The drama and tragedy of the coronavirus victims – deaths, inflictions, agony and terror – swiping millions of people, even in our own Melbourne, could have been avoided or at least greatly reduced if the authorities had implemented early calls for positive measures and indeed for radical reforms to a the very sick health system.
This is still the question for the present catastrophic stage and the way out of it, if we are to draw the correct conclusions in the best interests of the people and in the first place, for the millions of older people, who are the first and hardest hit victims of this or any other diseases.

Warning bells have been ringing for a long time about the terrible situation prevailing in old peoples’ homes, most of which are owned and run by private enterprises under federal government responsibility and considerable funding.

Almost a year ago the Royal Commission into the Care for the Aged, appointed by the Morrison Government under duress, having received hundreds of submissions (including a lengthy one from the Fair Go For Pensioners Coalition) said in an interim report, that the homes for the aged are underperforming, ill equipped, with chronic shortages of trained staff, most of whom work in other homes and other casual jobs (ideal carriers of viruses), with residents often left unattended, psychologically and even physically abused. They were in fact operating in breach of their legal obligations and that they should mend their ways. Apparently very few took any notice. Once again we see the classical case of cutting corners and unloading the problems on to the victims and the public system.

The onslaught of COVID-19 brought this to the surface and made a bad situation catastrophically worse. What happened in St Basil’s – and so many other homes – is the worst possible example, whereby it seems the health of the business is valued more than the health of the most vulnerable people who paid well for their care in them.

READ MORE: Class action lawsuit against St Basil’s Aged Care

When responsibility is allocated these value criteria surely must be reversed.

The paradigm of the Catholic Church hierarchy, who in order to ‘protect’ the church and its money, left unprotected innocent children to the mercy of paedophile clergy which should never be repeated in any social institution especially in ones that bear the title of care.

It is extremely important to note that:

a) 80 per cent of all homes for the aged are privately owned and run for profit and the rest are publicly owned by the State Government. Furthermore all the virus victims come from the private homes sector, a common characteristic of the ills of all previously public services privatised by Governments for quick and large profits in their preferred private enterprise system, with the deceitful promise that privatisation would improve service and lower costs. Just have a look at gas and electricity.

b) The virus is first striking the working class homes and work places of migrants, refugees and generally ethnic minority people who because of necessity and not choice live in crowded environments and are in the front line of the virus march in hospitals, cleaning, retail shops, transport, hospitality and security services. A great many do not have English as their main language or culture. This affects millions of people not just a handful. No policy or strategy can be either immediate or long term successful that does not seriously take into account the class and ethnic components of the country’s population and the obvious need to inform and involve the linguistic and cultural knowledge and dynamism of a multitude of vibrant ethnic minority organisations. Even now that the necessary draconian measures are taken, the health authorities communication is basically monolingual.
It is also a matter of grave concern that many, if not most of the major ethnic community organisations, ethnic community councils and multicultural commissions, have not so far stepped in to fill these huge gaps and indeed partner with Governments and health authorities in policy making and delivery of services. Looking for instance at the “zoom” planned activities of the historically politically influential Greek Community of Melbourne, not a single one is related to the most important issue of the day – the lives and livelihood of its own community.
I repeat it is still time for them to assume the role for which these organisations were established: that is to be proponents for the rights and welfare of the disadvantaged and still discriminated against ethnic minorities. It is time for us to seek and obtain “a voice of our own” like our indigenous brothers and sisters are determined to achieve, and who are making historical gains.

READ MORE: Chaos, class action and coronial inquiry into what went wrong at St Basil’s

A heartfelt thanks is owed to those relatives of the dead in St Basil’s Home, for honestly and publicly speaking up, and to the many volunteers and staff there and in other homes, who give their best.

At this time for me it was like hearing again the agonising voice of the black Afro-American George Floyd, “I am dying I cannot breathe”.

And what drowns the aged is the very health system, whose radical change for the people’s health and the nations economy should not be ignored or put off for another day.

Health and education should not be left partly or wholly to the vagaries of money hungry private multimillionaires , of any ethnic background. They should be publicly owned and managed and freely provided for from the public purse. That should be a constant objective whilst working for immediate progressive reforms ,along with strictly adhearing to the protective virus measures .

The priority is not multibillion dollars tax reductions mainly for the rich , and the spending on aggressive weapons as the Morrison Government is still committed to deliver, but to fill the immense gaps in health, education and the looming unemployment ,the most important of all human rights. We may very well all be in the same boat but only very few travel first class intend to steer it in the way that will leave them even better off.

George Zangalis
Vice President Fair Go For Pensioners Coalition.
Retired President Public Transport Union.
Life member Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria