Senate debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2023


Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee; Reference

6:54 pm

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | Hansard source

The COVID pandemic was undoubtedly one of the most significant events to impact Australia, in fact the most significant, since the second World War. It has left an unprecedented mark on this country. During the course of the pandemic, decisions had to be made quickly and in the context of the overwhelming uncertainty that was present at the time. But there's no denying that Australia's health and economic response and the consequential outcomes coming out of the pandemic were world-leading. I want to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge the actions of our health officials and most particularly our frontline workers, who tirelessly kept Australians safe during that really terrible time.

It only makes sense, in recognition of the significance of this event, that we have a thorough investigation into the decisions made during this challenging period in our history. This is in our national interest, and it's about our preparedness as a country going forward. That's why I know so many Australians felt outraged at the Prime Minister's decision not to pursue a proper inquiry into all the decisions that were made in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the announcement of this quasi-inquiry, which specifically excludes the state and territory decisions from its scope, the Prime Minister has clearly put political interest ahead of the national interest. He has broken a significant promise, once again, that he made to the Australian people prior to the last election. The Prime Minister committed to holding a royal commission or a deep inquiry into COVID, looking at the response of all governments across Australia. It's incredibly disappointing the Prime Minister has unapologetically completely deserted this commitment to the Australian people. Instead, he has prioritised his own political interest and has created a protection racket for his premier mates instead of pursuing transparency and accountability and staying true to his word.

It's no wonder why Australians are losing faith in this Prime Minister. He didn't believe Australians deserved any information about his Voice model in the lead-up to the referendum. He is ignoring the significant challenges Australians are currently facing as the cost of living continues to place serious pressure on household budgets. And his blatant disrespect for the Australian public has been shown again with his outrageously inadequate COVID inquiry announcement. Any inquiry into Australia's COVID response that does not involve the states and territories should be called out for what it is. The Prime Minister is looking for a distraction from his failures by creating a witch-hunt against the former coalition government, and he is bowing down to the pressure being put on him by Dan Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk. I don't know what's more disappointing—that the Prime Minister has unashamedly broken his promise to the Australian people purely for political reasons, or that the leader of this country is not even prepared to stand up to influence within his own party to make sure the Australian public have the answers they need to keep them safe into the future.

Regardless, it's clear that, in the absence of any powers to compel the involvement of the state and territory governments, the Prime Minister's inquiry is a wasted opportunity to be proactive about Australia's preparedness for a future pandemic, should we unfortunately have to face one. Light must be shone on all the decisions that were taken following the outbreak of COVID-19 in this country, particularly considering the significant role the states and territories played because it was the states and territories who were often solely responsible for the decisions that impacted most on Australians during that time, on Australians' lives and Australians' livelihoods—actions like lockdowns, testing regimes, state border closures and other restrictions placed on Australian people which we know are still having ongoing impacts, particularly on the mental health of young Australians.

Despite what the Prime Minister may seem to believe, an inquiry also must recognise the pandemic did not end on 22 May 2022. In fact, we have seen more COVID related deaths in the first eight months of this government than in the entire first two years of the pandemic. For this inquiry to have any credibility and any integrity it also must undertake international comparisons, and Australia's standing in comparison to other countries must also be considered. All these factors must be looked at as part of a proper and thorough investigation that is genuinely aimed at bolstering Australia's pandemic preparedness so that we can learn from our experiences and prepare, should we ever be faced with this situation in the future. Otherwise all we have from the Albanese Labor government is a half-baked inquiry merely aimed at distracting from Labor's shambolic handling of today's issues and expunging Labor premiers of the states and territories from past decisions that had such a catastrophic impact on the lives of so many Australians.


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