Thursday, 14 May 2020
Questions without Notice
I thank Senator Wong for that question. I believe it's a matter of public record that the National Incident Room was activated on 20 January, and the first briefing would have happened sometime before that; I can't recall the specific date. I'm happy to take that part of the question on notice. But I think that we've been entirely open and transparent along the way, and the Prime Minister has taken the Australian people into his confidence every step of the way. It was a rapidly evolving situation. We were one of the first countries in the world to put in place border restrictions effective from 1 February for any non-Australian travellers returning from mainland China. We were one of the first, I believe, to declare this a pandemic. But, in terms of the specific question that was asked, as I've indicated, it would have been sometime before the activation of the National Incident Room, which has been publicly announced as having happened on 20 January.
When they moved to establish the COVID-19 select committee, the minister told the Senate, 'We welcome the scrutiny. We do believe there is a need for scrutiny. We understand and appreciate that.' The Prime Minister's own department has now on two occasions refused to answer the question: when did the Chief Medical Officer first brief the cabinet in relation to COVID-19? Given that question includes neither content about deliberations nor anything else cabinet-in-confidence, can the minister please provide the answer as to the date?
Let me say up-front that I absolutely stand by the statement that I made. I wasn't at the hearing that Senator Wong references. I've already taken that part of the question on notice and I will get back to the chamber when I can.
This is a once-in-a-century pandemic. It has unprecedented health and economic impacts on the nation. Australians deserve to know how the government responded to the threat of this pandemic. Can the minister explain why the Prime Minister's own department has refused to answer this simple and factual question? What are they seeking to hide?
I reject the premise of the question. We're not seeking to hide anything. I think Senator Wong completely ignored the answers that I've given to the first two questions, including that I undertook to take that part of the question on notice.