Following prime minister Albanese’s announcement that the long-promised inquiry into governments’ responses to COVID will only focus on federal government actions over that period, shadow health minister Anne Ruston has made a call for industries most affected to demand that states and territories be included.
In an interview with Sky News Journalist Chris Kenny, she described the announcement by the prime minister as a “contemptuous display” towards the Australian public and said that “there are “some big questions to be asked of the Premiers”.
Both the prime minister and health minister Mark Butler had promised Australian citizens & businesses a Royal Commission, or an inquiry with similar powers to examine all governments. However, this inquiry will not have the powers of a Royal Commission, which include the right to hold public hearings, call witnesses and compel them to provide evidence under oath.
Furthermore, state and territory governments are specifically excluded in its terms of reference, which defines the scope of the inquiry.
State and territory governments were responsible for nearly all the decisions that affected the daily lives of Australians and put the event industry into enforced hibernation, from which it is still recovering. Lockdowns, mask mandates, curfews, closed schools, enforced isolation of the aged, state border closures, travel restrictions, limits on numbers to events, sudden edicts to evacuate venues and announcements of instant lockdowns; none of these interventions will be examined.
Whilst shadow minister Ruston felt that pressure might be brought to bear within federal parliament to initiate a national enquiry with more powers, she called on all those sectors particularly affected to speak out. “I’d like to call on all those sectors hard hit – They should be demanding that federal government comes out and look into what the states and territories are doing.”
Other responses to inquiry announcement
Australian Financial Review’s political editor Phillip Coorey dismissed the prime minister’s reasons not initiating a Royal Commission because it would take too long and that it would be headed by Judges, who ‘look at things is a particular way”, as “utterly disingenuous and patronising”.
In a news article covering the announcement The Guardian said the prime minister ‘repeatedly deflected questions about whether the inquiry will have compulsory powers’
Australian Medical Association President Steve Robson, called it “Half an inquiry” by leaving out the states and territories.
Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay said “Lockdowns, border closures, school closures, mask mandates and many other aspects were the domain of state and territory governments and to not examine these as part of the inquiry means it will be harder for us to improve our response for future pandemics.
Finlay was also disappointed that the matter of human rights wasn’t included in the terms of the inquiry “We need to ensure the rights and freedoms that were lost during the pandemic are better protected into the future and we need to ensure the human cost of the pandemic is properly understood, so our emergency responses in the future don’t leave people or their rights behind. She said.