Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Matters of Public Importance


5:40 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to support Senator Roberts' motion on the need for a royal commission into Australia's COVID response, and I hope the government can too, because right now the Labor Party are on the verge of breaking another promise that they made to the Australian people in regard to having an inquiry into COVID. I welcome the comments earlier by Senator Marielle Smith, who said they did still support an inquiry, but we are now two weeks away from a year since the election, since Mr Albanese made this promise to the Australian people, and people are still desperately waiting for this inquiry.

I want to put on record exactly when Mr Albanese made this promise, so it's not just me saying that. On 25 January last year, a few months before the election, Mr Albanese spoke at the National Press Club. A report of that speech in the Australian Financial Review said that, when Mr Albanese was asked whether he would have an inquiry—I think the question was a royal commission—into coronavirus, Mr Albanese said it was 'beyond doubt that you will need an assessment'. He went on to say, 'Whether that would be a royal commission or some form of an inquiry, that will need to happen.' That promise was made a year and two months ago, and we haven't had any detail since. There has not been a single reference about what that inquiry would look like. Will it be a royal commission? What will its terms of reference or powers be? Will it be able to inspect the decisions of state governments and state bureaucrats? There's been nothing, absolute radio silence from the government until Senator Roberts—and I give him credit for moving this motion—and through this motion we've heard a statement from a government senator saying they do still support an inquiry. Well, where is it?

At the time, Mr Albanese gave the excuse that we couldn't have it right now because we were in the heat of the pandemic. This was early last year. Clearly, we're not in the heat of the pandemic anymore. All of the restrictions have gone. No-one, effectively, is wearing masks anymore. It is time to have a proper inquiry into what went on. In a few hours time, we're going to have a government budget delivered, and that budget will show Australia with crushing levels of debt, largely or significantly accumulated because of the response to the coronavirus pandemic. There was over $300 billion of government spending to support the decisions that were made to lock down, to close borders, to roll out a vaccine in record time—all of this spending added up. The fact that we now have seven or eight per cent inflation in Australia is largely because of that government expenditure and that government spending. This has been the largest single level of government expenditure outside of war, and we are still waiting for a proper inquiry into what the hell happened.

Other senators have raised that people who have lost loved ones during the pandemic deserve this inquiry, that people who have been injured by vaccines deserve this inquiry, that people who have suffered through lockdowns deserve this inquiry. But every Australian family suffering to pay their bills right now deserves this inquiry, because the reason we have this inflation is the somewhat, in the end, misguided policy responses to this pandemic.

You can only hazard a guess that those who are resisting this, those who are using delaying tactics here to have this inquiry are a little concerned about what it might find out. They are hoping, perhaps, that people will forget or that people will have moved on from their roles and positions by the time this inquiry is announced, and that's not good enough. We need to have this ASAP, because the longer it takes, the less institutional and corporate knowledge will remain in government bureaucracies to actually reveal what the hell happened. We should have had this inquiry announced as soon as the pandemic effectively ended late last year. We've waited long enough. I give credit to Senator Roberts for bringing this motion. I fully support it, and, apparently, the government supports it too. Well, stop the talk, and just get on with it and announce an inquiry ASAP. It should really be a royal commission. We have had royal commissions into robodebt, into pink batts—all of these other types of things. Surely, we can have a royal commission into the largest government response in this country outside of wartime? People deserve that.

We've had some Senate inquiries. Last week we had a Senate inquiry into removing vaccines—we've still got vaccine mandates in some areas. They should be hauled in first. I note that Pfizer and Moderna have refused to appear at those Senate inquiries. We are pursuing that, but that's another reason why we should have a royal commission, because all of these companies and all of the government bureaucrats should be held to account and made to explain to the Australian people what the hell happened. (Time expired)


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