Labor has failed to censure embattled Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck over "death, grief and untold trauma" stemming from coronavirus deaths.
Outbreaks of the disease have ravaged nursing homes, with 462 residents dead since the start of the pandemic.
In a blistering attack, Labor Senate leader Penny Wong said the upper house should censure the minister for his incompetence in managing the sector.
"This is a motion which goes to the failure of this minister to take responsibility for the devastating crisis in the aged care sector, which has caused death, grief and untold trauma for vulnerable Australians and their families," she told parliament.
The opposition's attempt to bring its censure motion on was shot down 26 votes to 24.
Senator Wong said Senator Colbeck should be accountable to parliament, despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison's "protection racket".
"When the consequence for Australian families is the death of a loved one, the consequence for the minister responsible cannot be a shrug," she said.
"He cannot absolve himself of responsibility for deaths by neglect (by) simply saying that is a function of aged care."
Government Senate leader Mathias Cormann launched an impassioned defence of the minister, who he said had worked flat out to protect aged care residents.
"You are here trying to use and abuse the tragedy of individual Australians as a desperate political weapon," he said.
"It is a sad reflection on the Labor Party under the leadership of Anthony Albanese. You should collectively be ashamed of yourselves."
He said every death was tragic, and accused the opposition of ignoring the context of a global pandemic.
"This minister could be walking on water and you would still find reasons to criticise him because he can't swim," Senator Cormann said.
Senator Colbeck said Labor wanted to play base politics with a national tragedy.
"The only way that you completely protect residential aged care from that community transmission is to completely isolate it," he said.
"That's not been done anywhere in the world."
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd appeared to contradict the minister's claim that federal aged care regulators stopped making random nursing home compliance checks based on medical advice.
"I'm not aware of the AHPPC being asked for advice about whether there should have been any cessation of visits," Professor Kidd told reporters.
Senator Colbeck said on Monday: "The cessation of unannounced visits was taken, at the time, on medical advice."