The federal aged care services minister has been accused of "arrogant complacency" for attending the Ashes cricket on the same day he declined to appear at a COVID-19 committee hearing on the government's handling of its pandemic response.
Senator Richard Colbeck, who also holds the sport portfolio, said he and department officials wouldn't attend the hearing on January 14 because diverting officials' time and resources away from the outbreak response would "impact the urgent and critical work the department is undertaking".
The Tasmanian senator's register of interests shows he accepted tickets to the Ashes test in Hobart on January 14, 15 and 16.
A statement from the Liberal minister's office said his dedication to his role "has never been greater", adding he had attended a number of engagements on January 14.
They included a COVID-19 vaccine and response meeting, and separate meetings with aged care and health officials.
"At a time when the Australian government continues to work to protect the lives of senior Australians in care, attempts by the Senate select committee on COVID-19 to redirect resources away from the Department of Health for political purposes is of serious concern and should be noted by Australians as we navigate the impact of the pandemic," it read.
The statement also notes the day-night cricket test did not begin until the late afternoon.
Earlier, committee chair Katy Gallagher said the crisis in aged care had resulted in thousands of positive cases and staff working their fingers to the bone.
"People in aged care who are living through this crisis would find that a bit hard to stomach while the system is in crisis," the Labor senator told the ABC.
"We took that at face value, that he was working hard on this and having a hearing would disrupt that work, only to find out he was at the cricket not for one day, but three days."
The aged care sector has been under intense pressure throughout the pandemic due to the spread of the virus and staffing shortages.
Senator Gallagher said it appeared the minister was refusing to answer questions people in the sector were demanding responses to.
"It displays an arrogant complacency which is out of touch with people's real life experience of the aged care system."
Senator Gallagher said it was the responsibility of officials to make sure they were available to be held to account by the parliament.
"This is a responsibility of very well paid senior public servants and ministers who are required to do their job," she said.
"(Appearing before the committee) is part of their job, it's not an over and above or extra call on them, it's fundamental to their role as public servants."
Australian Associated Press
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