Senate debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2023


Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee; Reference

6:59 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in 100 per cent support of Senator Roberts's proposed reference to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, of which I am chair. I would welcome the reference to that committee of Senator Roberts's proposal in this regard.

What the current Labor government has proposed, in terms of a COVID-19 response inquiry, is abysmally inadequate—totally inadequate—and I want to make four points to illustrate my case. I've got the terms of reference for the COVID-19 inquiry, so called, that has been tabled by the federal government. The four points I want to make are these.

Firstly, in terms of areas not in scope for the inquiry, it specifically says: 'Actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments are not within the scope of the inquiry.' So, as to those unilateral actions taken by state governments and territories across Australia, which were not consistent and which were variable—in Victoria, they had the longest lockdowns anywhere in the world—none of those actions are capable of being inquired into by the federal government's proposed inquiry into the COVID-19 response. It's absolutely disgraceful!

Secondly, I'll give this example: 'Broader health supports for people impacted by COVID-19 and/or lockdowns—for example, mental health and suicide-prevention supports and access to screening and other preventive health measures—are included in the inquiry.' Just consider how farcical this is. This inquiry is going to consider the mental health supports provided by the Commonwealth government to people suffering from lockdowns, but it's not going to consider the lockdowns themselves. It's going to consider the mental health support provided to people in lockdowns, but not the evidence base for the lockdowns themselves. It's absolutely absurd!

Let's have a look at another one: 'Key health response measures—for example, across COVID-19 vaccinations and treatments; key medical supplies, such as PPE; quarantine facilities and public health messaging'. Well, let's talk about a key health response—which I'm sure those senators from Queensland who are in the chamber here now, Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts, would know, in our Queensland context, was absolutely egregious—and that is that people with critical health conditions in northern NSW were not able to access Queensland hospitals. Again, it was a unilateral decision of the Queensland government, a shameful decision—and I spoke in this chamber at the time about it—that those people in northern NSW, including infants, who needed health care critically could not go across the border into Queensland to receive that health care. But that, also, is excluded from the terms of this so-called inquiry.

Here's another example: 'Community supports across early childhood education and care, higher education, housing and homeless measures, et cetera.' 'Early childhood education'—well, what about the decisions to close the schools and the impact that had on children and teenagers? Again, that falls within the rubric of actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments, so it's carved out from this farcical Commonwealth government inquiry which has been put forward by the federal government. It's absolutely farcical.

This chamber, and each and every single senator in this chamber, should reflect very carefully on Senator Roberts's motion. As Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, I would welcome this reference.


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