Tuesday, 17 October 2023
Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee; Reference
It is important that we learn the lessons of the pandemic and not repeat the mistakes of the former government. The process of learning from the pandemic should be constructive, not deconstructive. The Prime Minister and Minister Butler announced on 21 September that an independent inquiry would be held into Australia's response to COVID-19 to help better prepare and protect our country for the future. The inquiry will look at both the health and the non-health elements of the Commonwealth COVID-19 response and will deliver its final report to government by 30 September 2024. The government has appointed an independent panel to conduct the inquiry. The panellists have vast experience in public health, government and economic policy.
There have been more than 20 reviews into the COVID-19 response in Australia: parliamentary inquiries and administrative reviews and audits commissioned by the Commonwealth and by the states. The independent panel undertaking the COVID-19 response inquiry will bring together the knowledge from all these existing reviews and research, as well as conducting further investigation where needed.
Royal commissions are a useful form of quasi-judicial inquiry when investigating corruption or maladministration. Royal commissions are lengthy and expensive, not what we need in this situation. Public consultation will be completed during the inquiry on the substance of the issues outlined in the terms of reference. Everyone who wants to participate will be able to participate. The independent panel will invite submissions and seek information from other persons and bodies. Consultation will take place across Australia with members of the public; key community stakeholders reflecting a diversity of backgrounds; experts from a wide range of fields, such as scientists, economists and legal experts; and Commonwealth, state and territory government agencies.
Senator Roberts's motion to ask the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee to develop terms of reference for a royal commission by 31 March 2024 would unnecessarily delay the conduct of any form of inquiry. The Albanese government promised an independent inquiry into the COVID-19 response, and that's exactly what we are delivering. We do not support attempts to slow down and derail this inquiry. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the most significant global crisis that we've faced in decades. We need to start the work now to review what worked well and what we can do better to improve Australia's preparedness for future pandemics.