Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will announce the long-awaited inquiry into Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday.
The 12-month inquiry will not be a royal commission but is expected to have wide-ranging powers to call witnesses and will examine the response of federal and state governments to the pandemic since it began in January 2020.
Albanese and Health Minister Mark Butler will on Thursday release terms of reference for the inquiry, which will be led by medical and economic experts.
Albanese’s long-promised inquiry into the country’s handling of COVID will be announced tomorrow. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen, Getty Images
Albanese discussed the inquiry with state and territory leaders at the most recent national cabinet meeting in Brisbane in August and those governments have been notified that the announcement of the inquiry is imminent.
Three state premiers and chief ministers – Victoria’s Daniel Andrews, Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk and the ACT’s Andrew Barr – have led their governments since the start of the pandemic.
Albanese has never promised a royal commission into the matter and instead has said repeatedly that he supported holding a “royal commission or some form of inquiry” into the country’s handling of COVID-19.
The federal government has argued that the pandemic is ongoing when explaining the delay in announcing the inquiry.
Cleaners disinfecting a hotel quarantine site in Melbourne, February 2021.Credit: Getty
While Australia kept infections in low numbers from the first wave in 2020 by shutting down international borders and enforcing quarantine, the first years of the pandemic were marked by interstate border closures, shuttering of businesses, school closures across the nation and repeated lockdowns, most notably in Melbourne, which endured six lockdowns totalling 262 days from March 2020 to October 2021.
Federal health data, which is also reported to the World Health Organisation, shows Australia has reported more than 11.5 million confirmed cases of COVID and almost 23,000 deaths between January 2020 and mid-September this year.
About 11.3 million of those cases were contracted during the Omicron wave, which began in December 2021 and remains the dominant strain of the virus circulating Australia.
Data from the Actuaries Institute, published earlier this year, found there were 10,300 extra deaths in Australia last year directly due to COVID while another 6600 deaths, including from heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and diabetes, could also be linked to the effects of the pandemic.
In May, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 was no longer a global emergency.
Butler was asked earlier this month about whether the inquiry was imminent and said “the prime minister and I and other ministers have made very clear that we intend to hold a deep inquiry into the management of COVID over the last few years”.
“It would be extraordinary for government to take any other position and we’ll announce the terms of that inquiry in due course.”
Former prime minister Scott Morrison, who led Australia through the first two years of the pandemic, told the Australian Financial Review earlier this week that he would co-operate with an inquiry into COVID-19 but only if it looked at the role of and actions taken by the states as well as the federal government.
He also argued the inquiry should have the power to ensure state and territory officials appeared before it.
While no nationwide inquiry into COVID in Australia has been conducted, there have been numerous independent and academic examinations carried out.
The most wide-ranging report was funded by the Paul Ramsay Foundation and headed by former Prime Minister and Cabinet Department secretary Peter Shergold. It made a series of recommendations to boost preparedness for future pandemics and increased use of experts.
Other investigations have looked at particular policies. A report headed by economists Steven Hamilton, Tristram Sainsbury and Geoffrey Liu which examined the early withdrawal of superannuation stimulus policy found up to a quarter of people drained their retirement savings within days of it starting.
In June, federal Treasury revealed it would start its own independent investigation into the $90 billion JobKeeper program that supported the economy through the pandemic amid long-standing complaints it had enabled profit-making businesses to swell their bottom lines.
Former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said the primary outcome of the inquiry should be to define proportionality in Australia’s disease control response.
“The inquiry will only succeed if we take a forward-looking posture about how we best make public policy during future pandemics,” he said.
“We should at all costs avoid a blame game, however, there does need to be significant scrutiny on the states and territories because ultimately their polices were the ones that were most restrictive.”
Before news of the inquiry emerged on Wednesday afternoon, Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie accused the Albanese government of choosing to pursue an inquiry, rather than a royal commission, to protect Labor premiers.
Policy experts and the Australian Medical Association have been urging the prime minister to launch the sweeping investigation before the end of this year to avoid turning the probe into a political blame game in the run-up to the next federal election.
AMA President Steve Robson said its terms of reference should be focused on the future while its timing needed to ensure it was free from politics and could remain objective.
He said the health future of Australia was only going to get more complicated, particularly as the population aged and climate change increased risks from issues including vector-borne diseases and supply chain disruption.
The conservative Institute of Public Affairs backs an inquiry into the country’s handling of the pandemic – and has proposed its own terms of reference for a royal commission – saying it should probe how the virus entered the country, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on those who did not contract the virus, the operation of national cabinet, and the design of policies such as JobKeeper.
The left-leaning Australia Institute also believes an inquiry should look at the lines of responsibility between state and federal governments.
With Shane Wright, Rachel Clun
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter.
Most Viewed in Politics
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article