There is mounting outrage over Anthony Albanese’s new Covid inquiry, with critics arguing its ‘toothless and narrow’ remit will let state governments off the hook.
On Thursday morning, the Prime Minister officially announced the inquiry into the pandemic but stopped short of declaring a full Royal Commission despite previously calling for it when Labor was in Opposition.
The announcement provoked a backlash when it emerged the terms of reference outline that the ‘actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments’ are not within the inquiry’s scope.
This indicates the probe will not scrutinise the devastating lockdowns and decisions by state premiers to implement the first state border closures since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919.
On Thursday morning, the Prime Minister, alongside health minister Mark Butler (pictured), officially announced the inquiry into the pandemic but stopped short of declaring a full Royal Commission despite previously calling for it when Labor was in Opposition. There has been a huge backlash over the probe’s narrow remit, which will not examine ‘actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments’
Now, Phillip Coorey, the Australian Financial Review’s respected political editor, has unleashed on the Prime Minister, accusing him of treating ‘the Australian people like idiots’.
‘(The announcement) was so utterly disingenuous and patronising that the government would have more credibility had it just broken its promise altogether and done nothing,’ he wrote.
Mr Coorey took particular issue with the clause outlining that the ‘actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments’ are not to be examined by the inquiry.
‘That means almost everything that still gives people nightmares about COVID – school closures, lockdowns, state border closures, vaccine mandates, failed contact tracing and overzealous policing – are all off limits,’ he wrote.
‘These are the actions that caused economic ruin, widespread heartache, mental health problems and which set back the education of thousands of children.’
Deputy leader of the Liberal Party Susan Ley earlier branded the inquiry a ‘sham’, claiming it places ‘the political interests of the Labor party ahead of the interests of all Australians.
Phillip Coorey, the Australian Financial Review’s respected political editor, has unleashed on the Prime Minister, accusing him of treating ‘the Australian people like idiots’ (stock image)
‘Shielding Labor premiers from proper scrutiny indicates just how much of a sham this “inquiry” is,’ she said.
Senator Ley appeared on Sunrise this morning where she grilled Minister for Education Jason Clare over the inquiry’s remit.
‘This is the prime minister looking after his labor mates at state government level,’ said Senator Ley.
‘How can you possibly have an inquiry that doesn’t look at the totality of what this did in a way that actually allows us to learn how to do better next time?’
Mr Chalmers defended the probe, claiming ‘the key thing here is this should not be about blame’.
‘Politicians did their best, whether it’s Scott Morrison or Dan Andrews or Gladys Berejiklian,’ he said.
‘I think everybody did their best. They didn’t get everything right, that’s for sure. They made mistakes. But there was no rulebook.’
Under Victorian Premier Dan Andrews (pictured), Victoria experienced one of the world’s longest lockdowns. The consequences of his decision-making will likely not be scrutinised by the new inquiry
Mr Clare insisted the actions of state premiers would be examined by the inquiry.
However, Sunrise host Nat Barr put him on the spot over the ‘weird’ reason why it was not written in the remit.
‘It’s just interesting it’s not written in the scope that you’re going to investigate state premiers,’ she said.
‘It just feels a bit rubbery,’ Barr added.
At a press conference on Thursday morning, Prime Minister Albanese said it was ‘important’ the Covid inquiry take place.
‘We said before the election and I’ve said since, given the enormous dislocation, the stress, the loss of life, the economic impact of the pandemic – it is appropriate that when we reached a certain period we would have an inquiry,’ Mr Albanese said.
He added: ‘We need to examine what went right (and) what could be done better with a focus on the future because the health experts and the science tells us that this pandemic may not be – indeed is not likely to be – the last one that occurs.’
It will look at more than 20 different inquiries that have already taken place and it has a twelve-month timeframe before it reports.
The watered down commission of inquiry will lack the powers of a Royal Commission to compel witnesses to appear and testify truthfully.
It will be conducted by economist Angela Jackson, epidemiologist and regular Covid commentator Catherine Bennett, and public administration expert Robyn Kruk.
Dr Nick Coatsworth, the country’s former deputy chief health officer during the pandemic, called for the inquiry to examine whether independent public health powers should remain with states and territories during a pandemic.
‘Who determines proportionality of pandemic response and how are societal costs of pandemic restrictions assessed and balanced against need for disease control?’, asked Dr Coatsworth.
He took aim at Victorian Premier Dan Andrews who ‘thinks that the Covid inquiry should focus on vaccines, national medical stockpile and PPE’.
‘None of those are related to the core question. Proportionality,’ Dr Coatsworth added.
‘It is a word that he would prefer never enter into the historical record on our (and his) pandemic response. But it will.’
The Covid inquiry’s narrow remit ‘,eans almost everything that still gives people nightmares about COVID – school closures, lockdowns, state border closures, vaccine mandates, failed contact tracing and overzealous policing – are all off limits,’ according to respected political editor Phillip Coorey
Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie has already accused the Albanese government of going back on its word.
‘It’s another broken promise by Anthony Albanese,’ Senator Mckenzie told Sharri Markson on Sky News on Tuesday.
‘He went to the election promising a royal commission.
‘They ran a select committee in the Senate throughout Covid hearing from experts for over a year they heard from experts from right across the country and out of that inquiry they decided they would have a royal commission.’
She accused Mr Albanese of trying to shield Labor premiers still in power from that period, such as Victoria’s Dan Andrews and Queensland‘s Annastacia Palaszczuk from full scrutiny of their actions during the pandemic.
On Thursday,Mr Albanese defended the decision to hold an inquiry rather than a Royal Commission.
‘Quite frankly, a royal commission can take more time (and) is normally headed by a judge,’ Mr Albanese told Adelaide’s 5AA radio station.