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Where is the government's promised royal commission into the COVID pandemic?

By Scott Prasser - posted Friday, 30 June 2023

Recently, the Australian Medical Association joined the growing number of organisations, commentors, law professors, left- and right-wing think tanks, former and current government leaders and senators who have called on the Albanese government to honour its pre-election promises and subsequent statements to appoint a royal commission into assessing Australia's response to the pandemic.

Also, the Albanese government continues to ignore the Senate COVID inquiry dominated by Labor and Green members and chaired by Senator Katy Gallagher, now Finance Minister, which recommended that "a royal commission be established to examine Australia's response to the COVID-19 pandemic to inform preparedness for future COVID-19 waves and future pandemics".

The president of the AMA Professor Steve Robson has argued that "now is the perfect time" to hold a royal commission, as the destructive part of the pandemic is now behind us and before there are further outbreaks of COVID-19 type outbreaks that he expects "to be more regular occurrences".


Also, a royal commission should be appointed now before it get to close to the next federal election.

Appropriately, the AMA stressed it wanted the royal commission to focus on what can be learnt from the recent event to manage matters better in the future, rather than to seek to allocate blame for any aspects of handling the pandemic.

This is desirable but as the 2011 Queensland floods commission of inquiry under Catherine Holmes showed (presently chairing the robodebt royal commission), this is not always easy to achieve.

Most agree that any royal commission would need to be a joint federal-state inquiry given the important constitutional responsibilities of the states in handling many aspects of managing the pandemic. States and territories would have to pass similar letters patent to the Commonwealth's so the royal commission would have powers to probe all jurisdictions across Australia.

Certainly, there are many real issues to review regardless of Australia's general lower death rates from the COVID-19 virus and an economy that bounced back faster than many others.

These issues include: vaccine rollout; use of expert advice; constitutionality of state responses including border closures; necessity and impacts of school closures; loss of civil liberties; excessive government spending; effects on business; the efficacy of the vaccinations; the role of national cabinet; and future planning arrangements.


Commissions of inquiry into the pandemic have been held in Sweden and Norway, a major inquiry is underway in the United Kingdom and last December the Ardern New Zealand government appointed a royal commission.

Instead of holding a promised inquiry into the pandemic that is reported to have killed 20,000 Australians, the Albanese government instead rushed to appoint a royal commission into its predecessor's robodebt scheme notwithstanding issues of public administration that deserve attention in relation to that program.

The Albanese government's reluctance to appoint a royal commission might be because any inquiry would have to review what five Labor states and territories did during this period - this could be problematic given some of their questionable antics.

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This article was first published in the Canberra Times.

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About the Author

Dr Scott Prasser has worked on senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments. His recent publications include:Royal Commissions and Public Inquiries in Australia (2021); The Whitlam Era with David Clune (2022) and the edited New directions in royal commission and public inquiries: Do we need them?. His forthcoming publication is The Art of Opposition reviewing oppositions across Australia and internationally. .

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