook is to accuse others of being a bully. Is this yet another case of the pot calling the kettle black?

Recently, false allegations of bullying have been made against many strong, intelligent and forthright women in senior positions. When a male is forthright, he is “assertive”. When a female is forthright, she is “aggressive”. This gendered disparity was ever thus.

I am a researcher who advocates for improving standards of care in residential and in-home care. As such, I have had many meetings with Minister Wyatt and his Senior Advisor. Paula Gelo is one of the more honourable political advisors I have met. She is intelligent and committed to her job.

Minister Wyatt’s Senior Advisor and I often discussed my ideas for improving the aged care sector. She was not only respectful but also provided evidence to support the government’s position. I contested this evidence. Paula welcomed this robust contest of ideas.

Others on the Executive of Aged Care Matters have also challenged both Minister Wyatt and his Senior Advisor. Paul Dwyer (Aged Care Finance Solutions) said:

“I have found both the Minister and his adviser, Ms Gelo, exceptionally devoted to the aged care portfolio. Ms Gelo has been available 24 hours, 7 days a week, in any matters. She has shown me respect and courtesy, both face-to-face and via correspondence.”

In my experience, bullies do not welcome alternate views. Instead, they react aggressively. They see disagreement as combat they must win. They either attack people who disagree with them, or ignore them. Either way, they ruthlessly shut down dialogue. Bullies perceive those who disagree with them as enemies who must be silenced. If the evidence does not fit with their worldview, they will simply ignore the evidence.

A new member of the Aged Care Sector Committee blocked me on Twitter after I questioned the value of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce’s report. He refused to engage with my alternate perspective. In contrast, Minister Wyatt and his Senior Advisor always replied promptly to my emails and texts, including when I was critical of the government’s policies. They always picked up the phone when I called to discuss an urgent matter. Most importantly, they always did what they said they would do.

On several occasions, Minister Wyatt took my request for access to data to the Aged Care Sector Committee (ACSC). On each occasion, the ACSC denied the request. For example, when Minister Wyatt requested all reports on spot checks be made available on the My Aged Care website, the committee provided a patronising response about the data being “too technical”. According to notes from meeting on 12 May 2017 (obtained by freedom of information): “Members expressed caution about releasing unpublished reports from the Quality Agency as they believed that these reports were more technical and, without explanation, may not provide useful information for consumers or their families.”

According to the media’s report: “Ms Gelo spent $108,000 on airfares as well as $31,000 in travel allowances in one year.” Why did this spark alarm? Surely Minister Wyatt was entitled to take his Senior Advisor with him when he visits aged care homes around the country.

The Aged Care Minister, Minister Wyatt and his Senior Advisor visited over 130 aged care homes in urban, regional, rural and remote locations. Unlike Minister Ley (the previous Aged Care Minister), Minister Wyatt consulted widely with residents, relatives and staff. Both Minister Wyatt and his Senior Advisor should be praised for this, not criticised.

During her Christmas-New Year holidays in 2017, Minister Wyatt’s Senior Advisor read my research report “Living well in an aged care home”. She told me she welcomed reading relative’s critical feedback. She suggested a qualitative research project with older people who receive in-home care. Paula said it was important for Minister Wyatt and herself to hear genuine first-hand experiences of in-home care.

The Commonwealth Department of Health generally commissions research from consultants working in large organisations such as KPMG and Korn Ferry. I am critical of this research – it is not only extremely expensive but often lacks rigour.

I was excited to have the opportunity to bring some genuine ‘consumer’ voices into the debate about in-home care. However, working with the Commonwealth Department of Health was an eye-opener, to say the least. Without Minister Wyatt and his Senior Advisor’s help, it is most likely my research report “Older people living well with in-home support” would have languished in the bottom of a drawer (with all the other reports that have provided the Department with unwelcomed critical feedback).

Working in a politician’s office is not for the faint hearted. The hours are long and the stress is enormous. Minister Wyatt is fortunate to have employed a Senior Advisor who showed him such loyalty.

A smear campaign in the media will soon be forgotten. Instead, aged care stakeholders will remember Minister Wyatt and his Senior Advisor’s work to improve the quality of life of older people who receive residential and in-home care.


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