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Why did Labor shoot down Ralph Babet's COVID inquiry bill?

By Scott Prasser - posted Tuesday, 22 August 2023

A funny thing happened in the Senate last week.

Labor and Green senators inexplicably opposed their own long-standing and publicly stated policy to have a royal commission into the pandemic when they voted against UAP Senator Ralph Babet's matter of public importance motion that "the Labor government must honour their promises and establish a royal commission into the pandemic response immediately."

The Coalition and six members of the crossbench supported the motion which was tied and thus defeated.


Again, this reminds us that the Albanese government has still not appointed, its promised royal commission into Australia's pandemic response.

And let's not forget the 2022 Senate COVID committee dominated by Labor and Green senators and chaired by Katy Gallagher, now Finance Minister, which recommended a "royal commission be established to examine Australia's response to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Labor senator Marielle Smith claimed during the debate that a royal commission "remains the position of the Albanese Labor government ... we said that before the election, we have said it since and that remans our position".

Nevertheless, Senator Smith and other Labor and Green senators, including Senator Gallagher, still voted against the motion because "we are not yet through the COVID pandemic".

Yet, in May the World Health Organisation declared that the pandemic emergency was over.

More importantly, other countries have held or are holding independent public inquiries to review their pandemic responses.


Sweden appointed a commission of inquiry at the beginning of COVID in 2020 to monitor government actions and presented its final report in 2022.

Norway, Denmark, and Brazil have also had inquiries.

In the United Kingdom, a major public inquiry chaired by Baroness Hallett, a former senior judge, is currently under way.

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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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