COVID royal commission backer says things have changed

Federal government announces COVID probe

A senior Labor figure who previously called for a royal commission into the COVID pandemic argues “things have changed” since then.

Before the 2022 election, Labor senator Katy Gallagher – who is now Finance Minister in the Albanese government – chaired an inquiry into the pandemic response that called for a royal commission.

But the recommendation never went to the shadow cabinet, with party leader and now Prime Minister Anthony Albanese publicly endorsing “a measure like a royal commission”.

The federal opposition has taken aim at the government for its announcement on Thursday of an inquiry, rather than a royal commission with tougher powers to compel witnesses and evidence.

It claims federal Labor took the step to protect Labor premiers from scrutiny.

“On the issue around the royal commission, a fair bit has changed,” Gallagher said in Canberra on Friday.

“There have been a huge number of inquiries and reviews that have gone on since that time, which no doubt the independent team will be able to use as part of their work.”

Gallagher said it was not a political exercise or a blame game but a “genuine attempt to basically ensure that we are in the best place that we can be when the next pandemic arrives”.

The inquiry’s panel will comprise three experts: Former NSW Department of Health director-general Robyn Kruk, Deakin University’s chair in epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett, and health economist Dr Angela Jackson.

A final report will be handed down by September 30 next year.

It will not investigate state and territory decisions, which means many of the pandemic’s controversial features including lockdowns, school closures and mask mandates will not fall under the spotlight.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said there was nothing preventing the states from making a contribution to it.

“But our primary focus is to take responsibility for the Commonwealth powers and levers to learn from the past so that we can do things better in the future,” he said.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton continues to call for a royal commission, saying Albanese should honour his promise to Australians about having a proper inquiry.

“I think the Prime Minister should have exerted his authority and stepped up,” he told Nine’s Today.

“Instead, he hasn’t.”

The proof would be in whether state and territory leaders fronted the inquiry, opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews confirmed on Friday he would be willing to appear before the inquiry.

“I’m happy to participate, to be called, to appear, to provide documents to assist so that if we have another one of these events, we’re ready,” he said.

Andrews noted that lockdowns were needed because vaccines were not available.

“I was not in charge of ordering the vaccines. The people that were, well, they can speak for themselves,” he said.

Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay welcomed the inquiry generally, but said the limited scope would make it harder to improve future responses to the pandemic, and criticised the lack of an explicit focus on human rights.

“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.”

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.