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Aged Care Commissioner dies after recent cancer diagnosis

The Honourable Richard Tracey AM RFD QC, Chair of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, passed away on Friday, 11 October, after being diagnosed with cancer seven weeks earlier.

Commissioner Richard Tracey AM RFD QC, Chair of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, passed away on Friday, 11 October from cancer. [Source: Aged Care Royal Commission]
Commissioner Richard Tracey AM RFD QC, Chair of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, passed away on Friday, 11 October from cancer. [Source: Aged Care Royal Commission]

Commissioner Tracey, 71, was acknowledged by Commissioner Tony Pagone QC and Commissioner Lynelle Briggs AO at yesterday’s Royal Commission hearing in Melbourne.

Opening the Commission with the sad news, Commissioner Briggs announced the passing of Commissioner Tracey, who had only told a few people about his terminal diagnosis.

The news of Commissioner Tracy’s passing has shocked the commission and the aged care industry.

Commissioner Briggs says he soldiered through his diagnosis and still put all his efforts into the interim report, to be released October 31, while he was undertaking treatment in America.

“It gave us all hope that he would return fit and healthy in the New Year. The news of

his death was, therefore, a complete shock and absolutely shattering. Few people

ever have the privilege to be a Royal Commissioner, but Richard was made for it,” says Commissioner Briggs.

“He was experienced. He was wise. He was admired. He knew the law like the back of his hand. He was prepared to take a punt if it meant getting a better outcome for older Australians.

“Richard was genuinely interested in people and their circumstances. He was such a nice man and everyone loved him. His kind words to our witnesses after their presentations gave them comfort and let them know that they had been heard. 

“It was Richard who labelled aspects of the aged care system cruel and unkind after two particularly gruelling days of evidence in Darwin, and it was Richard who encouraged me to drive our policy agenda beyond change at the margin to transformative change, given the degree of substandard care that was apparent to us. 

“Our interim report will be his interim report. One of his many legacies.”

Commissioner Pagone praised Commissioner Tracey as a compassionate and distinguished man.

“I have known him, or known of him, for the whole of my involvement in the law. It was his book on administrative law that I recall reading as a student and which I then used when I was a lecturer at Monash University. Richard’s career generally has been remarkable,” says Commissioner Pagone.

“He had, by any measure, a distinguished career as a lawyer, as a jurist and, I must say, from my experiences of him, he was a remarkable friend. He had a selfless drive and energy which he blended with good humour and compassion. 

“It is no small mark of the man’s character that he worked solidly as a judge, despite at the time carrying an illness which might have crushed others until remission seemed to have lessened the danger. His work on this Commission has also been solid, selfless and significant.”

Counsel Assisting also expressed sadness at Commissioner Tracey’s passing, commending him for his compassionate work over the decades.

Mr Peter Rozen QC, Counsel Assisting, says, “Richard Tracey was a leader at the Bar, on the Bench, and at our Royal Commission, a fundamentally decent human being whose passing is keenly felt by the counsel assisting and solicitors assisting teams and all staff at the Aged Care Royal Commission.

“His humanity shone most brightly on our site visits, at community forums, and with those whom we refer to as the direct experience witnesses. Some of these witnesses have travelled long distances to give evidence at the Royal Commission. 

“Without fail, Richard, with his characteristic warmth and courtesy, engaged with these members of the public as they shared their often traumatic and distressing experiences with the Royal Commission. In so doing, he displayed the role of a true leader.

“Richard was passionate about the work of this important Royal Commission and the need for change in the Australian aged care system. We will miss him. We will continue our work in his absence but we remain very grateful for the time we had with him. May he rest in peace.”

The Royal Commission held a moment of silence in honour of Commissioner Tracey.

Commissioner Tracey was appointed Chair of the Royal Commission in December, 2018.

He was a judge of the Federal Court of Australia from 2006 until 2018, after being appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1991.

He served in the Australian Army from 1975 to 2014, reaching the rank of Major-General.

Commissioner Tracey worked his way into the position of Judge Advocate General of the Australian Defence Force from 2007 to 2014, and was President of the Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal between 2009 to 2018.

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