Senate debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2023


Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee; Reference

6:40 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That, noting that a fully empowered Royal Commission with appropriate terms of reference is necessary to learn from the unprecedented government response to COVID-19, the following matter be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References committee for inquiry and report by 31 March 2024:

The appropriate terms of reference for a COVID-19 Royal Commission that would allow all affected stakeholders to be heard.

As a servant to the many different people who make up our one Queensland community, I speak in favour of this motion. One Nation's motion seeks to arrive at a fair terms of reference for a royal commission into the Commonwealth response to SARS-CoV-2. Those terms of reference could alternatively inform a Senate select committee of inquiry.

COVID resulted in the largest health response in Australian history. I put this motion forward as an invitation to all senators in this place, from all parties. Every single senator has heard from a stakeholder that the COVID response affected. This inquiry would ensure that none of those voices are missed by future terms of reference for a COVID royal commission. To be clear, the inquiry this motion seeks would not pass judgement on the COVID response. Its scope is simply to hear submissions from stakeholders to ensure that a future royal commission has properly informed terms of reference so that stakeholders will have an opportunity to have a say at such a commission.

Death, injury and suffering have been caused not just from the virus but from our response to the virus. Only a royal commission will sort out how much harm the virus did and how much harm we did to ourselves—and there was a hell of a lot of harm. Firstly, this harm was caused through the use of politicised fear. COVID has taken an unknown number of lives during the four years the virus has been present in Australia. I say 'unknown' because the number of people who actually died from COVID as opposed to dying with COVID is unknown. Knowingly increasing the death count to dial up the fear simply to ensure compliance with health directives appears to have been deliberate government policy at state and federal level. We treated people as though they were not human beings—rather, a problem to be managed.

Government did not manage the virus. Government managed us. They controlled us, the people. An inquiry must go back and look at what we knew about the risk to human life at each stage of our response and compare that risk to the benefit achieved from the Commonwealth response to that risk. From that process, we can create rules to guide our response to the next such event—fairer rules that dignify and sanctify human life. The anguish we felt was not just fear of the virus; it was fear of the governments. The public never knew what the governments were going to do next, let alone why. There was no excuse for that.

If we do actually have a handbook to be followed in a case like this, it's called the Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza. This document was last updated in August 2019, just before COVID, and was produced as a result of consultation with the states and territories. What happened to this? Let's see what's in it:

The Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza (AHMPPI), the national government health sector pandemic influenza plan, outlines the agreed arrangements between the Australian Government and State and Territory Governments for the management of an influenza pandemic. To support an integrated and coordinated response …

I would have thought that that seems to fit the bill exactly. In 2009 the Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza was used to guide Australia's response to H1N1 flu—swine flu.

Next I'll quote this from that document:

The key factors in this plan's approach include:

    There is no national cabinet, no secret decisions and no new body—with no rules or structure—that uses secret data that the public still cannot see. I'm starting to see why the government put this in the bin. I quote again:

      Oh wait; there it is, a risk-benefit analysis; what a marvellous idea—

      … to support evidence-based decision making …

      Evidence based decision-making—wouldn't that have been nice these last four years? We had this rule book in 2019, developed over many years of successes and failures, which clearly arrived at the right way to handle COVID. Why didn't we use it? Now, that is a question for a royal commission.

      Secondly, harm was created as a result of making decisions on the optics, not the data, in direct contravention of the government's own handbook. From page 11, under 'Proportionate response':

      In the past all pandemic planning was aimed at responding to a worst case scenario, similar to the influenza pandemic of 1918-19. The 2009 pandemic showed clearly the need for the flexibility to scale the response to be proportionate to the risk associated with the current disease.

      Our response was supposed to be set to the actual harm that was occurring, not the fears around the worst-case scenario, which, as it turned out, never occurred. Around the middle of 2020, it should have been clear to our health officials and to this parliament, as it was to me, that the scary videos of COVID deaths coming out of China were not representative of the strain of COVID active in Australia at the time or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world. Even worse, information came out at the time suggesting those videos were possibly faked, a suspicion confirmed in 2022, when some of the producers of the videos posted behind-the-scenes videos and photos of their work to social media. And yet this is what we set our response to—the fear, not the reality.

