Q+A host Hamish Macdonald and Liberal MP Katie Allen were brought to tears on the show as a discussion took place about Australia’s failing aged care system and the fears of Australians who will one day have to enter it.
- Problems with Australia’s aged care system were laid bare on Q+A due to first person stories of heartbreak
- An expert said there would be little chance of quick reform and help for those affected by early-onset dementia
- Former NSW premier Mike Baird said he should have done more to combat issues around abuse in NSW politics
Ms Allen ended the show in tears as she spoke about her father’s battle with dementia in response to a question about assisted dying laws.
“He couldn’t speak for the last year of his life, he couldn’t walk, his only words that were left were ‘thank you’,” Ms Allen said through tears.
“It’s a terrible disease, so I think people [need to be] able to have the choice, and the control, and the laws in Victoria have been, I think, I have to say well handled and I think that we need to have this sort of conversation, particularly for dementia.”
It was the same topic, albeit in a much younger man than Ms Allen’s father, that saw Macdonald’s facade crack earlier in the show.
The Q+A host was interviewing 56-year-old audience member Timothy Granger and his daughter Prudence-Rose.
Mr Granger had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease five years ago at age 51 and revealed his fears about what the future held for him should he need to spend much of the rest of his life in palliative care.
“How are you doing?” Macdonald asked.
“Going well,” Mr Granger responded before adding: “Sorry, I have a little bit of problem with speech, sorry, what was your question?
“I wanted to know how you’re doing,” Macdonald said.
“You’re living at home with your beautiful wife, your wonderful daughter. How do you feel about the prospect of one day going into an aged care facility?”
Mr Granger’s responded before his daughter Prudence-Rose stepped in and shared her fears.
“I think what makes it scary is he’s so much younger,” she said.
“He’s going to be potentially going in there in his 60s or sooner, which we really want to avoid but if that occurs, how can he live his best life in these facilities that aren’t really set up for him at his age?
“There are more people getting diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s.”
Macdonald then asked how Mr Granger felt when it comes to possibly entering a home sooner rather than later and having that conversation with his family.
“That’s going to be difficult and probably it’s going to be hard for them as well,” Mr Granger said.
“I’m scared. I think it’s not something you think is going to happen so soon,” Ms Granger added
“We would like to be able to support him for as long as we can, the reality is we probably can’t.
“We also have financial concerns. We’d like to be able to put him in a facility that will support him and his needs but I don’t know if he could afford that or if we would get in.
“And I’m just witnessing that, especially tonight, listening to everything that everybody is saying and it’s really scary.”
It was then that tears rolled down the host’s face.
‘You can imagine this was you’
Macdonald said after the show that the tears came in part because he had met Mr Granger previously and that it was the situation that Mr Granger finds himself in that sparked the emotion.
“I’ve met Tim previously, so I was already somewhat familiar with the situation he is in,” Macdonald told the ABC.
“He has a beautiful warmth and a great sense of humour, I was really looking forward to catching up tonight.
“In truth, we can spend hours talking about the statistics and the data and the sad history of aged care in Australia, but stories like Tim bring the realities home to us all.
“He’s a father, a husband and a lovely human, faced with some extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I’m really pleased there’s a space for Tim and people like him to have a voice in such an important national conversation around aged care.”
Another man with early-onset dementia, 62-year-old Trevor Crosby, said he would do anything to avoid aged care.
“I’d avoid it like a plague for starters, after that I’d continue to find an alternative,” Mr Crosby said.
Mr Crosby then asked if the government after the royal commission might move swiftly to implement fixes, similar to how they did for the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Does the future hold any hope for me and my dementia mates, all 472,000 of them?” He asked.
No COVID-like response, says expert
His question was met with a negative answer by Professor Joseph Ibrahim of Monash University’s Department of Forensic Medicine.
“Will there be the speed of action that we saw with COVID? No, there won’t be, ” Professor Ibrahim said before laying blame at the feet of both government and the Opposition.
