The trenchant criticism comes as Mr Morrison faces growing calls to commit more funds to the sector facing deadly outbreaks of COVID-19 infections in NSW and Victoria.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells reveals a crucial policy change at the end of 2013 that dumped a reform plan in favour of shifting aged care from one federal department to another, wasting staff and resources.
She says a “revolving door” of ministers, which she blames on Mr Abbott and his “then-powerful chief of staff, Peta Credlin”, led to instability and inertia.
“In short, Prime Minister Abbott and those advising him in the Coalition failed in their promise to reform aged care and simply opted for a shift that had no demonstrable positive outcome for the wellbeing of our older Australians,” she writes.
“Rather, all it did was suck up valuable resources that ought to have been better utilised in frontline aged care services rather than this futile bureaucratic exercise.”
Senator Fierravanti-Wells was the Coalition spokeswoman on aged care for four years and developed the policy taken to the 2013 election, only to be moved to the multicultural affairs portfolio after Mr Abbott took power.
She became Minister for International Development after Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister but resigned during the leadership crisis of August 2018 and was not reappointed when Mr Morrison became leader.
In a 52-page submission, she says the Coalition told voters at the 2013 election it would act on warnings from the Productivity Commission to repair the system but dropped the plan and set up a committee instead.
“The aged care sector committee has effectively only been a ‘talkfest’ committee with little progress made over the years since it was established in 2014,” she writes.
“Regrettably, as then-powerful chief of staff to prime minister Abbott, there is no doubt Ms Credlin influenced ministerial appointments and the transfer of responsibilities between departments.
“The failure of the Abbott government and those advising it exacerbated the already deteriorating situation which has now resulted in the failures in the aged care sector of today.
“It is now time for the Coalition to go back and implement the real reform it promised at the 2013 election and never delivered on.”
The submission is a rare move by a government backbencher and former minister but Senator Fierravanti-Wells says she is motivated in part by the experience of her parents in recent years as well as her time as a board member of an aged care home in the past.
She describes the government’s MyAgedCare online system as confusing, especially for those without English as their first language, and says the wider system is “broken” after years of neglect.
“One of the problems with aged care is the lack of willingness of medical practitioners to visit nursing homes and the shortage of nursing staff,” she writes.
“Nursing staff in aged care are not only paid a lot less than their counterparts in the hospital and health system but are required to oversee many more people.”
She concludes the aged care system should be treated as an extension of the health care system with a Medicare model using localised medical centres.
A key recommendation is to develop new “aged care hubs” that would function like medical centres, sometimes on the grounds of existing nursing homes, to help the elderly with services ranging from high to low care.
“With an ageing population, we need to comprehensively restructure the aged care system so that it is fully integrated into the health system,” she writes.
The submission calls for a five-year funding agreement with the sector to replace the “nightmare” of the existing funding regime.
While the former minister asks the royal commission to consider new options to repair the sector, she notes the problems in the sector date back to when the aged care portfolio had three ministers in six years under Labor until 2013, followed by even more under the Coalition in the subsequent six years.
She says the Abbott government’s decision to shift aged care from the health portfolio to social services put the sector under the oversight of three cabinet ministers in quick succession: Kevin Andrews, Scott Morrison and Christian Porter, with Mitch Fifield as assistant minister.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells says the bureaucratic shift did nothing for older Australians and instead wasted government resources, with officials claiming 1232 staff in the portfolio in late 2013 but only 858 three years later.
Aged care was returned to the Health Department when Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister in September 2015, with Sussan Ley and then Ken Wyatt as ministers. Mr Morrison named Richard Colbeck as minister after last year’s election.
“It would appear that the shifting of responsibilities from Health to the Department of Social Services and back to Health came at a cost of both staff and non-staff assets being reduced,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells says.
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David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.