      No attempt appears to have been made to determine just how dangerous Australian COVID really was. That was another of many direct contraventions of the rule book. Instead, the government leveraged dodgy Chinese videos to ramp up the fear. When that didn't convince the public, the states started making their own fake propaganda videos, portraying the worst-case scenario, here in this country, something they had agreed not to do the year before. When people took to the streets to protest the measures being taken, the government responded with yet more fear. Then came the military and the police. We have all seen those videos of elderly Australians being tasered, shoved to the floor, knocked out, and a pregnant mother arrested in her own home for sharing information about a protest. We have seen protesters being shot with rubber bullets and hunted down in parks, and the Premier gloating. Each of these measures was designed to add to the fear and anguish, to keep the population scared and compliant, with measures that contradicted the government's own rule book. No wonder the government is exempting itself and the mainstream media from its own misinformation and disinformation bill. Using any measure, the COVID fear campaign would have been struck down under that legislation and the government left to argue their case based on data, as the government were required to do but they didn't.

      Thirdly, harm was caused economically—severe harm, right across the country. The Commonwealth COVID response was the most expensive federal government line item since World War II. Taxpayers have been left with a bill in excess of $600 billion, a bill that keeps going up with every interest payment on the money we borrowed to pay for our response. Not all the money was borrowed, though. The Reserve Bank printed a large amount, or, as the Reserve Bank prefers to say in answer to questioning from me, it created money out of thin air using an electronic journal entry. That money printing is a direct cause of the inflation and cost-of-living crisis Australia now faces. Lives were destroyed as a result of our economic mismanagement during COVID. Businesses were closed. Personal wealth was taken from everyday Australians and handed to the predatory billionaires who were behind every COVID curtain. Worldwide, $4 trillion has been redistributed from everyday citizens to predatory billionaires, and this figure continues to rise.

      Fourthly, marriages and families were destroyed. Children had stability, love and support taken away from them. Elderly people were left alone to die. All the while, troops were on the streets enforcing lockdowns that were unprecedented in the history of our beautiful country, as part of an international American, British, Canadian, Australian COVID defence countermeasures consortium. A royal commission must determine if the cruelty was justified. An inquiry must look at the medical decisions taken. It will not be easy to peel back the layers of medical disinformation coming from university academics and research scientists that have a track record of saying whatever they are paid to say. There were so many alternatives to the pharmaceutical response our secretive National Cabinet decided upon. Why were these banned, ignored or ridiculed? What went on behind this veil of secrecy to pursue untested, fake vaccines above all else and the secrecy around big pharma's unproven antivirals like remdesivir, or, as it's known after killing many people here and overseas, 'Run, death is near'.

      Turning to the injections themselves, I don't call these injectables vaccines because they do not comply with the definition of vaccine in use before COVID. The fact that the definition of vaccine was changed to make room for these dangerous injections should have been a red flag to everyone. A vaccine is supposed to prevent you getting the disease and prevent you transmitting the disease. It should provide long-term protection such that even if someone does get the virus, the body fights it straight off. None of that is true with the COVID injection. These fake vaccines do not prevent people from getting COVID and do not prevent people from spreading COVID. They cripple immune systems, making people more susceptible to future infections. Any protection from severe symptoms is for such a short period of time that it's nothing more than a substandard treatment, a treatment that has caused more harm than good.

      This is not my opinion. It is among the findings of a landmark, published, peer-reviewed Cleveland study that found that every dose of the COVID jabs administered to the sample of 50,000 health employees made them more likely to get COVID. A separate re-examination of the Pfizer stage 2-3 clinical trial data that took 18 months, peer-reviewed and published by the Brighton Collaboration, found that the Pfizer vaccine was associated with a 14 per cent worse health outcome than the unvaccinated control trial. If the TGA was doing it job, these injections should never have been approved.