“There’s no track record demonstrating government’s willingness to do that. There’s no demonstrated action from the Opposition to hold them to account.
“There was a Senate inquiry in 2005 about the plight of young people in nursing homes.
“A promise was made that young people, those under 65, wouldn’t be in nursing homes and it remains a problem 15 years later.”
Asked by Macdonald if those with dementia’s fears were justified, Mr Ibrahim responded in the affirmative.
“Yes. For the average patient that I see, the person in low socio-economic group that has no money, that’s a pensioner, they’re terrified,” he said.
“They can’t stand up for themselves. They do not get listened to and don’t know where to go and they’re scared to prosecute a complaint.”
Throughout the episode, other harrowing stories of neglect in aged care homes were shared, including that of an audience member’s friend being left to sit in what she described as a “urine-soaked chair”.
And Lea Hammond appeared from Perth to share the details that led up to her father, Brian Hunter’s, death late last year, when he was left with severe sunburn after aged care staff left him on the roof of a building.
“I just feel it’s criminal that these actions have actually injured and taken my father’s life from him,” Ms Hammond said.
Those two tales were just the tip of the iceberg as Mr Ibrahim spoke of his disgust at the amount of sexual abuse that takes place in aged care and his hope the royal commission would lead to change.
“Since 2007, the serious incident reporting has been reported through to the Department of Health [about] incidents of sexual violence that have been occurring,” he said.
“And these now number in the thousands.
“There has not been a single report from either government or Parliament or the Department about what action has been taken and what’s been learnt from all of those assaults.
“Myself and my team made a submission to the royal commission on two separate occasions and we get absolute silence … as if older women don’t matter.
Coalition accused of ‘despicable’ response to Higgins rape allegations
While sexual assault is an issue in the aged care sector, it has also been amplified nationally in the last fortnight due to the allegations brought forward by former Coalition staffer Brittany Higgins that she was raped at Parliament House.
Ms Higgins’s allegations led to a fiery debate between Ms Allen and Labor MP and Opposition spokeswoman for senior Australians and aged care, Clare O’Neill.
Ms Allen said a “wind of change” was “like a howl going down the halls of Parliament” in relation to culture in Canberra changing but staunchly defended Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who was Ms Higgins’s boss at the time, when asked if the response at the time was correct.
“In my heart of hearts, no,” Ms Allen said.
“I think Linda Reynolds, who is a great advocate for women, did everything she thought was appropriate at the time.”
The response left the door open for Ms O’Neill to fire back at the Coalition and she did so with gusto.
“I don’t think we’re going to get any change until we get accountability,” Ms O’Neill said.
“We need some answers here.
“We’re talking about an alleged rape that was committed in our workplace, in a ministerial office, literally metres from where the Prime Minister goes to work every day.
“We have also got the fact we know many people around the Prime Minister at the time knew about this, and he claims that he didn’t know, which I think is frankly pretty implausible.
“The alleged perpetrator of this crime left the Parliament, not in handcuffs, but with references from people who worked for the government, and went on to commit another alleged sexual assault.
“What we need to keep doing is pursuing the Prime Minister until these questions are answered.”
While the two MPS targeted each other, it was an interjection from former NSW premier Mike Baird that caused surprise as he laid bare a surprising admission about his time as a state leader that sexual assault complaints were not limited to Federal Parliament.
“It’s not just the Commonwealth Parliament. I reflect personally on it,” Mr Baird said.
“Being in the New South Wales Parliament, and a leader of a party and a government, I had a chance to do something significant here and I didn’t.
“And that onus is on me. And I think, that I hope, that what Brittany has done has said to the nation we must do more.”
The ABC is not making any suggestions and it was unclear who Mr Baird was speaking about but former NSW Liberal Party staffer Dhanya Mani told 7.30 earlier this week that she reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office for help over an incident in 2014 where she alleged being subjected to “abusive conduct by a senior staffer in NSW Parliament”.