PM Anthony Albanese to announce COVID-19 inquiry

Former Liberal prime minister Scott Morrison led the national response to the pandemic.

Former Liberal prime minister Scott Morrison led the national response to the pandemic. Photo: Getty

The federal government is poised to announce an inquiry into how Australia handled the coronavirus pandemic, with details expected on Thursday.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is likely to make the announcement alongside Health Minister Mark Butler in Adelaide, Nine media outlets report.

Labor went to last year’s federal election promising a royal commission or an inquiry into the COVID-19 years.

Australia reported its first cases in January 2020 and had 2½ years of snap lockdowns, interstate border closures, quarantine rules and other restrictions until returning to relative normality in the second half of 2022.

Melbourne in particular was locked down six times (totalling 262 days).

In the past week, Australia was still reporting 724 cases a day (5069 for the week), according to the Health Department.

Thursday’s announcement is expected to fall short of a royal commission and instead propose a special commission of inquiry, after cabinet signed off on the plan on Monday, Nine newspapers reports.

The 12-month inquiry could have wide-ranging powers to call witnesses and will examine the response of federal and state governments.

Coalition frontbencher Bridget McKenzie said if Labor announced an inquiry it would be a broken promise.

“They are not delivering a royal commission and there is only one reason why … they would have to look at the different jurisdictions’ reactions,” she told Sky News on Wednesday.

Two COVID-19 responses that needed the scrutiny of a royal commission were the long-running lockdowns in Victoria and the shuttering of the Queensland-NSW border, she said.

A royal commission would need to be signed off – via letters patent – by state leaders.

Former Liberal prime minister Scott Morrison led the national response to the pandemic.

Three state/territory leaders who were there during COVID and remain in office are Daniel Andrews (Victoria), Annastacia Palaszczuk (Queensland) and Andrew Barr (ACT).

Mr Morrison told the Australian Financial Review earlier this week he would co-operate but only if the actions of the states and territories were also examined.

“Australia’s COVID response, while not perfect, is recognised as one of the best in the world, both in saving lives and livelihoods,” he told said.

“Throughout COVID we established an ongoing Senate inquiry to provide transparency and accountability in real time and identify important lessons along the way.

“Any serious retrospective inquiry that seeks to go back over this ground would be obsolete if it did not require equal attention and involvement of all state and territory governments who shared in Australia’s response to this one-in-a-100-year event.”

In May the World Health Organisation declared an end to COVID-19 as a public health emergency. It stressed it did not mean the disease was no longer a global threat.

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