      The bad news about our medical response to COVID keeps coming. Only last month a panel of international scientists revealed that the COVID-19 mRNA injections are contaminated with plasma DNA from the manufacturing process. This can cause inflammation of organs and it can cause cancer. Last week I was sent a mainstream television piece which talked about turbo cancers being at record high levels. Medical researchers and doctors interviewed were apparently baffled about the cause. Let me help those researchers out. Here we have a substance that is contaminated through bacterial plasmas known to cause cancer, is full of spike proteins that are a whole class of medication which have not been studied for adverse health effects, and contain a substance called SV40 that directly inhibits our body's resistance to cancer. The injection studied in the clinical trials was not the same product that was used in Australia. That has killed 14 people here and is suspected in a thousand more, and doctors have reported a thousand more deaths. Post-mortem data shows a direct link between the injections and turbo cancer, while at the same time Australia has had 30,000 excess deaths in the last year directly correlated and traced under much scrutiny to the COVID injections. New turbo cancers are at record levels. Australians whose have been in cancer remission for years have suddenly seen their cancer return. Despite the facts now coming out, doctors say they are baffled. The one person more than any other that must be referred to a royal commission is Dr Baffled.

      Finally, One Nation does not accept that the quickie COVID cover-up that the Prime Minister announced is in any way fit for purpose. It's not. Asking these commissioners, three COVID insiders, who championed our health response, to conduct an inquiry into themselves and their mates is a travesty of justice that has been roundly condemned right across the Senate. None of us know the guarantees that Prime Minister Albanese gave pharmaceutical salesman and World Health Organization sugar daddy Bill Gates at their meeting in Admiralty House last year and early this year. Surely the need to cover up the evil committed in the name of health was discussed. Did Prime Minister Albanese agree to do just that?

      I've been speaking about the fear, the oppression and the inhumane cruelty of our COVID response since July 2020. I promised to hound down those responsible, and I will continue relentlessly to keep that promise. If now is the time for the Prime Minister to call his COVID cover-up, then now must surely be the time for a royal commission. We can't ignore our sworn duty as the house of review any longer. We have one flag, we are one community, we are one nation, and the whole nation wants answers, or we will never heal and, worse, we may well go through all of this again. I ask the Senate to start the process today, pass this motion and let's get the terms of reference sorted.

      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.

      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.

      7:04 pm

      Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      I'm going to make a few comments as to this, in support of my colleague Senator Roberts in bringing this motion to the Senate and calling for a royal commission into the COVID response. I think it's very important, and I'm going to say a few words as a very concerned Australian who has the privilege and opportunity to speak here in the chamber on behalf of many Australians about the effect this has had on them.

      During this period, I was very adamant and concerned about COVID-19, especially the vaccines that we were told to have. I refused to have that vaccine, and I was not going to be bullied or badgered into having it. I was told I couldn't travel or go to pubs, clubs, restaurants or anywhere else unless I had the vaccine. This vaccine was imposed on the Australian people, and it wasn't tested at all by these companies. Testing in reference to vaccines has to be for seven or even 10 years before the vaccine is given to the public. This wasn't. It was done in a very short period of time. Moderna had only been testing, I think, for about 10 months prior to the vaccine being given to the Australian people.

      What we have found out since then is the impact that having this vaccine has had on a lot of people in Australia. There have been over 140,000 adverse side effects. That's only people who have reported the side effects or doctors who have reported them to the TGA. That is a big concern. Here in Australia, we have only reported 14 deaths due to the COVID vaccine that they have admitted to, but, as Senator Roberts has stated, there are an extra 30,000 deaths in Australia. A lot of people who died didn't have a true autopsy done on them to determine the real cause of death. Men in particular, after having the vaccine, were affected by myocarditis or pericarditis. It has had an impact on people's health. People pull me up all the time and tell me they have health problems now that they had never had.

