/ 22 September 2023

Probing the COVID inquiry

Image source: Getty
Image source: Getty


It wouldn’t be a COVID issue if the government’s moves weren’t heavily scrutinised/criticised, and that is the case for PM Anthony Albanese’s announcement that there will be an inquiry into the official response. Some of the key things the inquiry will review include the management of vaccines/treatments, public health messaging, and financial/mental health supports and the idea is the exercise will help shape Australia’s response to future public health emergencies. But there are criticisms that some of the biggest COVID-19 decisions won’t be examined.


Coalition leader Peter Dutton is one who’s unhappy that individual state and territory decisions on controversial actions – like lockdowns and state border closures – won’t be put under the microscope, calling it a “protection racket” for Labor premiers/chief ministers. “If we don’t learn the lessons of what happened during the course of COVID – good and bad by every level of government – how do we expect to go into the next pandemic not understanding what had happened in the previous one?” Dutton asked. And Australia’s former Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth agrees, saying excluding state and territory governments’ decisions “is a major concern” – and he’s offered up suggestions for what the inquiry should focus on. He says who’s in charge of disease-control policies, public health powers, and our data collection methods should also be considered.


Before we get into that, it’s important to note that Albanese has ruled out a royal commission because of the expertise required and he says it would take more time, saying he’s been advised that “this is the best form of inquiry”. He’s named 3 experts to get it done in the next year: health economist Dr Angela Jackson, epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett and public sector expert Robyn Kruk. What’s not clear is whether they’ll be able to compel witnesses, or if public hearings will be held – and that has many stakeholders questioning what the inquiry can achieve. “We need a better understanding of the impacts on communities and business of some of the longest and most damaging lockdowns in the world,” Australian Industry Group boss Innes Willox says. And right on time, the newest COVID strain has reached our shores…

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