Aged care regulator spends $29k on legal advice for COVID-19 Freedom of Information request

The agency responsible for regulating the aged care sector spent nearly $30,000 hiring a top-tier law firm to respond to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from ABC News.

Key points:

  • The aged care regulator spent $28,900 seeking legal advice on FOI requests
  • It defended the cost, arguing it was in relation to “multiple” enquiries
  • The regulator has come under scrutiny during the Aged Care Royal Commission

According to a document published on the Commonwealth’s AusTender website, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) contracted Clayton Utz to advise on what it described as an “FOI request from ABC re. COVID-19”.

The value of the contract dated October 7 was $28,900 — almost double the cost of a mid-level home care package.

The nature of the documents the ABC was seeking was not revealed in the tender document but in a statement the ACQSC said there were “multiple” FOI requests which extended “well beyond a single day’s work”.

“The commission routinely seeks legal advice in responding to FOI requests to ensure that we comply with all relevant legislation,” the statement said.

Spotlight on assessors

The FOI requests appear to have been lodged after ACQSC Commissioner Janet Anderson appeared before the Aged Care Royal Commission and revealed the number of quality checks being carried out on nursing homes had fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is despite the regulator being given an extra $6.5 million to hire more assessors.

A subsequent investigation by the ABC found the regulator had visited just 13 per cent — or 30 of the 220 — aged care homes which had suffered coronavirus outbreaks.

The ACQSC is funded by the federal government and assesses nursing homes against 44 national standards once every three years.

In its interim report entitled “Neglect”, the royal commission labelled the state of the aged care system “sad and shocking” and said the regulatory regime was “unfit for purpose” and it “does not adequately deter poor practices”.

“Indeed, it often fails to detect them,” the interim report said.

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