      A doctor in Rockhampton—get your head around this—who refused to have the vaccine was denied permission to work in the hospital. Rockhampton Hospital, during the night, had no doctors. He wanted to work, but he was told he couldn't work because he hadn't had the vaccination. Doctors were in fear of losing their licences or being unable to practise because, if they refused to give someone a shot, they had to advise them to go and see another doctor to get the vaccine A doctor takes an oath to act in the best interests of the patient they are treating. They should give them the best advice possible. They were shut down from doing that. Why? That should come out. Doctors have a right to explain the reasons why.

      There was another thing. Why was ivermectin taken off the prescription list? Why wasn't it allowed to be prescribed by doctors? It's never caused one death in the world, yet we were told it could not be prescribed or given to people. Why? Ivermectin was used in India, and that's what got them over the problems that they had.

      These are all questions that need to be asked. Schools were shut down, and we're still hearing to this day about the impact, including the psychological impact, that it's had on our children, but no-one does or says anything about it. In relation to the borders, the premiers of the states became little Hitlers. They did whatever they wanted to do. They shut the borders. They stopped people. As Senator Scarr said, people from northern New South Wales could not come across. There was the case of a woman who was expecting—

      Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      Point of order, Chair. I know it's not directed at anyone in the chamber, but it is inappropriate to call people 'little Hitlers'.

      Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      It does probably offend standing order 193(3), Senator Hanson, so I ask you to withdraw that statement.

      Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      Well, Premier Palaszczuk and Premier—

      Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      No, could you just, Senator Hanson—

      Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      I withdraw my comments.

      Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      Thank you. You have the call.

      Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      It is an idiom. The fact is that they wielded their power and shut the borders. As Senator Scarr said, there was a woman expecting twins. She couldn't get to the hospital in Queensland. She was denied that access. She lost one of her children. We had people who couldn't come to funerals to see their parents buried. The fact is that they could only see them after the funeral. They had to wear all the PPE gear, covered from head to toe, just to see their dead loved ones. People in nursing homes and aged-care homes couldn't see their loved ones. They were stressing out more about that than about getting COVID. These were people who were on their last bloody legs. All they were concerned about was seeing their loved ones, and they were denied that right because these other people said, 'Oh, no, we've got to keep you safe.' You destroyed these people. You even shut down cancer treatment for people. These people's cancers have grown. People have died now because they could have gotten the treatment but you shut them down because they had COVID—'We have to protect you.' I have never seen such a political scam in all my life, and that's what it was. It became bloody political. The whole fact is that it's cost us—

      Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      Order! Senator Hanson, I just ask you to note your language and use appropriate language for the chamber.

      Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      Alright. I'm sorry, I'm such a true-blue Aussie I can't help myself, but, anyway, I will try and control it. I get very passionate about this. The fact is that so many people have been affected by this, not even to mention the firefighters. They couldn't work. We had outbreaks of fires, and we had SES workers who couldn't work because they didn't have the jab. Even for firefighters it was allowed—no more jabs—as of only last week. In New South Wales, they stopped the jab in March 2022, and in Victoria it was 2021. But these firefighters, because they refused to have the jab, were denied the work, and they wanted to work. And yet you have Senator Pocock, who raises a motion to say that we should put extra resources into technology because we haven't got firefighters. Well, wake up, Australia. We've denied them the right to work. That's why we haven't got the firefighters. There are so many issues here that need to be addressed.

      Senator Roberts touched on the more technical issues with regard to having this inquiry and what we need to delve into and look at. If we ever have another breakout in this country, surely we must know how to handle it—even what we pay out in compensation to people. It was ridiculous to double the payments of people already on welfare payments. What circumstances changed for them? Absolutely none. But it was: 'Oh, let's double their payment. Let's give them more money.' How ridiculous was that? Their circumstances didn't change. Actually, sales of grog and drugs went up in that period of time.

