‘Witch-hunt’ warning on national pandemic inquiry

The potential scope of an inquiry in the COVID-19 pandemic and how Australian governments responded has already stirred controversy, with fears it might not go far enough.

Sep 21, 2023, updated Sep 21, 2023
A drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Victoria Park in Adelaide at the height of the pandemic. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

A drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Victoria Park in Adelaide at the height of the pandemic. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Any inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic must not be a witch-hunt against the former government, the coalition says.

Any review without the power to compel state and territory leaders would be a waste of time, opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston warned.

“With the value of hindsight, I’m sure that there are going to be many things that we will learn that we could have done better,” she told ABC TV on Thursday.

“We’re more than happy to have some light shone on those because we do need to make sure that Australia is as prepared as it can be should there be a future pandemic.

“But we also need to make sure that all aspects of the pandemic are covered.”

It was imperative it didn’t become “a witch-hunt because that supports no Australians in the future should we be faced with another pandemic”, Ruston added.

Health Minister Mark Butler is set to announce an inquiry into the pandemic on Thursday, but it will reportedly fall short of a royal commission, which Labor had promised to consider in opposition.

But the Albanese government’s response after it took office in May 2022 also needed to be part of the inquiry’s scope and it needed to ensure the terms of reference weren’t “cherry-picked”,  Ruston said.

“The Albanese government’s ongoing response to the pandemic also needs to be investigated, including why we’ve seen increased numbers of older Australians dying in aged care,” she said.

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“If you want to be genuine about this, make sure that the powers and the scope of the terms of reference are sufficient so that we really can get something out of this that’s going to be genuinely beneficial.”

World leaders are also working to ensure the international community is prepared for a future pandemic.

The world learnt some “pretty awful lessons as humanity in terms of lives lost,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on the sidelines of the UN in New York on Thursday.

Availability of vaccines, the rollout of primary health care and the exacerbation of existing global inequalities were all on the table for discussion at the UN forum, she said.

“So whatever people’s views about what the (World Health Organisation) did or didn’t do, this is about making sure we work together to improve the response of all of the international architecture, the whole international community, should we face another pandemic,” she said.

“We know the experts tell us that is a risk.

“We want to work with others to make sure we do better for Australia and for the world in the face of another pandemic.”

Wong announced $100 million for the WHO to support global efforts to prevent, prepare for and respond to any future pandemic.


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