Every night this week, the ABC’s 7:30 has invited Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck on the show. As the coronavirus sweeps through nursing homes in Victoria and New South Wales, people want answers from the federal minister who is ultimately responsible this unraveling mess.

However, Colbeck refused every invitation to come on 7:30. On Thursday, the show’s producers cot so fed up they literally put an empty chair in his place.

“They Royal Commission [into Aged Care Quality and Safety] has made clear that problems in the sector were well-known before the pandemic, and if the government had acted on countless reviews, it could’ve avoided the suffering of many people,” host Leigh Sales said on-air.

“The Senior Counsel assisting the Royal Commission has also said the government has failed to develop a COVID-19 plan specifically for the sector.

“It’s a startling claim that we’ve been unable to put to the minister responsible, because despite multiple requests, every single night this week he has declined. We’ll keep asking.”

At the time of writing, 373 people in nursing homes have died after contracting COVID-19. At facilities like Melbourne’s Epping Gardens and Sydney’s Newmarch House, residents were treated in their rooms rather than being taken to hospital.

The outcome has proven to be catastrophic.

The stats for aged care facilities are publicly available from the Department of Health. However, when Colbeck was asked about this by a Senate committee last Friday, he couldn’t give a straight answer, or any answer, really.

On Thursday, Colbeck apologised to the Senate itself for not being able to answer such a basic question that is so relevant to his job and responsibilities. However when the opposition tried to reply, Colbeck turned his back and left the chamber.

At a time when the country wants answers from the person in charge of aged care, all we’re left with is either the back of his head, or an empty office chair.