      The stupid part about it is that we know there are issues here but no-one is prepared to have a full investigation—a royal commission—into it to understand what has happened and how it should be handled. Are we dictated to by overseas countries, or are we in control of our own country here? Those are the questions you need to ask. Were these guidelines about how we had to behave and what we had to do to people in Australia truly from our government—our elected representatives—or were we told by overseas interests how to handle this? Then ask the question about how much money these companies got paid. Why did the government indemnify Pfizer and Moderna? Isn't it funny? I asked them the question, 'Do you think people were forced to get vaccinated?' They said, 'No, they weren't forced. They weren't forced at all.' That in itself is not the truth. People were forced. They were made to take the vaccine to keep their jobs, pay their mortgages and put food on the table for their families. They were forced to have it. Until we know the truth behind all this, we can't just have a vaccine put on the shelves after 10 months, with people forced to have it against their will to keep their jobs, and not have an investigation into this. Why did the government indemnify these pharmaceutical companies? How much money have we paid to them in the end? How much money has been paid out? How many vaccines did we buy from them? These are all questions that need to be answered.

      I say to this chamber: if you really want to be representatives of the people, people are screaming out for these answers. They want the answers. I know where Labor, the Greens, Senator Pocock and the others will stand on this. You don't want it. They don't want accountability, and that has been proven time and time again in this chamber. You are not interested in accountability to the Australian people. I hope that is reflected in the next election. I hope they throw you out on your ear—exactly where you belong—because you're not interested in giving the people of this nation the answers they deserve and need.

      Maybe some common sense will prevail. Maybe Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, is watching this. Prime Minister, please do the right thing by the people and call for a royal commission into the COVID response so that we know how to handle it better next time. Let the people have their say. Let the people explain the impact it has had on them so that we know how better to handle this.

      I say to the chamber and all the members here: please consider this. It's no skin off your nose, but you would be doing a great service to the people of this nation. Remember that we are their servants and we work for them. We're not here to feather our nest. We're not here just for our pay packet. We shouldn't be here as career politicians—and a lot of people in this place are. We are here to serve the people of this nation.

      7:16 pm

      Photo of Ross CadellRoss Cadell (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      I was not here in this building when this happened. I was at the Port of Newcastle. I was locked down in a very lovely place at Redhead Beach. I think the governments at the time did their very best to keep Australians safe. I got the jab. I was not overly fearful of the jab at the time.

      I know that you can't improve what you don't measure, and you can't improve fully what you don't measure fully. The inquiry we have is not a full measure. The inquiry we need to have is a royal commission. I think similarly to Senator Hanson. Why don't we want to know what was done? Why don't we want to know what happened for next time? Why don't we want to know the scope of everything for the future? I have trouble understanding. I think the gentleman sitting next to me, the Hon. Senator Colbeck, was in the room when some of these things were done. I think they did the best with what they had.

      Australia came through it reasonably well. It was not a bad situation, but what could we do better? What information was given to the decision-makers that may not have been full? What leaps of faith did they have to take? If we have everything examined and look at it again, we can say: 'That was wrong last time. That's what they did last time. That's where they failed. That's where they succeeded.' We can say these things. I struggle to understand that this government doesn't want to examine more fully the actions of the previous government. If I were you, I'd be getting a microscope and crawling in every nook and cranny I could find. This is part of it.

      I fully support what Senator Roberts said. It's just so we can have a look. I don't think there's any reason to blame anyone. Everyone in Australia had good intentions when this happened. There were mistakes made. Was it perfect? No chance in the world. Were there, Senator Roberts, dodgy Chinese videos done? I don't know. I know I had a dodgy Chinese meal during lockdown. I'm not sure about a dodgy Chinese videos.

      We just need to know. We need to tick the good things that were done and cross the rubbish things that were done so that we can say, 'Here's what we should do next time.' It's not a big thing. It's what we should all aspire to. We should aim to improve and look at what we can do. A royal commission is the most powerful and ultimate way of doing it. It needs access to documents. It needs access to people. It needs access to the full scope of what happened. Without that it's a band-aid on a open wound.

