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03 June 2021

Last Sunday, May 30, in the middle of Victoria's fourth lockdown, two Victorian police officers were filmed buying groceries for a homeless man on a cold Melbourne night.

There was universal praise for the act of kindness from the two officers - quite rightly, as sleeping rough right now in a deserted winter city would be as brutal as ever.

Victoria Police publicly shared the video with the message: "For Melburnians, this lockdown is not our first rodeo and we know people are doing it tough." Indeed, it's not our first COVID rodeo in Melbourne, or Australia for that matter, and our frontline workers deserve to be treated with absolute respect for keeping us safe.

Yesterday there were more than 60 COVID cases in Victoria, with a number of residents and aged-care workers infected from the Arcare Maidstone aged-care facility in my electorate of Maribyrnong.

When I broke the news of the first Arcare resident case earlier this week, the obvious and immediate question was whether or not the facility residents and staff - was fully vaccinated. It wasn't.

Here we go again, facing another COVID wave and we witness our most vulnerable Australians again at risk from the virus.

We must rally around the frontline aged-care and disability workers who care for the people living in these residential care facilities.

Disability and aged-care workers have been on the frontline of COVID without being vaccinated.

They have had little choice but to play Russian roulette with COVID.

They have taken this chance willingly because they care about the people they look after, and they are committed to their jobs.

Many of these workers have jobs in both sectors, at multiple facilities to supplement the low pay and back-breaking work they undertake.

We are fast approaching the 500-day mark since the first COVID-19 case was identified in Australia. With this milestone looming, vaccination is the Australian Federal Government's responsibility.

Unfortunately, it has been entirely negligent in its responsibility to do this.

On February 22 this year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Liberals' supposed plan to get Australia vaccinated.

At the front of the COVID vaccination queue, alongside our essential medical workers, was people living in Commonwealth-funded and run aged-care facilities, as well as disability group homes, and the workforces who care for and support them. The Morrison Government said both the aged-care and disability sectors would be fully vaccinated by March.

It is now June 3 and the vaccination rollout across both sectors is slow and confusing.

This week, the Liberals were unable to say how many of the 360,000-plus aged-care workers had received either the first dose or both doses.

In fact, the Government revealed it hasn't even bothered to track vaccinations amongst the aged-care workforce and said they would send out a survey soon. Watch this space.

Then we heard that only 3500 people living in residential disability accommodation had received their vaccination, with a shockingly small cohort of only 355 people having received the full double dose.

No matter which way the Morrison Government spins it, the most generous thing you can say about the Commonwealth's vaccine rollout is that it has been a bizarre moveable feast of numbers and dates . negligent is probably more accurate.

Of the near 30,000 total COVID cases across the nation, more than 10 per cent have been in aged care.

Sadly, there has been a total of 910 COVID deaths in Australia, with 685 of the people who have passed away since January last year living in Commonwealth-funded and regulated aged-care facilities.

The deaths of these Australians has been a tragedy and the names of the Commonwealth facilities where these older frail and extremely vulnerable people lived and died, including Newmarch and St Basil's, should be burnt into the minds of Prime Minister Morrison and his entire Government.

Many aged-care residents passed away without families with them.

It was some solace they had the tender care of the aged-care staff who found themselves on the frontline of the pandemic.

The fact that there have been far less cases in disability residential care is just pure luck. Were there no lessons learnt from the hundreds and hundreds of deaths in Government aged-care?

Now, as we watch as the COVID number creeps up in Victoria and 6.7 million are locked down, we are hoping, waiting and worrying that our residential aged-care and disability facilities do not get overrun.

Each day, when the latest COVID numbers are announced, we wait with bated breath to hear whether the aged or people with disabilities and their workforces are impacted.

It's heartbreaking and it's disgraceful that residents and workers in both the aged-care and disability sectors have not yet been fully vaccinated.

While the Morrison Government has pathologically shirked responsibility for Federal quarantine facilities, it cannot run away from the fact that it is in charge of the nation's vaccination rollout, and its aged care.

This was first published in The West Australian on Thursday, 3 June 2021.