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Albanese Announces Exclusion of State and Territory Decisions from Covid-19 Inquiry

Albanese Announces Exclusion of State and Territory Decisions from Covid-19 Inquiry

In a recent announcement, Anthony Albanese has revealed plans for a Covid-19 inquiry aimed at assessing the actions and strategies of the Commonwealth government during the pandemic. Notably, the inquiry will exclude “actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments.”

Details of the Planned COVID-19 Inquiry

Diverse Panel of Experts

On Thursday, the Prime Minister disclosed that the year-long inquiry would be overseen by an accomplished team of experts, including epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett, health economist Dr. Angela Jackson, and former Director-General of the NSW Health Department, Robyn Kruk.

Scope and Powers Spark Debate

The scope and powers of the inquiry have already ignited a contentious debate with the opposition. Critics argue that if states cannot be compelled to provide evidence, the inquiry is deemed “a complete waste of time.” However, Albanese has dismissed these concerns as “absurd.”

During a press conference in Adelaide, Albanese refrained from confirming whether the inquiry would possess compulsory powers, emphasising that provoking “conflict” contradicts its goals.

Inquiry Focus Areas

The proposed scope of the inquiry encompasses a wide array of topics, including vaccine supply, broader health support during Covid-19 and lockdowns, financial assistance for individuals, industries, and businesses, community support measures, international policies affecting Australians at home and abroad, and strategies for targeting responses to specific populations, including First Nations Australians.

However, the inquiry explicitly excludes “actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments,” such as state border closures, and may not delve into the duration and severity of lockdown restrictions. It also does not cover “international programs and activities assisting foreign countries.”

Participation and Duration

When questioned about participation, Albanese expressed his belief that everyone would want to engage in this inquiry. The inquiry is set to span over 12 months, with a final report expected by September 30, 2024. Albanese justified the shorter duration by highlighting that numerous inquiries had already been conducted, totalling 20 in number.

Premiers’ Reception and Opposition’s Criticism

Albanese confirmed that premiers and chief ministers had welcomed the proposal during the last national cabinet meeting. Nevertheless, opposition leader Peter Dutton criticised Albanese for breaking his promise to hold a royal commission or similar inquiry before the election. Dutton argued that excluding premiers responsible for lockdowns amounted to a “protection racket” for certain state leaders.

Shadow Health Minister Anne Ruston also criticised the inquiry, calling it a “witch-hunt” against the previous Coalition government and a “copout” due to the exclusion of states and territories. She emphasised the substantial impact of state decisions on Australians during the pandemic, including lockdowns, border closures, and mandates.

Albanese’s Response

Albanese countered these criticisms, deeming them “absurd” and highlighting that Liberal governments were in power in South Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania during the pandemic. He further explained that an inquiry was chosen over a royal commission because it is more time-efficient and typically led by a judge.

Forward-Focused Planning

Both Albanese and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews stressed the importance of forward-focused planning in the inquiry, suggesting that it should examine improvements to the national medical stockpile, vaccine and personal protective equipment supplies (which fall under Commonwealth responsibilities), and learn from the experiences of the pandemic.

Additionally, former Commonwealth Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth recommended that the inquiry focus on assessing the “proportionality” of governments’ responses to Covid-19.

The COVID-19 inquiry is poised to provide critical insights into the pandemic response and shape future policies and strategies to better protect Australians in the face of similar crises.

Brini Wines