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6 May 2022

Independent Senator Rex Patrick today deplored the reluctance of both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese to commit to a comprehensive and fully-empowered Royal Commission investigation of Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Both Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese are being evasive on the question of a Royal Commission inquiry into Australia’s response to COVID-19,” Senator Patrick said.

“Ever since I first called for the establishment of a COVID-19 Royal Commission eleven months ago, in June 2021, Scott Morrison has ducked the question and he did so again at his press conference today.” 

“All through his Prime Ministership Mr Morrison has been allergic to any form of scrutiny and there’s no doubt he fears an inquiry into his Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Mr Morrison clearly has no desire whatsoever to stand in the witness box and answer questions about faulty quarantine arrangements, the disaster in Australian aged care homes, the delayed vaccine rollout, the RATs debacle or the continuing tragedy as thousands of Australians have succumbed to the virus this year.” 

“Somewhat more surprising, however, is Mr Albanese’s hesitancy. In his press conference today he again gave in-principle support for ‘a measure like a Royal Commission’. However Mr Albanese won’t make any substantive commitment to a timeframe for an inquiry or, even more importantly, the terms of reference for investigations and whether an inquiry would be fully empowered to obtain evidence and testimony.” 

“This is surprising because Mr Albanese has had many months to decide Labor’s position and his finance spokesperson Senator Katy Gallagher chaired the Senate Select Committee inquiry on COVID-19 that in its report supported my call for a comprehensive inquiry under the Royal Commissions Act 1903 with the power compel the production of documents and the testimony of witnesses.” 

“The reasons for Mr Albanese’s reluctance to commit to this are unclear, but it is most likely that the Opposition Leader fears the political consequences of a fully-empowered Federal inquiry for the Labor Premiers, especially Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.”

“Mr Morrison clearly wants to protect himself, while it looks like Mr Albanese wants to protect his Labor allies.”

“Both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader want to put the question of a Royal Commission onto the back burner until after the 21 May election. After that, both likely plan a carefully limited inquiry that protects their political interests. In doing so they sell the Australian public and our national interest short.”    

“A fully-empowered Royal Commission inquiry is essential to learn all the lessons we can from Australia’s Covid-19 response."

“COVID-19 has been the biggest public policy challenge Australia has faced since the Second World War and it’s essential that we review that experience in the most comprehensive way possible; across all Governments – national, state and territory.”

“Only a Royal Commission can take a deep dive into the decisions and actions of the Federal and State governments over the past two years. Scrutiny is essential and we need to get moving on this before memories fade and documents are shredded.”

“If re-elected as an independent Senator for South Australia, I’ll be using every opportunity available to me to press whoever is Prime Minister to establish a Royal Commission inquiry with comprehensive terms of reference and the full powers needed to get to the truth.”