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Coalition warns that Covid-19 inquiry has all the ingredients of a political witch-hunt

Politics

A panel of three experts will examine Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help the nation better prepare for future health crises.

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Health Minister Mark Butler will announce a commission of inquiry into the pandemic on Thursday in South Australia.

The government had appointed three experts in the fields of epidemiology, the public service, and the economy, Mr Albanese said.

“The advice that we’ve received is that this is the best form of inquiry,” the prime minister told 5AA radio on Thursday.

“It’s correct to say it needs to be forward looking, but of course, you examine the past to see what lessons are there.

Some federal opposition members have taken aim at the prime minister over promising a royal commission into the pandemic.

On May 6 last year, during the election campaign, Mr Albanese told reporters: “I support looking at it through a measure like a royal commission. We haven’t finalised what the structure would be.”

Mr Albanese said on Thursday royal commissions took longer to be completed.

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

“It’s a protection racket for the states and territories and potentially a witch hunt on the previous coalition government.

“So many of the decisions that impacted Australians so significantly during the pandemic were decisions of the states and territories.” she told Adelaide radio station 5AA on Thursday.

It was important the review didn’t become “a witch-hunt,” she added.

Senator Ruston said the Albanese government’s ongoing response to the pandemic also needed to be investigated, including why increased numbers of older Australians were dying in aged care.

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

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 added.

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

She announced $100 million for the World Health Organisation to support global efforts to prevent and respond to any future pandemic.

 

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”, Senator 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”, Senator 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.

“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.”

Senator 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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