      I support you for bringing this motion here. I can't think of a reason why we shouldn't support it. I can't think of any reason it won't improve us for the future. You're coming from a good place—it's to know what happened and to know what to do in the future. It's not to blame. It's not to criticise. It's not to do anything like that. It's to find who acted honourably, who didn't act honourably, who we can ignore in the future and who we can trust in the future. That's why it should be supported.

      7:19 pm

      Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

      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.

      7:23 pm

      Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      I'm actually pleased that I had to give way to the minister and hear her statement in relation to this matter. As Senator Cadell said, I do come to this matter with a particular perspective. The previous government went through the process of a royal commission that looked at part of the way in which this country handled the COVID pandemic. Specifically, that was the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which looked at aged care as part of its process. That commission has reported, and the previous government has obviously responded. And, might I say, it had dealt with the recommendations of the royal commission pretty much by the time they were handed down.

      As to what the government is proposing in relation to this current inquiry, even though I come at this from a very different perspective to that of Senator Roberts and others in this chamber, I can say unequivocally, having been in the middle of a lot of what occurred, that it is simply impossible to properly investigate any one of the terms of reference proposed by the government without the involvement of the states. The response to the pandemic was so intertwined between the states and the Commonwealth that, without the capacity to properly investigate the roles of the states, it is simply impossible to properly review what happened during the pandemic. You cannot do it. You cannot properly look at any one—not one—of the terms of reference proposed by the government. So many things occurred during the process. It is impossible to consider, for example, how the national hospitals guarantee put the resources of the private hospital system at the disposal of the states to support their public health response to the pandemic.

      The public health response was always, constitutionally, the responsibility of the states, and it continues to be the responsibility of the states. A stunning realisation came to all of us who were asking for COVID data out of Victoria—which was being provided by every other state—that it couldn't be provided because it didn't exist. There was no data available out of Victoria because the Victorian system had completely melted down.

      The inquiry proposed by the government doesn't have the power to require the provision of documents. It cannot possibly do its job. And—as was so eloquently put by my colleague Senator Scarr—it doesn't look at the roles of the states. In aged care there were different rules in every state, adding to the significant load on the administration of aged-care providers at a time of extreme stress. As Senator Hanson said, families were locked out of aged care homes. Families were locked out by state decisions, not by Commonwealth decisions. It was the public health orders of the states that did that, not the Commonwealth. This review proposed by the government can't look at that. It's impossible.

      The inquiry can't even look properly at the vaccine rollout because of the intrinsic involvement of the states in that process—they were integrally involved. It can't look at how Victoria proposed the concept of hotel quarantine. How did that go? It failed its own management, to the detriment of the country. It can't look at the maintenance of supply chains because it can't look at the restrictions on borders that were applied by the states. It can't look at financial support provided by the government because it can't look at state programs—the states already had programs. It can't look comprehensively at the provision of PPE because it can't look at state based procurement processes. The whole thing can only be seen as a half-baked exercise designed to have a crack at the previous federal government and leave the states out regarding their roles. It can't do all those things.

      If the government are genuine about their promise to the Australian people to properly review the pandemic, they should do it properly. They shouldn't do something in a half-baked manner, like they're doing. The review simply cannot properly respond to any of its terms of reference because it doesn't look at the role of the states and it doesn't have the power to go into those states and secure documents and look at the issues that need to be resolved.

      So, even though I come at this from a very different perspective to Senator Roberts and Senator Hanson, I think it's incumbent on the government to do something that is comprehensive in the context of looking at the pandemic. I think we deserve that. We went through a lot.

      I have to say, though, we came out of the pandemic probably better than nearly every country in the world, and I think the review will show that. I know that, in the context of my portfolio, we were one of the two or three best performing countries on the planet—not that you would've known that from what the now government said during the pandemic itself. I'm happy to stand on my record in that sense, and I think the government should stand up and support this project.

      Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      Order, Senator Colbeck. Resume your seat. Pursuant to order, the debate is interrupted.