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COVID Inquiry Must Not Be Weak Or Whitewashed

The Federal Government’s COVID Inquiry is the best chance we will have to learn the really big lessons from the pandemic.

That inquiry must investigate all aspects of our national and state pandemic responses without fear or favour. It must not be a witch hunt, and it must not be a whitewash.

The Senate Select Committee on COVID-19’s 2022 report made clear and cogent arguments for holding a Royal Commission into the subject of Australia’s COVID-19 response.

If a Royal Commission is not held, the Federal Government’s inquiry into our handling of COVID-19 must at least be extremely thorough and transparent.

Its terms of reference should allow the inquiry to investigate pandemic preparedness; procurement of testing services, vaccines and PPE; provision of healthcare during the crisis including testing, tracing, isolation, and measures to stop viral spread, including clean air measures; the disaster that was aged care during COVID; our management of quarantines and lockdowns; and the Federal Government’s stimulus package and economic response, including the changes made to superannuation regulations during COVID and their long-term effect on the most vulnerable Australians.

The inquiry must examine the short- and long-term impacts of COVID, including long COVID, the psychological impacts of lockdown, the effects on our healthcare workforce, and the long-term impact on secondary and tertiary educational outcomes for young Australians. It should compare our COVID-19 response with that of similar nations worldwide; what we did well, and what we could have done better.

We don’t yet fully understand COVID-19’s effects and after-effects. Doing so will help us correct course now and to prepare for and improve our response to the next pandemic.

Whether it’s a Royal Commission or some other sort of inquiry, the Federal Government should ensure the inquiry is independent, well-resourced, and given scope to put everything and everyone -- including both Federal and state governments -- under its microscope. That scope must include public hearings and the appropriate power to subpoena witnesses.

I’m concerned by reports the inquiry would be tasked with providing an interim report by Christmas; it’s hard to understand how questions of this import and scope could possibly be examined adequately in such a short timeframe. This is a most important inquiry; it’s important to all Australians that it be done well.

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